Jan 19 2015

How Many Are Your Works, Lord!

SC RS Jan 1Mary Oliver says in her poem, “Good Morning”,

The multiplicity of forms! The hummingbird,

the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the

otter, the dragonfly, the water lily! And 

on and on. It must be a great disappointment 

to God if we are not dazzled at least ten

times a day. 

I truly am dazzled and amazed by our amazing world, a world fashioned and brought into life by our Creator. While it is true that there are many spectacular creatures easily seen and observed, my true wonder comes from the small creatures that all of us often miss, from insects to spiders and down to even bacteria. Often we don’t think about things like bacteria and other such tiny organisms because we can’t see them without aids and we were all brought up thinking that the only good bacteria was a good bacteria. Now we are finding that is not true at all. Bacteria are crucial to all life, including our own. We are discovering that we literally have ecosystems of microorganisms on and in our bodies that keep us healthy and this is true throughout the God’s creation. It is pretty amazing to consider the interconnection of everything. God did not create a bunch of isolated creatures, but He developed entire ecosystems, a world of connections that were obviously important to Him (or he would not have created them) and to all living organisms.

SC RS Jan 2Insects and spiders are a little easier to see, though we often don’t really see them as the remarkable, dazzling examples of God’s infinite wisdom that they truly represent. For example, spiders build structures that rival anything that human engineers do and without the benefit of an advanced degree (except what God bestows on them)!

Southeastern Florida, Everglades drainageUnderstanding the immense diversity of insects and how they fill in all the gaps of an ecosystem is at present beyond human understanding.

How many are your works, O Lord!

In wisdom you made them all; 

the earth is full of your creatures. 

Psalm 104:24

– Rob


Jan 19 2015

Withdrawing From the Cares Which Will Not Withdraw From Us

_DSC0854A couple of days ago I came across the following words by Maya Angelou: “Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.”  These two sentences spoke to me in a powerful way; they were words I needed to hear.

_DSC1367I found Maya’s call to withdraw “from the cares which will not withdraw from us” to be especially poignant.  In recent weeks I have let some things bother me far more than I should.  I’ve had cares and concerns that I seemed unable to escape no matter how hard I tried.  It was actually comforting to read this poet’s words.  She seemed to understand that there are problems that will not give us a break, troubles that refuse to let us go.  But she also had the wisdom to advise us to find a way to withdraw from these nagging cares.  She knew that in such stressful circumstances you have to find a way to separate yourself from those cares that want to stay attached to you.

_DSC1193I also appreciated Maya’s advice concerning where one might withdraw.  She points us to a number of places in nature to seek relief.  She mentions spending time in a park, observing ants, and looking at the trees.  I’m not sure that there is a better place to turn for relief from the cares that will not withdraw from us than God’s Creation.  John Muir certainly felt this way.  He once said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  In nature, whether there be mountains or not, we often find that our cares do, in fact, “drop off like autumn leaves.”

I am convinced that God intentionally put therapeutic elements into the Creation to help us all deal with the problems and cares we face in life.  In one of the most beloved passages of the Bible David wrote about how God provided for his needs through nature.  He said God “makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2)   In God’s Creation David found the restoration his soul needed.  Countless times that is where I have found what I needed too.

_DSC9763I have long understood the restorative powers of God’s Creation.  What Maya Angelou’s words helped me understand is that it is imperative that I find a way to return to nature when life gets hard and my cares will not let me go.  When I am overly stressed, discouraged or depressed I don’t always feel like getting out but it is precisely at such times I must force myself to get outdoors.  In nature I always find reminders that God is bigger than any problem I might be facing and that God genuinely cares about me.  I may well have cares that will not withdraw from me but when I force myself to withdraw to God’s Creation I discover again and again a God whose love will not let me go and a peace that passes all understanding.  I definitely need to withdraw more often.  How about you?

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this past fall.)

 

 


Jan 7 2015

Divine Lessons From a Tree

e_DSC0863Many years ago while in seminary I took a class called The Classics of Christian Devotion.  It turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire graduate school experience.  Over the course of the semester the professor, Glenn Hinson, introduced us to many of the true “classics” of Christian literature.  We read and studied works by people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a’ Kempis, William Law, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly.  One of the books that inspired me the most was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who earnestly desired an intimate relationship with God and developed a method whereby he disciplined himself to “practice” being aware of God’s presence every possible moment.  He said this eventually enabled him to feel God’s presence just as keenly while he was washing dishes in the monastery as when he shared Holy Communion.

e_DSC5134Earlier today I learned something I did not know about Brother Lawrence.  My friend Michael Boone shared on his Facebook page “R120” a passage from the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that tells how a tree played an instrumental role in Brother Lawrence’s spiritual development:  “In the deep of winter, Herman (his name before he was a monk) looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”

I find this to be a fascinating story and also yet one more reminder of how Creation serves as God’s “other Book.”  From the very beginning God has used the world of nature to speak to us.  Creation has many divine lessons to teach us but in order for us to learn these lessons we have to be open to instruction and also careful observers of God’s handiwork.

e_CES0370It is interesting that Brother Lawrence’s experience occurred in “the deep of winter.”  We are in that season now.  As you look around you this time of year what do you see in the natural world that might be offering you divine lessons?  The lesson Brother Lawrence received was a great one indeed but there are many others just as wonderful waiting to be discovered by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  We would all be wise to start paying more attention.

–Chuck

(I took the top image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the bottom image at John James Audubon State Park.)


Jan 1 2015

Be Dazzled

_CES8682One of the books I received (and gave) for Christmas is Mary Oliver’s newest volume of poetry, Blue Horses.   I am a huge fan of Oliver’s poems and was excited to begin reading this new book.  A few nights ago I came across a section of a poem called “Good Morning” that really spoke to me.  Oliver writes, “The multiplicity of forms!  The hummingbird, the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the otter, the dragonfly, the water lily!  And on and on.  It must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.”

_DSC2326If you are familiar with Mary Oliver’s writings you know that she is very in tune with both nature and the presence of the divine throughout Creation.  In a way perhaps only a poet can she pays attention to her surroundings.  As noted in this poem, she takes careful notice of  “the multiplicity of forms” around her.  I think we would all be wise to do the same.  Take a few moments some time to ponder the countless forms found in Creation.  You will be overwhelmed by the task.

B2175The world God has created is simply marvelous.  I love Louie Armstrong’s classic song, “What a Wonderful World.”  In it he sings of all the things he sees around him in nature.  Some of the things he mentions are trees of green and skies of blue, red roses,  the colors of the rainbow,  clouds of white, the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night.  Armstrong, like Oliver, was apparently dazzled by what he saw and could only conclude “what a wonderful world” it is we live in.

sea-otter-145I hope in the year to come you will make a special effort to pay more attention to the wonders and beauty of God’s Creation.  I suspect Mary Oliver is correct; it must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.  I suggest you make as one of your New Year resolutions to be dazzled more often in the coming year.  Try to see the world with a fresh set of eyes.  Take notice of the wonderful world we are blessed to live in and let it lead you to offer your gratitude and praise to the One who made it all and seeks to become known through it.  If you will strive to be dazzled more often I cannot help but believe 2015 will be a wonderful year indeed.  Happy New Year and God bless!

–Chuck

(I photographed the dragonfly and water lily at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., the raven in New Mexico, and the sea otter in Alaska.)


Dec 25 2014

A Baby Changes Everything

2014 Christmas cardLet me begin by wishing you a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you happen to be reading this.  Last night the church I serve had a late night Christmas Eve Service.  For the message I shared with them I found inspiration in the beautiful Christmas song penned by K. K. Wiseman a few years ago that was recorded by Faith Hill.  It is called A Baby Changes Everything.  Obviously the coming of a baby into any home “changes everything” but never was that so true as the child that Mary brought into the world that first Christmas long ago.

In my Christmas homily I talked about how the baby who was born in Bethlehem long ago went on to change how we look at God, how we look at ourselves and also how we are to look at others.  I very easily could have gone on to talk about how the coming of Jesus also changes the way that we are to look at the earth.  There are a number of different ways this is true.

_DSC4328The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear that the earth is “good.”  After each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was (is) good.  Later the Psalmist would declare that “the earth is the Lord’s.” (24:1)  The fact that God made and owns the earth would indicate that it is quite special.  But realizing that God actually came to earth and for a time made His dwelling here (John 1:14) makes it clear that the earth should also be viewed as holy or sacred.  This planet of our was blessed to be visited by its Maker.  That fact alone sets the earth apart.  We should learn to view this place we live as holy ground and treat it as such.

Jesus would also change the way we look at the earth when he repeatedly used the world of nature as teaching tools for spiritual principles.  The earth, for him, contained a repository of divine lessons.  He told us to pay attention to the birds above us and to the flowers at our feet.  In his parables he often pointed to plants and other natural objects as divine indicators.  The way Jesus looked at the world should change the way we look at it too.  Like him, we are to see the earth as a school of higher learning—much higher learning!

_DSC8035The one born at Bethlehem not only used the natural world as object lessons in his teaching ministry, he also sought the presence of his Father there.  We know that Jesus did attend the synagogues of Palestine and visited the Temple in Jerusalem on a number of occasion but we also learn in the Gospels that it was his custom to find solitude with God on lonely hillsides and in the stillness of garden enclosures.  Later some of Jesus’ followers would come to view the world as evil.  He, however, found it to be a place where God can be found and encountered in a multitude of different ways.  We should look at the earth in the same way.

Today I am very thankful for the many changes the baby born in Bethlehem has made in my life.  I, and hopefully others too, now see God, myself, others and the earth itself differently because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures used above not far from my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Dec 16 2014

Too Much Darkness

e_CES8771It sure does get dark early this time of year in western Kentucky.  That has been one of my major adjustments since moving here and finding myself in the Central Standard Time zone once again.  A lot of people in this area go to work in the dark and when they get off of work it’s already dark again.  Darkness arrives early and it makes the nights seem so very long.  I don’t like it.  It’s depressing.  It messes with my mind.  And for a few more days it’s only going to get worse.  But there’s the good news, it’s only for a few more days.  The winter solstice arrives next week and slowly, but surely, the hours of daylight will lengthen.

It is knowing that the long nights will not last forever that makes them endurable.  When you have hope of longer and brighter days to come you can bear the shorter and darker days.  That hope sustains you.  That hope sees you through.

DV-moonSuch thoughts seem appropriate during the Advent season.   This time of year we remember how long ago God’s people longed for the coming of a Savior and how the prophet Isaiah declared that one day things would be different.  He wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (9:2)  Ironically, it was a great light that led a group of Magi to the one born to be King of the Jews.  Later, when Jesus began his teaching ministry he announced “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)  In so many ways Jesus did, in fact, bring light to the world.  During Advent we pause to remember how that light made its entrance.

TB-880Advent, however, is more than just a time for looking back and remembering.  It is also a time for looking ahead.  Before Jesus left this world he promised that he would one day return.  That has not happened yet but we live with the confidence and assurance that someday it will.  That is good news, especially in dark days like these.  And here, by dark days, I am not referring to the shortage of daylight.  All you have to do is watch or read the news and it becomes obvious that a deep darkness pervades much of the world.  Scores of innocent children are murdered while they are at school in Pakistan.  Various groups of people suffer regularly from racial injustice.  Thousands die each day from hunger and poverty related illnesses.  Violence raises its ugly head unrelentingly.  Climate change and pollution threaten the lives of millions.  Yes, there’s a lot of darkness out there.

The darkness around us will not last forever however.  A better day is coming.  In fact, there is a time approaching when there will be no more darkness.  That is something that we are promised in Revelation 21:25.  The one who is the Light of the world will prevail and his kingdom will one day be fully established.   In the meantime, followers of Jesus must never forget that he said we, too, are “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)  As long as darkness remains in this world we have work to do, we must let our light shine.  Until the Second Advent takes place we are charged to do all we can to dispel the darkness around us.  I need to be a light for you.  You need to be a light for me.  We need to be a light to all those around us.  It’s what the one born in Bethlehem is counting on us to do.  I pray we will not let him down.

–Chuck

(I took the images used above in New Mexico and California.)