Aug 29 2015

Praise for Creation and Providence

CA Kings Canyon NP sunsetLast Sunday evening I spent the night with my brother at his home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Richard is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Frankfort and during the course of our conversation he told me about the choral anthem his choir had sung that morning. I was not familiar with the song but he said that he thought I’d like it since the words focus on God’s Creation. Once I took a look at the words to this hymn penned by Isaac Watts I told him that I did, indeed, like it. The hymn is called I Sing the Mighty Power of God and, interestingly enough, was written for children to sing.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)Here are the words to the song: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.  I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good. Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne; while all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; and everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

_DSC8404When this hymn first appeared in 1715 it was entitled Praise for Creation and Providence. The song does, in fact, offer praise to God for His Creation and for the providence of God seen in it. Even though I can’t imagine this song being written for children it definitely conveys truths that can be grasped by young and old alike.  Watts reminds us that God’s power is abundantly evident in Creation. This power can be seen in towering mountains, the vast oceans and the skies above us. Watts declares that God’s wisdom is also apparent in Creation. For him evidence of this can be seen in God forming the sun to give us light during the day, the moon to reflect its light during the night, and in the stars that appear each evening giving us a sense of direction.

_DSC6720Through this hymn we are taught that God’s wonders are on display wherever we turn. These wonders are below and above us; they are everywhere we look. They can be found in the plants and flowers we see, observed in the clouds above or experienced in the winds that blow against our face. The wonders and majesty of God are to be found throughout Creation.  Another affirmation Watts makes, one that is important for us to grasp whether we be old or young, is all that God has made is ever in God’s care. The Maker of heaven and earth is not a distant God who has abandoned the work of His hands.  No, God sustains Creation to this very day, just as the apostle Paul declared in Colossians 1:17. Understanding this leads us to the final truth Watts’ hymn declares—everywhere that we can be God is present there.  Creation itself is a reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

I am very thankful for hymn writers like Isaac Watts. Through hymns like this one these writers are able to put into just a few words truths that it would take theologians volumes to discuss. Through hymns like this one we find great truths affirmed that can be both remembered and sung by young and old alike. Through hymns like this one we can offer God our praise for both Creation and God’s continued presence and care.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Kings Canyon National Park, the second at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the third at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the fourth at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Aug 22 2015

Like a Waterfall

e_DSC7882 (2)Last week a friend and I went to eastern Kentucky to photograph a number of waterfalls. Unfortunately there are very few waterfalls near where I live now so we had to drive a ways to photograph these. I’m convinced the drive was worth it and not just for the nice images we got. There is just something about waterfalls that appeal to me and also speak to my soul.

e_DSC7998 (2)A couple of times while we were photographing the falls I thought about Chris Tomlin’s song “Waterfall.” I remember hearing Tomlin talk about this song on the radio. He indicated that the inspiration for the song was Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Here are the words to the song: “O God, my God I seek You; I wanna move when You move. You’re more than I could long for; I thirst for You. You’re an ocean to my soul to my soul. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–running wild and free. You hear my heart when I call, when I call. Deep calls to deep. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–raining down on me, waterfall, waterfall. O God my God, I seek You in this dry and desert land. You lead me to streams of mercy once again. You’re an ocean to my soul, to my soul. It’s coming like a flood; I’m dancing in the rain. Everything I’ve done is covered in rivers of grace. Amazing!”

e_DSC8044God’s love certainly is like a refreshing waterfall. It brings both joy and cleansing. The only problem I have comparing God’s love to a waterfall is that I have experienced a number of seasonal falls. The first time I saw Yosemite Falls it was spring and I was overwhelmed by the power and height of this amazing waterfall. The second time I visited Yosemite National Park it was summer and Yosemite Falls was for all practical purposes nonexistent. You could not see any water coming over the top. I do not picture God’s love as a seasonal waterfall but one that is always flowing.e_DSC7970 (1)

I like Chris Tomlin’s description of God’s love “running wild and free” like a waterfall. Even though there is something quite predictable about God’s love (the Bible describes it as “steadfast and sure“) it is at the same time unpredictable. God’s love is constant but we often experience it in unexpected ways.  You never know where, how or through whom you might experience the love of God.

In order to photograph waterfalls these days I have to drive a long distance. In order to experience God’s love I don’t have to go anywhere. What I do have to do, however, is put myself in a position to receive this love. That does not always come as easy as some might imagine. If we are not careful we can let our problems and the stress of day to day living keep us from letting God’s love wash over us. I have certainly been guilty of doing this. Hopefully we can learn to be more receptive to God’s love and also open to the many different ways we might experience it on any given day. The more we do so the better we will be able to handle our problems and the stresses of life.

As you read this today it is my hope and prayer that you will somehow feel God’s love anew and be “covered in rivers of grace.”

Chuck Summers

(I took the pictures shown above last week.  The first and third images show Cumberland Falls; the second image is Dog Slaughter Falls; the fourth image is Eagle Falls.)


Aug 12 2015

God Loves Bats

SC bats 2It is very tempting to pay attention to nature only when you can see it. After all, this blog is even called “Seeing Creation.” Even the writers of the Bible mainly refer to what they could see. But if we are to believe that God had a part in our world, then we can’t ignore parts of our world that we don’t know so well. We need to think what is right for God, not what is right for us. In the Bible, there is no mention of things like bacteria, other micro-organisms … or bats. We can understand the lack of mention of micro-organisms – no one knew about them when the Bible was written. However, bats were (and are) important parts of the ecosystems of the Middle East. There is a mention of bats in Leviticus (11:19), but Biblical scholars are not all in agreement that the Bible here actually refers to bats.

Bats are creatures of the night. They are highly adapted to feeding on insects, and there are a great deal of insects that come out at night. As God’s creatures, they are truly remarkable animals. But because they are sort of “invisible”, we often forget about them and neglect this amazing part of God’s creation. There is no question that bats are hard to see (if they come out late at night, as some do, you might not see them at all), are rarely heard by humans (mostly their calls are above our hearing), and there is little common photography of them, as compared to, say, birds or other mammals. Speaking of mammals, bat species account for almost a fourth of all mammal species.

SC bats 3The idea of bats as evil or bad does not come from the Bible or God. It largely comes from old superstitions from the past. Night used to be a terror-filled time. For most of civilized time, night light was not available except for fires. Candles, then oil-filled lanterns started to illuminate the dark, but still, their light was limited. Today, all you have to do is fly over a city at night and you will find out how bright our nights have become.

A few remarkable things about bats:

  • Bats can “see” in the dark through echolocation that can discern things as small as the human hair. Imagine having a fish finder that could show you things underwater in that detail!
  • Bats can locate a small flying insect in total darkness, track it while moving in three dimensions while the prey is also moving in three dimensions, then catch and eat it. If you consider these two things alone, you can see that there is no bat that is going to swoop down and get tangled in your hair!
  • If a bat gets trapped in a house, it will typically fly to high points in a room and rest there. Then when it takes off, it will drop to gain flight speed and will head toward the middle of the room because that is where there is space. This can be frightening to someone standing in the middle of the room, and they might think the bat is after them, but the bat has no interest in them. Usually opening a window will let them out, but you can also catch them gently in a towel or a bucket (come up from below because they will be dropping as they start to fly). Never hurt a bat with a tennis racket! Their lives are as important as any other simply because God cares for them. Never handle a bat with bare hands, especially if the bat seems lethargic or sick (they could have rabies – bats are like all mammals, they get rabies, but they are less of a problem than raccoons or skunks).
  • Because they are small and fly, bats have a very high metabolism. They eat a lot! They will typically eat 1/3-1/2 their body weight in insects every day.
  • Bats are more closely related to primates, and humans, than to rats and mice (bats are not rodents). Bats have long lives for animals their size (some species live over 30 years), and most bats only have one baby per mother.

I think the lesson here is that God’s world does not depend on us always seeing it or fully understanding it for it to be remarkable and amazing when we do learn more. It is enough to know that God knows what He is doing.

SC bats 1

– Rob


Aug 7 2015

A Prayer for Creation

_DSC6890The two major concerns that are the focus of this blog, Seeing Creation, are nature and spirituality. My strong conviction, as most of you already know, is that the two go together. For most people a major component of spirituality is prayer. I wonder, however, how many people include nature or Creation as part of their prayers. Recently I came across a prayer in the book Earth Prayers that shows us how we might pray for God’s Creation. It is a beautiful prayer that many of us ought to consider praying.

_DSC7616“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate? How many species must we abuse and extinguish?  How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes before we learn to love and respect your Creation, before we learn to love and respect our home?  For our wrongs, Lord, we ask for forgiveness.  In sorrow for what we have done we offer our repentance. We pray that our actions toward You and Your Creation are worthy of our repentance, that we will so act here on earth that heaven will not be a shock to us. We promise to reverence Your Creation as a gracious gift entrusted to us by You, our God. We promise anew to be stewards and not pillagers of what You have entrusted to us. Creator God, You have given us every reason to learn and promote this wisdom of lives lived in harmony with Creation. May we, your servants, increasingly serve.  May we, your servants, increasingly come to love Your Creation as we increasingly come to love You, through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”

The questions that are offered at the beginning of this prayer deserve our attention–“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate?”  Politicians debate even now whether clean air and water or business profits should be our primary concern. From God’s perspective is this even debatable?  The recent publicity over the killing of the lion known as Cecil has many raising the same question addressed in the prayer: “How many species must we abuse and extinguish?”  In a recent blog I wrote about environmental racism which resonates with the question, “How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes…?”

_DSC7000The book, Earth Prayers was published in 1991 and in it this prayer is attributed to the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology. If it was being penned today, I suspect other questions might be added to the ones already included. Perhaps one would ask “How many scientific studies must be conducted before we recognize the impending danger of Climate Change and start to make changes to counter it?”

Appropriately, the prayer not only raises questions but includes confession and repentance. Confession is important.  We need to admit to God that we have not been good stewards of Creation. Repentance is perhaps even more important.  We must mend our ways.  Just saying we are sorry won’t cut it; we have got to be willing to change our ways and do what we can to care for the Earth.

_DSC6976My hope is that all those who read this prayer will make the same promise to reverence God’s Creation “as a gracious gift entrusted to us” and to “be stewards and not pillagers” of what God has entrusted to us. I also hope, as stated in the prayer, that we will all come to love God’s Creation as we increasingly come to love God.

If you are not currently including Creation in your prayers now would be a good time to start and the prayer I’ve just shared with you wouldn’t be a bad one to begin with.

–Chuck

(The first, third and fourth images were taken at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The deer was photographed in my yard in Henderson, KY.)


Aug 1 2015

“The Maker”

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI like lots of different types of music but more often than not I listen to contemporary Christian music when I’m driving in my car. Recently I’ve been hearing a song by Chris August called The Maker playing on the station I listen to. This song focuses on God as Creator. Unfortunately, you don’t hear a lot of songs that emphasize this aspect of God these days. I recently wrote on this blog site how important I believe it is to hold on to the concept of God as “Maker of heaven and earth.” The notion of God as Creator is vital to our faith for many reasons so needless to say I was pleased to hear a song playing that emphasizes this.

_DSC7402The song begins with the words, “I see You in the sunrise, I see You in the rain. I see You in the laughter, I feel You through the pain.” Then there is this affirmation, “Everything that You have made is beautiful. Oh, my God, I can’t believe my eyes, but in all of this to think that You would think of me makes my heart come alive.” The second verse says, “I see You, You are creation, I see the grandness of Your majesty. The universe is singing all Your glory; I can’t believe You live inside of me.” This is followed by the same affirmation above noting that everything God has made is beautiful. In this song we are reminded that we can, in fact, see God in the Creation. For those with eyes to see God can be found anywhere—in sunrises, rain, laughter and pain. The song also reminds us that there is a close connection between God and Creation. “You are creation,” August sings, and he points out that the grandness of God’s majesty can be seen and heard in Creation. Finally, the song reminds us of the need to practice humility as we encounter God’s majesty in the world around us. We know from the Scriptures that this God who created all that is knows and loves each and every one of us very much. Realizing this truly should make our heart come alive.

_DSC6122There is a chorus to this song that says: “Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones; I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once. And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me; I love the Maker and the Maker loves me.” At this point in my life I am too old and fat to likely ever feel that I could climb one mountain, much less a thousand all at once. Still, I love the way the chorus ends. As we consider what the Scriptures tell us and what Creation reveals to us we never do have to wonder if somebody cares for us. Both of God’s Books make it clear that the Maker loves us and this love both beckons and enables us to love the Maker in return.

ME Acadia NP fall poolIn the final verse to Chris August’s song he sings, “More than just some words upon a page, You’ve shown me in a million ways, but there is one that stands above them all–hands of creation on a cross.” It seems rare to find people making the connection between Creation and the Cross so I applaud August for doing so here. Long ago someone else made that connection, the apostle Paul. In the first chapter of the Book of Colossians he speaks of Christ as being the “firstborn over all creation.” (v. 15)  He then adds, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all thing were created by him and for him.” (v. 16)  A few verses later Paul draws the connection by adding “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (vs. 19-20)

Here is one of the most incomprehensible and wonderful truths there is, the Maker of heaven and earth long ago entered Creation and went to a cross where he spread his arms open wide to show us just how much God loves us. Yes, the Maker loves us indeed! I know of only one appropriate response—to love the Maker back with everything that we’ve got.

–Chuck


Jul 24 2015

Environmental Racism

_DSC6770In recent days we have been reminded on a far too frequent basis that racism continues to be an ugly scar upon the soul of America. Most of the media attention has focused on acts of violence afflicted upon African American and Hispanic individuals. This violence is totally unacceptable and somehow, someway, we have got to find a way to bring it to an end. There is, however, another way racism continues to raise its ugly head and, unfortunately, it is not receiving a lot of public attention. What I am referring to here is environmental racism.

_DSC7438This past week I was in Columbus, Ohio, for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.  At this assembly Rev. Carol Devine, on behalf of Green Chalice, brought a resolution to the floor that addresses this issue. The proposed resolution noted that “environmental racism is an affliction where communities comprised of predominantly persons of color and/or low-income people are adversely affected by governmental, institutional, or industrial practices or policies that either negatively affect or withhold the benefits of clean air, water, soil, or natural spaces.”  It also revealed “contemporary studies show that it is easy to predict the placement of hazardous waste facilities, the creation of food deserts, and the lack of natural space by looking at the concentration of minority and low-income areas across the country and that since the afflicted communities, primarily those of racial minorities, lack local representation or national protection, these communities are made victims of environmental racism’s various forms, including:  greater probability of exposure to environmental hazards, uneven negative impacts from environmental procedures and policies, targeting and zoning of toxic facilities, segregation of minority workers in hazardous jobs, little access to or insufficient maintenance of natural spaces, and disproportionate access to environmental services.”

_DSC6662Having acknowledged the problem of environmental racism, the resolution went on to remind us that the Bible “refers to the entire cosmos as God’s sacred creation and calls followers of Christ to care for creation and care for neighbors” and that “Jesus preached compassion to all people, and tasked us, his followers, with ministering to and caring for all persons in all communities.” Finally the resolution called on all Disciples’ congregations, organizations, ministries and institutions “to address environmental racism in their communities through research and education, thoughtful engagement and prayerful action;” and to “support national, state or provincial legislation which prevents the further marginalization of people from their community.”  It urged that we “diligently strive to faithfully care for all of God’s creation and work for justice for all of God’s people.”

_DSC7422I’m happy to say that the resolution passed at the General Assembly without dissent. This speaks well of the denomination I happen to call my own. But environmental racism is something all Christians (and everyone else for that matter) ought to be concerned about. This is an injustice that needs to be dealt with just as much as the violence mentioned above. But what can we do? An addendum attached to the resolution in Columbus offered these suggestions. We can take action by 1) researching the pervasiveness of environmental racism in our area; 2) joining creation, racial and economic justice movements; 3) funding and supporting creation, racial and economic justice work in organizations and academic institutions; 4) lobbying state/provincial and federal elected officials for stronger enforcement of environmental standards and petitioning for new legislation designed to address the affliction of affected communities; and 5) supporting and voting for candidates sensitive to and supportive of creation, racial, and economic justice.

May God help us all to combat racism in any and all forms it might appear.  In the words of the prophet Amos, “let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

–Chuck

(I photographed the two waterfall images while in Ohio last week and the two sunflower pictures this morning at Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area near Evansville, IN.)