Nov 26 2015

Two Thanksgiving Lists

_DSC6419“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”  Psalm 100:3-4

Last week when I wrote my article for our church newsletter I encouraged our members to make out a Thanksgiving list, to identify the things they would give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day.  On Sunday we had a guest speaker at church.  Rev. Amy Cates likewise encouraged us to make out a Thanksgiving list but suggested we use the letters of the alphabet to do so.  I decided last night I would follow my own advice and hers and make out my own Thanksgiving list.  I chose to make two, one focusing on God’s Creation and the other on more general things in my life.  Here’s what I came up with.

e_DSC7882 (2)Creation Thanksgiving List: A-asters; B-butterflies; C-clouds; D-Denali National Park; E-Everglades National Park; F-ferns; G-grizzly bears; H-herons; I-Indian paintbrush; J-Jasper National Park; K-killdeer; L-lichen; M-mountains; N-northern lights; O-owls; P-pikas; Q-quail; R-rainbows; S-sea otters; T-trees; U-Upper Peninsula of Michigan; V-violets; W-waterfalls; X-xenogamy (look it up) ; Y-Yellowstone National Park; and Z-Zion National Park.

e_DSC9232General Thanksgiving List: A-art; B-books, C-church; D-dreams fulfilled; E-education obtained; F-family and friends; G-grace; H-hope; I-imagination; J-Jesus; K-Kentucky (my home state); L-love; M-music; N-nature; O-opportunities to serve; P-photography; Q-quests to fulfill; R-regular meals (so many don’t have this luxury); S-senses to enjoy life; T-travel opportunities I’ve had; U-University of Kentucky basketball; V-vehicles to drive; W-water (millions do not have access to clean water); X-x-rays (I chose this one because X is hard and also to offer thanks for living in a time when we have made so many medical advancements); Y-youngsters; and Z-zoos and the research that takes place in many of them.

I share my lists with you not just to tell you what I’m thankful for but to encourage you to do the same.  I suspect you’ll find that it’s not as easy as it might sound.  Some of the letters are easy to come up with things to be grateful for, others are rather difficult.  Still, it’s a wonderful and fun thing to do on Thanksgiving Day.

DSC_0097Finally, I want to thank all of you who take the time to read the Seeing Creation blog.  It’s good to know that there are others out there who share my passion for God, Nature and Spirituality.  I hope and pray you have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day.


Nov 18 2015

Learning From Nature Not to Rush

e_DSC3033“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

For the most part nature is rather predictable.  It has its rhythms and patterns and they remain more or less consistent.  The tides ebb and flow, the moon goes through its cycle of phases, the sun rises and sets at its appointed times, and the seasons change pretty much on schedule.  There are of course some exceptions along the way.  This time last year we had our biggest snow since I moved to Henderson and winter was still over a month away.  All in all, however, nature follows its steady course year after year.  Uninterrupted, nature has its own pace and doesn’t tend to rush things.

e_DSC3171I believe we would be wise to note this attribute in nature and learn as human beings to not always be in such a hurry.  Nature generally takes things slowly while we seem to want to rush everything.  Years ago the country band Alabama had a song with the refrain “I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”   That could be the theme song for a lot of us.  Whereas nature takes its time, we want to beat time.  The tendency to rush through life keeps us from living in the moment and from experiencing what God has in mind for us here and now.

ASP0328Right now a lot of people are in a rush to get to Christmas.  As early as Halloween I was seeing Christmas decorations around town.  What’s the hurry?  Especially considering that Thanksgiving is still a week away.  Might we not want to slow down in the coming days to do what the old hymn says and count our blessings?  According to the liturgical calendar Advent does not even begin this year until November 29.  Why the rush to Christmas?  It seems like in so many areas of life it is when we get ahead of ourselves that we get in trouble.  There may well be blessings we will miss if we start focusing on Christmas too soon.

_DSC2191By paying more attention to nature we may hear God telling us to slow down and take it easy.  We might also find the Creator urging us to develop a more “natural” rhythm for our lives, one where we are content to be fully present where we are and not be always rushing to get ahead to somewhere we would rather be.  When I listen to the waves on a beach, look above at the stars in the sky at night, or simply walk through a forest I get the sense that God is calling us to find our place in this world just like the waves, stars, and trees.  I truly believe our peace is in our place and that we will never fully experience the peace God intends for us if we mindlessly rush through life and are always getting ahead of ourselves.  Perhaps I’m wrong about this but I don’t think so.


(I took the pictures shown above at John James Audubon State Park here in Henderson, KY.)


Nov 11 2015

Reflections on Autumn

_DSC2202“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

Well, another fall has come and gone. Oh, I know it’s just November 11 but that’s the talk I hear from a lot of nature photographers.  It seems like for many the only thing good about autumn is the two to three weeks of beautiful fall foliage.  Considering how spectacular those two to three weeks can be I kind of understand where they’re coming from—anything after that pales in comparison.  Perhaps, but I’m not quite sure about that.  I love photographing fall foliage as much as anyone else but I believe autumn has so much more to offer than just colorful leaves and reflections.

_CES1077Where I live in western Kentucky we are well past peak fall foliage. Many trees are already bare and the rest of them will be soon.   Even so, I’m excited because I know before long the great flocks of snow and speckled geese will be arriving at the Wildlife Management Area nearby.  They will be joined by tundra swans and a number of other species that we do not see the rest of the year.  The return of the birds is as much a part of autumn as the turning of the leaves.

Another thing I like about late fall is the new vistas that are available.   When the trees are bare you can see into places and spaces not possible when the trees are covered with leaves.  A walk in the woods takes on a whole new look and feeling in late autumn.  The incredible patterns of tree branches hidden when covered with leaves in and of themselves become a wonder to behold.  In some ways there is more to see in late fall than at other times of the year.


Upon reflection it seems kind of strange that so many people associate autumn primarily with colorful leaves. There is certainly far more to fall than beautiful foliage.  Perhaps if we could remember this we would enjoy the season more.  And that goes for each of the seasons.  Winter is about more than snow, spring is about more than flowers blooming, and summer is about more than sunny days.  The Creator has blessed us with so much to see, experience and enjoy throughout the entire year but if we are not careful we’ll miss a lot of it.  I suggest we be careful…


(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson County, Kentucky.)


Nov 4 2015

Starting the Day Off Right

_DSC2359I have the privilege of teaching a Sunday School class each week. For the past few months we’ve been studying John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.  In our session this past Sunday we were challenged by Ortberg to take seriously the apostle Paul’s injunction, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)  He makes a big deal about Paul saying “whatever you do” and included a number of everyday instances where we ought to consider how we might do things “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  One of those things was waking up.  How might we begin a new day as Jesus would?  We had a good discussion on this and there are certainly a lot of different things we might do. I happen to believe, however, that the best way we can start a new day is by praying.  I suspect Jesus would concur.  We might begin a new day by simply offering thanks for the gift of another day to live.  We might also offer our gratitude for mercies made new with the rising of the sun. (See Lamentations 3:22-23)  It would also be wise to ask for wisdom and guidance for the tasks ahead of us that day.

_DSC2590Over the years I have also found it helpful to read prayers or devotional thoughts at the beginning of a new day. There are lots of great resources available.  One of my favorite authors is John Philip Newell.  He has written a number of books that provide prayers for both morning and evening.  One of those is Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter.  Here are a couple of morning prayers from this volume: “As daylight breaks the darkness of night, as the first movements of morning pierce the night’s stillness, so a new waking to life dawns with us, so a fresh beginning opens. In the early light of this day, in the first actions of this morning, let us be awake to life.  In our soul and in our seeing let us be alive to the gift of this new day, let us be fully alive.” 

Another one of Newell’s prayers reads: “Early in the morning we seek your presence, O God, not because you are ever absent from us but because often we are absent from you at the heart of each moment where you forever dwell.  In the rising of the sun, in the unfolding color and shape of the morning open our eyes to the mystery of this moment that in every moment we may know your life-giving presence.  Open our eyes to this moment that in every moment we may know you as the One who is always now.”

_DSC2545In many of Newell’s prayers he incorporates elements of Creation and uses them to lead us into prayer. This is something each of us can do as well.  I encourage you to pay attention each morning to what is going on in the natural world about you and allow what you see and hear to direct your prayers to the Maker of heaven and earth.  I really can’t think of a better way to start one’s day.


(The pictures shown above are some I’ve taken early in the morning this past week.  The top one was taken in southern Indian’s Hoosier National Forest and the bottom two were taken not far from my home in Henderson, KY.)

Oct 28 2015

Beyond Seeing

SC 10-15 5Nature is a place rich with beauty and experiences. Recently, I traveled and photographed with Chuck taking a cross section of California on a course from east to west from the Eastern Sierras to the Pacific Ocean. We saw desert, mountain tops, brilliant fall color, snow, heat, small but ancient trees, giant trees, flat farmland, rolling grassland, and ocean. This showed us an amazing sampler of God’s creation.

Eastern Sierras and Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CaliforniaBefore the trip, I had been reading a book by Patrice Vecchione, Step Into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life. I have quite enjoyed reading this book. In the book, the author encourages us to connect deeply with nature in many ways, including through all of our senses.

So I decided to deliberately do this as I photographed. I felt the wood of the ancient bristlecone pine and smelled their needles. I listened to the silence of the mountain where the bristlecone lived. I felt the lichens growing there (I had no idea that they were so rough!).

SC 10-15 2 SC 10-15 4I knelt in snow and felt it’s cold and wet. I sat on a volcanic rock in the desert and felt the huge difference in temperature from sun to shade. I heard the silence of the desert. I knocked on a giant sequoia tree and understood the thick insulation of the bark. I heard the gentle sounds of a morning forest.

SC 10-15 3I felt, smelled, and heard my way across the state while also seeing scenes and subjects to capture with my camera. Connecting with nature in this way may or may not have affected what I photographed, but it definitely affected how and what I saw. Plus it slowed me down and really made me feel part of each location.

God has given us an amazing world to celebrate and connect with. By going beyond the obvious that we see with our eyes, by touching, feeling, smelling, listening, we can encounter a richer experience with God through His Creation.

– Rob

Oct 22 2015

“The Right Place”

f_DSC0464If you’re a longtime reader of this blog you know I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Whenever she publishes a new book I find cause for celebration.  Last week I celebrated the release of her newest collection of poems, Felicity.  You can easily read through this book in one sitting but I wouldn’t suggest that.  Oliver’s poems are to be savored and contemplated.  I especially like the ones where her love for nature and God merge.

f_DSC0415One of the poems in this new collection is called “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way.” It begins, “If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among. If you’re Emily, a garden will do.  Try to find the right place for yourself.  If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.”  I like the idea of trying to find “the right place” for you.  Muir did, Emily Dickenson did, and so can you and I.  It’s interesting how different people are drawn to various landscapes or things.  We do not all connect to the same thing but it seems as though we all connect to something in the natural world.  How could we not?  I connect to a lot of things.  I no longer live near mountains but I will always love them.  I will visit them when I can.  And when I can’t, I can always dream.  Thankfully, I also find a connection with trees and there are lots of wonderful trees in my area, some right outside my door.  These trees offer me a special connection with God’s Creation.  What is your right place?

f_DSC9745Later in this poem Oliver writes “God, or the gods, are invisible, quite understandable. But holiness is visible, entirely.”  Here the poet makes a wise observation.  We are not able to see God with our eyes; for many reasons that is just not possible.  Still, we are able to see a reflection of the divine, God’s holiness, in a variety of places.  Certainly it can be seen in some special people from time to time but God’s holiness is always evident in the Creation. “In the beginning” a holy God spoke the world into existence and declared it good (Genesis 1).  That world, the parts not marred by humankind, is still good and bears witness daily to the holiness of its Maker.  For me, holiness is most readily seen in God’s handiwork.  It is through God’s Creation that I can visibly see the invisible God’s holiness on a regular basis.

In many parts of the country this is the peak season for fall foliage. I hope you will make a special effort to take a close look at and enjoy the delightful colors of autumn.  As you do so, make sure to offer a word of thanks to the Creator for this annual display of divine holiness.  Wherever you happen to be, make it the “right place” to commune with God.


(I took the pictures shown above on my recent trip to central California.)