Nov 19 2014

The Roofless Church

_DSC2921This past weekend my wife and I went over to New Harmony, Indiana, to spend the night.  I had visited this historic community once before but was glad for the chance to go back.  New Harmony was the site for two utopian experiments in the nineteenth century.  Although those experiments failed today New Harmony is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited.  I would use the Celtic phrase “thin place” to describe it as the veil separating earth and heaven seems especially thin there.

_CES2121One of the reasons I was looking forward to going back was the fact that I had learned a good bit more about New Harmony, and especially the Roofless Church, in John Philip Newell’s latest book, The Rebirthing of God.  In an early chapter of that book Newell deals at length with the spiritual significance of the Roofless Church and also a particular sculpture found there by the sculptor Jacob Lipchitz called “The Virgin” or “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.”  The Roofless Church, as the name implies, is a church without a roof. It was built by the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust and was dedicated in 1960.  A brochure on the site says the building was created “for an interdenominational church with the concept of one roof, the sky, to embrace all worshipping humanity.” As far as I know no regular services are held in the Roofless Church but it certainly provides a worshipful experience for those who choose to visit it.  It also offers a needed reminder that not all churches or places of worship can be found under a roof.

_CES2074In many ways Creation itself serves as a “roofless church,” or at least it does for me.  I often sense God’s presence when out in the open watching the clouds float by or gazing up into the starry heavens.  Viewing Creation as The Roofless Church reminds us that God cannot be put in a box.  It, better than any building, points to the transcendence of God.

_CES2050Over the years I have been blessed to visit many of the most beautiful churches ever constructed.  I’ve been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s in Vienna and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  All are majestic and awe-inspiring structures but none compare to the majesty and beauty of Creation.  No ecclesiastical building I have visited or worshiped in draws me into God’s presence the way nature does.  I am certainly grateful for nice roofed churches to worship in but it is the “roofless church” of Creation that I find most conducive for worship.

I wish more people would begin to look at Creation as The Roofless Church.  It might just lead them to worship more often.  It might also motivate them to take better care of this “church.”  In most churches I’ve served the members take great pride in their buildings and go to great length to keep them clean and operable.  If we viewed the earth as The Roofless Church I’d like to think we would offer it more respect and do all we can to keep it clean and healthy.

If you’ve never visited the Roofless Church in New Harmony I hope you get the chance to do so someday.  Even more so, I hope you will begin to view the world around you as The Roofless Church and take advantage of the opportunities it affords you to offer the Creator your worship and praise.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at New Harmony last weekend.)


Nov 12 2014

The Peace of the Forest

_DSC0586In recent days I’ve been reading Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Jane Goodall.  Her work amongst chimpanzees is legendary.  I was surprised when I learned the subject of her new book was plants.  Still, I knew it would be something I would want to read.

_DSC7876In Seeds of Hope Dr. Goodall writes about her lifelong love for plants.  Botany might not be her primary area of expertise but it is obvious she knows a lot about plants and is enthralled by their diversity and usefulness.  At one point, however, she offers a testimony of how the trees of a particular forest brought emotional and spiritual healing to her following a personal crisis.  She writes, “It was to the forest I went after my second husband, Derek, lost his painful fight with cancer in 1981.  I knew that I would be calmed and find a way to cope with grief, for it is in the forest that I sense most strongly a spiritual power greater than myself.  A power in which I and the forest and the creatures who make their home there ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).  The sorrows and problems of life take their proper place in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, with reality suspended by the timelessness of the forest world, I gradually came to terms with my loss and discovered that ‘peace that passes all understanding” (Isaiah 26:3).”

_DSC1272Later Goodall shares how the peace of the forest continues to sustain her.  She says, “As I travel around the world, people are always telling me that I have an aura of peace—even when I am surrounded by chaos, by people jostling for signatures, or wanting to ask questions, or worrying about logistics. ‘How can you seem so peaceful?’ they ask.  The answer, I think, is that the peace of the forest has become part of my being.  Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or the waves crashing onto the shore.” 

I can relate to what Jane Goodall writes here.  For many years I, too, have found my greatest peace in the forest.  There’s just something about being amongst trees.  A few days ago a friend and I took a short walk through a forest to photograph a natural arch.  As we walked the trail we talked about the therapeutic benefits of being in the woods.  It seems to have a calming affect for a lot of people.  I have no doubt that this is something God intended.  And like Goodall, I find peace not only in being amongst the trees but also when I pause to reflect on memories of times spent in forests.

_DSC0854It’s interesting how often the Bible talks about trees and how they often fulfill a vital role in the biblical stories.  Trees play an important part in the Creation accounts and the story of the Fall.  In a number of instances God reveals Himself near trees.  Both Abraham and Moses had close encounters with God near trees.  Jesus apparently often sought solace in a grove of olive trees.  And in the end, when John offers a graphic description of heaven, he says “And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

I realize that the peace Goodall and I experience in the forests others feel in desert settings, mountains or near rivers, lakes or oceans.  I feel peace in these places too.  Once again, I am convinced that God has designed Creation to give us peace so this is to be expected.  If we want the peace that passes all understanding we will be wise to spend time in the Creation with the Author of Creation and the giver of peace.  We will also be wise to make sure that such places are protected and preserved.  In at least one sense, the peace of the world is dependent on it.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Nov 5 2014

Could Never Say Enough!

_CES3560In recent weeks I’ve been using John Philip Newell’s book, Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayer, as part of my morning devotion time.  I have found it to be quite helpful.  It offers wonderful aids for focusing on God and a part of each day’s reading includes Scripture passages that Newell has paraphrased and a prayer he has written.  In this morning’s reading I came across a passage I was not familiar with.  The reason I was not familiar with it is it was based on a couple of passages from the Book of Ecclesiasticus.  Ecclesiasticus, not to be confused with the Book of Ecclesiastes, is also known as the Wisdom of Sirach and is one of the writings found in the Apocrypha.  These are writings accepted as canonical by a large portion of Christianity but typically not by Protestants.  I actually have only one Bible that contains the Apocrypha and will confess that I’ve never read Ecclesiasticus in its entirety.  After reading some of the readings Newell has included in Celtic Treasure I want to.

_DSC7802This is the passage I read this morning and found so moving: “Bless the God of all who everywhere works great wonders and by whose will all things are made.  The shining stars are the beauty of the universe, a glittering array in the heights of God.  Look at the rainbow and praise the One who made it.  It stretches across the sky with its glorious arc.  By God’s command lightning flashes from heaven and thunder shakes the earth.  Cold snow blows from the north and the south brings summer breezes.  The sun’s heat scorches the wilderness and withers the grass like fire.  Wet mist hovers between the mountains and falling dews refresh the land.  The swelling sea is full of danger and strange creatures crawl forth from its depths.  By heaven’s word all things are created.  We could say more but could never say enough. Let the final word be, ‘God is in all things.’  So bless the God of all who everywhere works great wonders, who watches over our life from birth to death and deals with us mercifully.  May there be peace in our days and may there be gladness in our hearts.”

I love this passage because it is a beautiful reminder that God is the Creator of all that is and as such is to be blessed or praised.  It also challenges us not to forget that “God is in all things.”  I find especially interesting the words “We could say more but could never say enough.”  When it comes to declaring the majesty of the Creation and the even greater majesty of the Creator we truly could “never say enough!”

_DSC0890Every time I go out into nature I find something to marvel at.  There is always something new to discover, enjoy or learn.  I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how long I live this will always be the case.  The wonders, beauty and mysteries of nature are beyond my comprehension.  Even more so is the wonder, beauty and mystery of God.  I have committed my life to being a witness for this God and there is much I want to say to honor my Lord and the Maker of heaven and earth but in the end I have to agree with the wise writer of Ecclesiasticus, I could never say enough.  That, however, will not keep me from trying.  I hope it won’t stop you either.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at Yellowstone National Park, and the bottom image at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.)


Oct 29 2014

Dying to Live

_DSC2015The fall foliage has finally gotten nice in western Kentucky.  I’ve not been able to get out and photograph much due to demands at work but I’ve enjoyed seeing the beautiful colors as I drive around town.  The hues of autumn bring me a lot of joy.  That joy is tempered however by the knowledge that the colors will not last long.  In a matter of days the trees will be bare and will stay that way until spring of next year.  Realizing this I try to take time to enjoy the fall foliage while I can and encourage others to do the same.

One of my other fall rituals is trying to remember that there are important lessons to be learned from nature this time of the year.  For example, fall helps me to  remember that some of God’s blessings are fleeting and truly must be enjoyed while they are present.  If we wait until tomorrow it might be too late.  I also recall this time of the year that just as the autumn foliage brings sustenance to my spirit, when the leaves fall they give sustenance to the earth as well.  As trees lose their leaves it can seem like a death when in reality it is only a continuation of the circle of life.

_DSC1940A few days ago I did manage to go out one morning for a couple of hours to photograph in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.  While I was focused on taking images of cedar cypress trees in the Sloughs a friend pointed out to me some lovely acorns on an oak tree just a few feet away.  I took several pictures of the acorns and surrounding leaves.  Later it occurred to me that these acorns play a role similar to the leaves of the tree.  They, too, will soon fall to the earth below them and bring nourishment to both wildlife and the earth itself.  What might appear to be an end for the acorn is in some ways just a beginning.

_DSC1948Nature seems to have more than its share of reminders about God’s intricate economy.   Just as in the natural world death and life form a circle, it is clear in the Scriptures that death and life are closely tied together spiritually.  Those of us who are Christians affirm that both abundant life and eternal life are gifts made available to us as a result of the death of Jesus.  We also remember that there are numerous calls in the New Testament for followers of Christ to die to self.  Jesus once said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)  If we are unwilling to die to self and live for both God and others we break the circle of life God intended.  At the same time, when we do die to self and live for both God and others not only do we find true life but we become channels of life for others too.

_DSC2384The selfish side of me would like to see the autumn leaves stay on the trees for a very long period of time but I realize that this is not what is best for the trees or for the earth.  The selfish side of me would also like to have the world revolve around me but, here too, I recognize that this is not at all what is best for me or for those around me.  As paradoxical as it may seem, if I want to experience life to its fullest and help others experience the same I must die to self.  Perhaps God knew that this would be a difficult lesson for some of us to learn or remember so and He gave us some great object lessons to help us grasp this truth.  All we have to do is watch the leaves and acorns fall to the ground this autumn.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY, and the rest at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A.)


Oct 22 2014

This Morning’s Lessons

_DSC1754I’ve not been able to get out and photograph for about two weeks so I went out early this morning to try to capture some new local autumn images.  We are still a good bit away from being at peak colors but it was still nice to be outside and to do some photographic work.  I was only able to photograph for a little over an hour but during that time I got some nice images and also was reminded of a couple of important spiritual lessons.

_DSC1797I started the day at one of my favorite places in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area—the Jenny Hole.  Last year I was able to capture a number of images I really liked there.  I discovered once I got there that the cedar cypress trees have already turned to their autumn rust color.  There was some nice side lighting shortly after sunrise but I had trouble getting excited about what I was seeing.  The scene looked practically identical to what I had photographed last year.  It didn’t make much sense to take pictures if they were going to look just like the ones I’d already taken.  As I started to walk back to my car I looked back and noticed something I had not earlier.  There were reflections of the cypress tree.  Last year the water still had duckweed and other vegetation in front of the trees and the reflection I saw was not present.  I found delight in being able to photograph this beautiful tree reflected in the water.

_DSC1839The lesson I was reminded of here is to pay more attention.  If we are not careful we will fail to notice things that are slightly different than they were before.  In doing so we will miss that which is new.  That can happen both when photographing and also in one’s spiritual life.  There are periods in my life when each day seems basically the same.  In those times I may be lulled into thinking nothing new is going on when, in reality, if I were truly paying attention, I would see that God was up to something new or different.  I know the Bible talks about Christ being the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8) but I also believe that the Scriptures reveal a God who is always up to something new.  In Revelation 21:5 John hears God say, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  If we are wise we will strive each and every day to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  It may seem to be just one more day like every other when, in fact, God is trying to show us or do something new.

A few minutes later I drove to a small pond and noticed a yellow tree reflecting nicely in the water.  When I got out of my car I scared a duck that had been in the pond.  The duck flew off and its departure created lots of ripples in the water that disturbed the lovely reflection I saw when I first arrived.  I went ahead and took a few pictures but waited long enough for things to calm down.  Eventually, the reflection I first saw reappeared.  Every good photographer knows that to get mirror-like reflections the water has to be calm or still.

_DSC1807As I waited for the water to calm I was reminded that as a Christian I am called to be a reflection of my Lord.  The goal is to reflect Jesus as perfectly as I can in my life and conduct.  I have discovered that this is very difficult for me to do when my soul is troubled or I am physically stressed or tired.  I feel I offer a better reflection of Christ when I make sure to take time out to be still, to meditate, to cease from striving.  The problem is I often go long periods without taking the time to do this.  I’m afraid God often has to say to me the words He spoke through the prophet Isaiah long ago, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (30:15)  I really should know better by now.

I’m glad I was able to photograph this morning.  Not only did I get some nice images, God gently reminded me of a couple of lessons I needed to hear once again.

–Chuck

 


Oct 15 2014

Getting Our House in Order

Cumberland Falls fall river view hI have mentioned a time or two lately that my wife and I recently purchased a home in Henderson, Kentucky.  We’ve been in it a few weeks now but are still very much in the process of getting the house in order.  There are lots of boxes waiting to be unpacked and each day we struggle to remember where certain things are.  We are constantly being reminded that getting settled in a new home is both exciting and stressful.

Raven Rock fallGetting our house in order has involved more than just unpacking. There are also a number of repairs that have to be made and various “home improvement” projects to pursue.  I’m not sure what year our house was built but I have no doubt it was something very special when the first owners moved in.  It is still a wonderful home but with the passing of time and various owners things have been damaged or do not work like they once did.  Furthermore, some earlier home improvement projects did not work out quite as planned.  We have already had a plumber come fix some things and now need the services of an electrician and painter.  It will take a lot of time (not to mention money) before we will have our house in order and looking like we want it.  This is something we both recognize and accept because it is our home now and we want to make it the best house we can.

JWSP 098As I’ve thought in recent days about the many things we need to do to get our house in order it occurred to me that there are a number of parallels with the house we all share called earth.  Few would deny that there is lots that needs to be done to get this house in order too.  The earth God created was and is something very special.  But like my own house here in Henderson, it has suffered a good bit of damage over the years and not everything works quite like it once did.  Some of the things we came up with for “home improvements” of the earth have also not gone as planned and generated new problems that now have to be addressed.

red maple treeI would like to think that we still recognize the value of our home—the earth—and are willing to do everything we can to get our house in order.  Doing so, like with my house, will take time and not be cheap.   Obviously, we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to but we are only kidding ourselves if we think there will not be serious consequences for choosing that path.  I would be quite foolish if I didn’t go ahead and get the plumbing and electrical issues resolved in our new home.   By doing nothing I would only incur greater expense down the road but even more importantly, I would put my wife and myself in danger.  The same is true when it comes to dealing with many of the environmental problems our planet currently faces.  The longer we wait to address these problems the more costly it will be to deal with them later and by failing to deal with them we literally put our lives and that of others in jeopardy.

I hope more people will come to look at the earth as their home and recognize that it is just as important to get this house in order as it is the one we might happen to own.  Surely it would go a long way in helping to make this a better world and help us all to be better stewards of God’s Creation.

–Chuck

(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s post with a series of autumn images I’ve taken in my “home” state of Kentucky.)