Apr 13 2014

The Gifts of Gratitude

_CES2860Gratitude is the very heart of the spiritual life.  Meister Eckhart once said “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude connects us both to God and His Creation.  This morning I read a brief passage in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul, that does a nice job of making this same connection.  She writes: “When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good.  We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves.  We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God.  Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

_CES8139Whenever I am out photographing nature or just walking outdoors I find myself regularly saying the words “thank you.”  My gratitude is typically generated by simple things—the sun on my face, the wind blowing through my hair, a bird singing nearby, a squirrel climbing a tree, a flower found in an unexpected spot, a cloud shaped like something familiar.  Simple things like these make me smile and cause me to express thanks.  So do the kindnesses shown me by others—a word of encouragement, a cheerful hello, a telephone call or text message, an invitation to a meal, a handshake or a hug,  a gift or even a funny tale.  Watching children play, listening to good music, and reading an interesting book are still yet other things that illicit words of gratitude from my heart and lips on a regular basis.

_CES0461All of these things I see as blessings that ultimately flow to me from my heavenly Father.  James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  It certainly helps to live one’s life with the recognition that the good things that come our way are gifts of the Creator.  There are, indeed, many benefits to remembering that God is the giver of all good gifts and saying “thank you” often.  Chittister says, “Without doubt, unstinting gratitude saves us from the sense of self-sufficiency that leads to forgetfulness of God.”  I encourage you to pay attention to the many gifts God is providing you each and every day.  Not just the big ones, all of them.  Practice gratitude on an ongoing basis and notice how the giving of thanks only leads to the recognition of even more blessings and the goodness of God.  Make gratitude the “alleluia to existence” and “the praise that thunders through the universe.”  I promise you it will make a difference, all the difference in the world!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Big Spring in Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, the middle image is my great niece Braelyn, and the squirrel at the bottom I photographed here in Henderson, KY.)


Apr 6 2014

Crazy Thinking

_CES2809For some crazy reason there is a huge disparity between the way I think and the way I see things.  If I have ninety-nine good things going on in my life or at work and only one bad thing, I tend to dwell on and stress over the one bad thing.  That is not good and I know it.  When it comes to seeing, especially with my nature photography, it tends to be right the opposite.  If I’m out photographing and 99% of what I’m around is ugly or boring and 1% is beautiful, I’ll focus on the beautiful and make the most of it.  I wish I thought more like I see.  I have a feeling God would rather have me focusing on the positives in my life than the negatives.  I’m not much good to Him or anyone else when I’m stressed out and fretting too much over the bad.

_CES2610I got to thinking about all of this the past couple of days.  This past week I spent five days photographing in the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas.  I had never been to this region and was really looking forward to doing some spring photography there.  When we arrived, however, there were very few signs of spring.  Apparently the cold and prolonged winter we’ve had in the south has caused there to be a significant delay in the arrival of spring in the natural world.  I thought for sure I’d be photographing redbuds and dogwoods and wildflowers but for the biggest part of the trip these were absent.  For all practical purposes it might as well have been February.

Some may have despaired and given up after discovering the conditions were not what one expected but I have learned over the years that there is always beauty to be found somewhere.  It may not be found in what you had hoped for but it is there nonetheless.  By focusing on some of the springs and waterfalls in the area, as well as some pretty remarkable geological features, I was able to take a lot of lovely images.

_DSC2962Somehow I have got to figure out a way to take the same approach with my thinking.  It’s absurd for people (me or anybody else) to ignore or minimize the good and beautiful in their life because one or two things in it are not so good or beautiful.  Such negativity is harmful. It keeps a person from living a life of gratitude and also robs them of a tremendous amount of joy and peace.  I certainly realize one should not ignore his or her problems and that they do, indeed, have to be faced and dealt with.  What I must learn to do, however, is not let my focus get distorted so that the problems become larger than they actually are.

Jesus said that he came so that we “may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  One way I can experience more of this abundant life is by focusing not just my eyes but my mind on the blessings in my life.  I have a feeling that doing so will give me a new perspective on my problems and might just enable me to do a better job of dealing with them.  What do you think?

Chuck

(I took the top image at Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the middle one at Elephant Rocks State Park, and the bottom on at Buffalo National River.)


Apr 2 2014

Curiosity

SC curiosity 1I find the world around us to be an amazing, ever fascinating place. You don’t have to go far to see wonders of our world, either. The first photo here is of a tiny native bee inside a California poppy. The second is of a predator-prey interaction no less amazing than a lion taking down a zebra – it is a crab spider having a metallic bee (a native bee) for dinner inside a coastal variant of the California poppy (it is yellow rather than pure orange). Poppies are stunning, beautiful flowers that can overpower you with their color. But a bit of curiosity can take you beyond the obvious to see what else of God’s world might be revealed.

SC curiosity 2Chuck was the first to introduce me to the idea of “two books of God”, the Bible and nature. This is actually not a new thing and has been part of our theological history that goes back many hundreds of years. Many early theologians felt that the “book of nature” was an important complement to the Scriptures. The Bible is obviously a very important part of our faith. It is the Word of God. Yet, if we are to truly believe that God is the creator, then His creation is direct evidence of Him and his power and glory, in some ways, even more than the Bible because a direct experience of nature is not a translation of God as the Bible is (even in the original languages).

I am curious about my God and being in nature and finding remarkable things there makes me smile and “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). I admit that I am not the best at rereading the Bible again and again (though I know there is value in doing that). That has little to do with the Bible and a lot to do with me – I don’t like rereading any book, watching movies more than once or watching a television show I have already seen. So for me, my curiosity about nature keeps me connected with God because I have fresh views of his work all the time.

– Rob

 


Mar 29 2014

Sharon’s Harvest

_CES4270I participated in another funeral today.  The woman who died, Sharon Cates, was a remarkable person on numerous levels.  Sharon was a retired school teacher and someone very involved in both her church and community.  For the past 22 years she was a full-time farmer.  She took over the farm when her husband died at a young age.  She expanded the farm and became, as noted in her obituary, an “advocate for local farmers, caretaker of the land, and passionate in teaching children and youth about agriculture with her vegetable garden, corn maze, and pumpkin patch.”  Sharon was also a champion for the poor and a strong supporter of missions.  It came as no surprise to me that our church was completely packed this morning for her funeral service.

_CES7414Jesus once told a parable about a sower who went out to sow seeds. (Mark 4:1-20)  In his story the scattered seeds fell on a variety of surfaces.  Some fell on the hardened path, some on rocky places, some among thorns and some on good soil.  Jesus indicated that how the seed responded was directly related to the surface on which it fell.  Some of the seed died quickly, some began to grow but withered due to shallow soil, some tried to grow but were choked by the weeds, while the seed that landed upon good soil produced an abundant harvest.  For some reason Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand the meaning of his parable so he had to go on and explain it to them.  He told them that the sown seed was “the word,” or what we might call the gospel.  The various surfaces were examples of people’s response to the word. In the end it was only those who heard the word and accepted it that were able to produce a crop—“thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Since Sharon’s death a few days ago I have thought about Jesus’ parable a number of times.  It is quite obvious to me which type of soil she was—she was good soil, very good soil.  The gospel permeated Sharon’s life and it produced a remarkable harvest.  I saw that in her work at the church.  I saw it in her work on the farm.  I saw it in her work in the community.  I saw it in the way she bravely fought a long battle with cancer.

_CES8928Sharon’s farm produced what many would consider the best vegetables in Henderson County.  I know vegetables were her focus but when I think about her real harvest I think of fruit—the fruit of the Spirit.  In Galatians 5:22-23 the apostle Paul wrote “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   These are the things I saw produced in Sharon’s life and they are the things I will remember her for.

Today I not only thank God for Sharon’s example, I am challenged by it.  In the lives of all of us who claim to be Christians there should be a great harvest.  In each of our lives there should be an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit.  Our time here on earth really ought to count and make a difference.  In the future when I pause to think about the difference one person can make, one of the persons whose life I will have to consider is Sharon Cates.  Her body, like a seed, now rests in the ground but I have a feeling the life she lived will continue to produce a harvest for years to come.

–Chuck

(I took each of the above pictures in Henderson County.  Unfortunately, none of them were taken at the Cates Farm.)


Mar 24 2014

Loving All God’s Creatures

_DSC2406Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a member of my church.  The person who died, Ben Cline, was a very good man with a lot of wonderful traits.  One of the traits I spoke about may have come as a surprise to some.  Ben had a soft spot in his heart for stray animals.  Over the years he had taken in numerous cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.  His family told me about how he bottle-fed some and they recalled how he slept in the floor with one cat for two nights trying to help it get better.  I already had a lot of admiration for Ben for the whole time I knew him he was battling a serious disease and did so with much courage and dignity.  After hearing of the compassion he had for stray animals my admiration only grew greater.  That compassion says a lot about a person’s character.

St. Francis once said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellowmen.”  Apparently St. Francis believed that how one looked at animals said a lot about that person.  I would agree with that.  So would the philosopher Immanuel Kant who said “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Not surprisingly, Ben believed strongly in showing respect to all people, not matter where they came from or how rich or poor they might be.  There was, in fact, a correlation between his compassion for animals and his fellowman.

_DSC2421I sometimes struggle with the picture the Bible presents concerning animals.  There are parts where animals almost appear worthless.  There are other parts where their value is shown and emphasized.  In the Creation story we read that when God made the various creatures He declared them “good.”  (Genesis 1:24–25)  Later when the earth is destroyed by flood God makes sure that Noah saves creatures from all species so that after the flood they, too, might repopulate the earth.  Later still, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses He not only ordered a day of rest for humans but for their animals as well. (Exodus 20:10)

There is a closer bond or connection between humans and animals than most people realize.  According to Genesis 2 we were both brought forth from the earth by God and in Genesis 1 we were both created on the same day.  Needless to say we share the same earth and are dependent on it for our survival.  There are also some who believe that God made animals to be our companions.  In Genesis 2:19 we read that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  The very fact that the animals were named may well imply that a relationship was established between “man and beast.”

_CES0047Unfortunately, many have completely misunderstood God’s call for humans to “rule over” or “have dominion over” all creatures to mean they were to dominate them and treat them however they wish.  (Genesis 1:26) In his book, For Love of Animals, Charles Camosy says Jesus interpreted “dominion” not as domination but servanthood.  He adds, “we are called to be like Jesus and use our dominion to serve and protect the most vulnerable.  This includes vulnerable nonhuman animals.  With Christ as our guide, human dominion over creation must be about self-sacrificial love–not consumerist exploitation.”

In the end I do believe that animals deserve our compassion.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  I am grateful for the example of Ben Cline in this area and I know that there are many others like him out there.  I just wish there were more.

–Chuck

(The top two images are Boomer and Taz, pets of my friends John and Christi Edwards.  The bottom image shows my dog, Sierra.)

 


Mar 20 2014

Seasons and Sustainability

WV-Hawksnest-SP-598-lrToday is a day a lot of folks have been waiting for.  It’s the first day of spring.  Of course that doesn’t mean the weather is automatically going to change from cold to warm but it does, at least, signal that there won’t be much more cold weather to come.  This truly has seemed like a long winter.  Here in western Kentucky the cold weather actually arrived prior to the official start of winter and it seems to have held on for dear life ever since.  I don’t mind the cold that much myself but I am one of those looking forward to spring.  It’s a great time of the year and probably my favorite season to photograph.

dutchmen's-britchesThose who have been worried that spring wasn’t coming had no need to be concerned.  God Himself has guaranteed that the four seasons will continue as long as the earth remains.  This, in fact, was what God told Noah after the ark finally landed.  God said He would never destroy all living creatures again and then added, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)  Until the earth is no more the seasons will remain, as will day and night, for the God who created the world is committed to its continuation and sustainability.  That is certainly good to know.

The question that should haunt a lot of people today is whether they are also committed to its continuation and sustainability.  Far too many people are only concerned about the earth meeting their needs here and now.  They are not thinking about the fact that how we use the earth’s resources today will determine what the generations that follow us will inherit and how they will live their lives.  If what we leave for those who follow us is a depletion of the planet’s resources, dirty air and water, and an altered climate we are guilty of a horrible sin.

Westerm-CottontailGod clearly reveals that He stands committed to keeping the earth going but as with so many other things, He depends in part on us to make sure that His will is done.  Are you doing your part?  To insure a viable future for those who will follow us we must!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Hawksnest State Park in WV, the Dutchmen’s breeches in Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the western cottontail at Devil’s Towers N.M. in Wyoming.)