Feb 23 2019

The First Incarnation

Over the years I have benefited from the writings of Richard Rohr.  That happened again this week when I read a series of posts on his “Daily Meditation” site.  There I was introduced to the concept of the two Incarnations.  When Christians hear the word “Incarnation” they typically think of Jesus coming into the world the first Christmas.  Rohr refers to this as the second Incarnation.  What, then, is the first?  That would be the Creation itself.  He says “I want to suggest that the first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.” “Two thousand years ago marks the Incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the Incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and ‘every kind of wild beast’ according to the Genesis creation story.  This is the ‘Cosmic Christ’ through which God has ‘let us know the mystery of God’s purpose, the hidden plan made from the beginning in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9-10).”

Although I have long understood Creation to be one of the supreme sources of divine revelation, I had not previously thought of Creation as the “first Incarnation.”  It makes sense to me and if we adopt Rohr’s teaching it helps us look at God differently.  It also causes us to look at the earth differently.  We see it is truly holy.  We see in it the immanence of God.  Such a viewpoint opens the door for us to have a more intimate experience with God and the “Cosmic Christ.”  It helps explain why many of us feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else.  I realize not everyone will buy into this concept of a “first Incarnation.”  Not everyone bought into the idea of the second Incarnation.  But for those with eyes to see and faith to believe God’s presence in Jesus could be seen and felt.  Likewise, for those with eyes to see and faith to believe, God’s presence can be seen and felt in the Creation.

In addition of bringing people into a closer communion with God, I would like to think that looking at Creation as the first Incarnation would move us to revere or honor the earth.  Needless to say, we have not done a very good job of this in the past.  The Cosmic Christ would seem to have fared no better than the earthly Christ.  Understanding the Creation as a visible manifestation of God would hopefully lead us to seek to preserve and protect the earth.  Not doing so might be compared to a second crucifixion.  I do not believe it is going too far to say that failure to love and care for the earth is a failure to love and care for God.

There is much to be said for Richard Rohr’s concept of the first Incarnation.  I hope you will give it further thought and that it will lead you closer to the one who is the Light of the world.

–Chuck


Jan 25 2019

Whichever Way We Turn

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Psalm 27:8

There are a number of places in the Scriptures where we are encouraged to seek God’s face.  To seek God’s face is to seek God.  But just where are we supposed to look.  In his beautiful book, Praying with the Earth, John Philip Newell encourages us to look for God’s face in the world around us.  He writes: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, there is your face among us.”

Whereas some would say God’s face cannot be seen, others would posit that God’s face is everywhere for those with eyes to see.  One of those persons who was able to see God everywhere was the recently deceased poet, Mary Oliver.  I would love to have eyes like Mary Oliver had.  I believe she saw God’s face in trees, flowers, birds, her beloved dogs, snakes, otters, deer, and children.  I believe she saw God’s face whichever way she turned.

I want to share with you a poem from my favorite Mary Oliver book, Thirst.  It’s called “Making the House Ready for the Lord.”  “Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but still nothing is as shining as it should be for you.  Under the sink, for example, is an uproar of mice—it is the season of their many children.  What shall I do?  And under the eaves and through the walls the squirrels have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season when they need shelter, so what shall I do?  And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow; what shall I do?  Beautiful is the snow falling in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly up the path, to the door.  And still I believe you will come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.”

Mary Oliver’s poems, along with John Philip Newell’s prayers, John Muir’s writings, and the Scriptures themselves, have taught me that God’s face can be seen in the world of nature and in the faces of those closest to me.  I am very grateful to have had such good teachers.  They have affected how I look at things and how I photograph.  They have enabled me to see far more than I would have otherwise. Admittedly, I still do not see all I could or all I hope to, but I have seen enough to conclude that the face of God is indeed everywhere and that it is beautiful—more beautiful than the tongue can tell.

–Chuck


Dec 26 2018

Learning from the Trees

I have loved trees since I was a little boy. I grew up playing in the woods and I think that has influenced my affection for trees. Since taking up nature photography over twenty-five years ago, there’s no telling how many trees I’ve photographed. They are one of my favorite subjects. I also have quite a few books on trees. Recently I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It is a fascinating book and I’m learning a lot about trees in it. And about other things as well.

Early in the book Wohlleben makes the case that trees are social beings. He indicates that they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors. He goes on to say there are many advantages to trees working together. Wohlleben writes: “A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer. Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible.”

Being a pastor, I have to admit that these words made me immediately think about the church. As Christians, we can only survive in community with other believers.   There are so many things we cannot do alone and were never meant to. We are meant to live out our faith with others. We are interdependent. Today a lot of people strive to be independent but this doesn’t work in the community of faith. We need each other, just like the trees do. We cannot afford to look out only for ourselves. Our spiritual lives are truncated and diminished when we isolate ourselves from other believers.  We hurt both ourselves and those around us.

Another important parallel is that just as every tree is valuable to the community or forest and worth keeping around as long as possible, every Christian is valuable to his or her community of faith and worth keeping around as long as possible. The apostle Paul made the same point when he talked about the church being like a body made up of different parts. He said all parts have a role to play and are, therefore, valuable and necessary. (See 1 Corinthians 12:14ff) We need to remember this for a lot of reasons. We must affirm the value of all members in our community of faith. We all need each other if we are going to grow and thrive. We all need each other if we are going to accomplish our purpose as a community of faith. Once again, there simply is no place for isolation in the community of faith.

Jesus encouraged us to “consider the lilies” and to pay attention to the birds. I suspect he would also encourage us to pay attention to the trees around us. They have a lot to teach us.

–Chuck


Nov 30 2018

Landscapes and Prayer

I recently started reading John O’Donohue’s book, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World.  In the opening chapter I found some words about landscape that resonated with me.  I suspect they will with many of you as well.  O’Donohue writes: “I love mountains. I feel that mountains are huge contemplatives.  They are there and they are in the presence up to their necks and they are still in it and with it and within it.  One of the lovely ways to pray is to take your body out into a landscape and to be still in it.  Your body is made out of clay, so your body is actually a miniature landscape that has got up from under the earth and is now walking on the normal landscape.  If you go out for several hours into a place that is wild, your mind begins to slow down, down, down.  What is happening is that the clay of your body is retrieving its own sense of sisterhood with the great clay of the landscape.  Water in a landscape is a fascinating thing as well.  I often think that water is the tears of the earth’s joy and sadness.  Every kind of water in a landscape has a different kind of tonality and a different kind of presence to it…  I also think that trees are incredible presences.  There is incredible symmetry in a tree, between its inner life and its outer life, between its rooted memory and its external active presence.  A tree grows up and down at once and produces enough branches to incarnate wild divinity.  It doesn’t limit itself—it reaches for the sky and it reaches for the source, all in one seamless kind of movement.  So I think landscape is an incredible, mystical teacher, and when you begin to tune into its sacred presence, something shifts inside you.” 

O’Donohue goes on to say, “One of the lovely developments in consciousness…is this dawning recognition that we are guests of the universe, and that landscape was the firstborn of creation and was here hundreds of millions of years before us. It knows what is actually going on.  To put it in a theological way, I feel that landscape is always at prayer, and its prayer is seamless.  It is always enfolded in the presence.  It is a high work of imagination, because there is no repetition in a landscape.  Every stone, every tree, every field is a different place.  When your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is to actually be here.”

I appreciate what O’Donohue has to say and can relate to it. I believe God does make Himself known through the Creation.  All of God’s works bear the mark of the Creator.  This includes the landscape.  This helps explain why many of us find ourselves closest to God in nature.  It also explains why prayer seems to come easier for us when we are out in nature.  Is it too much to believe that rest of Creation prays alongside us and contributes to our prayer?  O’Donohue specifically mentions mountains, water and trees as elements of the landscape that draw him to the presence of God.  These three elements have contributed much to my own experience of God as well.  I don’t think that is a coincidence.  In the Scriptures God is often found in mountains, water and trees.

If only we had eyes to see we would discover God all around us, in all the different parts of the landscape. And O’Donohue is right, “when your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is actually to be here.”  What a privilege indeed!

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above on a recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Sep 28 2018

The Weighty Season

Autumn officially arrived last week so I thought this would be a good time to share one of my favorite Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poems.” This one can be found in his book, A Small Porch.

“Again the air is full of falling: the falling of leaves in the weighty season that brings all home again to the lowly miracle from which they came. Nature, the mother and maker, requires that life take form, enflesh itself in the shapes and habits of the world’s unnumbered kinds.  And then she requires each one at last to shed its guise, giving up its matter to the life to come.  Think of a world of no fall, no gravity calling downward, homeward, bringing all by the light uprisen down to rest in the resting land–a world, instead, where all that dies would fly upward and outward, nameless and alone.  How sterile then would be the earth, seasonless the year.  The year is the showing forth of the heavenly love that is the being of the present world.  The leaves, opening and at last falling, hold a while the beauty of God who made them by the work and care of Nature, His vicar and our mother.  His only is the light of which all things are made, the beauty that they are, the delight that is our prayer.”

 There are many things I like about this poem about the “weighty season” we call fall. I appreciate the way Berry alludes to the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life itself.  There is indeed a rhythm to life that comes from the hand of the Creator.  Like Berry, I cannot imagine life without this intrinsic cycle.

I especially appreciate the notion expressed that “the year is the showing forth of the heavenly love…” With each passing day we have the opportunity to experience anew the love of God.  That love may be experienced numerous ways but one of the best is through nature.  Even in the falling leaves of autumn we can know God’s love and discern God’s wisdom and ways.  The leave, along with the rest of Creation, “hold a while the beauty of God.”

Berry’s “Sabbath Poem” likewise reminds us that God, who is Light, is the Source of all that is. All of Creation, including us, owes its existence to God.  All of Creation, including us, shares in the Beauty of God.  It is no wonder, then, that all of Creation, including us, becomes “the delight that is our prayer.”

 –Chuck


Aug 31 2018

Seeking God’s Face

In Psalm 27:8 David says “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  The idea of seeking God’s face has always intrigued me.  What exactly does this mean?  In biblical thought, to seek someone’s face is to seek to enter that person’s presence.  Therefore, to seek God’s face is to seek God’s presence.  Needless to say, there are lots of ways one can seek God’s presence.  One may attempt to do so through reading the Scriptures, prayer, meditation, worship, and service.  One may also seek God’s face through the Creation.  I was reminded of this fact recently while reading John Philip Newell’s beautiful book, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace.

In Newell’s book one will find this prayer: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep. Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face; there is your face among us.”

The Scriptures declare that God does, in fact, make Himself known through His Creation. It only makes sense, then, that we can seek God’s face in the world around us.  In nature we experience something of the glory of God.  In the created order we can feel God’s presence.  For the one with eyes to see, “whichever way we turn” we can see the face of God.

If what Newell says is true, why, then, do we not see God’s face or experience God’s presence more often? I suspect there are a couple of answers.  First, we may forget that God’s face is revealed in the world around us.  This is not something that gets stressed very often in churches.  Second, we tend to be in a rush as we move through the world these days.  Rushing to and fro we are not likely to see much of anything.  We would all be wise to slow down and pay more attention.  Doing so will put us in a better position to seek God’s face and experience the wonder, mystery and awe of God’s presence.

–Chuck