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.)


Oct 6 2014

Though the Earth Should Change

_DSC0854I have just spent a wonderful week photographing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a great time away from the stress of moving into a new home and the usual pressures that come with being a minister.  Even more so, it was a great time to be out in the beauty of God’s Creation and to enjoy the splendor of autumn in the North Woods.  I have witnessed autumn in a number of locations all across North America and would concur with those who say autumn in the UP is hard to beat.

_DSC8504This was only my second trip to this region.  A friend I traveled with has been over thirty times.  One of the things that came up in many of our discussions was how various things had changed.  We hiked to one of the most popular waterfalls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and when we got to the platform designed for viewing the falls my friend was disappointed to discover that the trees in front of the falls had grown so tall that they basically blocked the view of the falls he remembers so fondly.  We stopped at another waterfall that both of us had visited on previous trips and were surprised to see that the falls had completely dried up.  Many times throughout the trip we were reminded that in nature things change.

Due to technological advancements the past couple of generations have experienced change at a far more rapid rate than those that went before them.  I remember as a kid marveling at Dick Tracy’s wrist radio transmitter.  Today the iPhone I carry in my pocket does far more than could have been imagined back in that day.  I have been photographing seriously about twenty-two years.  I marvel at how much has changed with cameras in that time.

_DSC8928The changes we have experienced in just the past few years is enough to make one’s head spin.  It is also enough to cause one to be unsettled.  How can one have any sense of peace or security in an ever changing world?  Some might answer that one cannot find either but I would suggest they are wrong.  More than ever I’m convinced that there is one place, or more accurately one person, where we can find a still point and a source of security and that is in God.

_DSC0942A passage that gives me both comfort and hope can be found in Psalm 46.  Here we are told “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Many times during this past week as I have contemplated changes in both nature and society I have given thanks for the refuge we find in God.  I have also reflected more than once on these words from my favorite hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”  In a world that is forever changing it is good to be able to point to and hold on to One who never changes.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(The images used above were taken this past week on my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Sep 28 2014

Praying With Nature in View

20101015_Red River Gorge_081Over the years there have been a number of people who have significantly helped me learn to see and experience God in Creation.  One such individual is John Philip Newell.  Newell has written numerous books on Celtic Spirituality that have been quite influential in my journey.  A couple of months ago I had the privilege of going to the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to participate in a workshop Newell led based on his newest book, The Rebirthing of God.  It was a delightful experience!  I especially enjoyed the morning and evening prayer times that were led by John Philip Newell and his wife, Ali.  They did a wonderful job of combining God’s two books–the Scriptures and Creation–during these times of prayer. This is something that I think that needs to be done more often.

In 2000 Newell published a beautiful little book called Celtic Benediction.  It is a collection of morning and evening prayers that Newell composed.  I highly encourage you to consider purchasing a copy.  After reading a couple of sample prayers below, I suspect you will want to do just that.

Raven Rock fallA Morning Prayer: “I watch this morning for the light that the darkness has not overcome.  I watch for the fire that was in the beginning and that burns still in the brilliance of the rising sun.  I watch for the glow of life that gleams in the growing earth and glistens in sea and sky.  I watch for your light, O God, in the eyes of every living creature and in the ever-living flame of my own soul.  If the grace of seeing were mine this day I would glimpse you in all that lives.  Grant me the grace of seeing this day.  Grant me the grace of seeing.”

An Evening Prayer: “In the infinity of night skies, in the free flashing of lightning, in whirling elemental winds you are God.  In the impenetrable mists of dark clouds, in the wild gusts of lashing rain, in the ageless rocks of the sea you are God and I bless you.  You are in all things and contained by no thing.  You are the Life of all life and beyond every name.  You are God and in the eternal mystery I praise you.”

e_DSC6673Prayers such as these, as well as the ones we offer from our own heart, can often be enhanced by praying outside or looking outdoors.  There is so much in nature that can help us better connect with the Creator.  If you are not accustomed to doing so, I encourage you to pray from time to time with God’s Creation in view.  It has made a difference in my life.  I can’t help but believe that it will in yours as well.

–Chuck 

p.s. Recently John Philip Newell has begun using some of my images to complement his prayers on his Facebook page.  I consider this a great honor and have enjoyed seeing how well the images enhance the beautiful prayers Newell has penned.  If you are on Facebook I encourage you to “like” his page, as well as that of his non-profit organization, Heartbeat: A Journey Toward Earth’s Wellbeing.

(I took the top image at Red River Gorge Geological Area and the middle one at Kingdom Come State Park.  Both of these are in eastern Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken near Great Basin National Park.)


Sep 23 2014

What’s In A Name?

Maine 1000p-19Recently I spent a little time in Maine. My mother as well as my sister and her family live in Brunswick, just north of Portland. Before heading back home to Southern California, Vicky (my wife) and I went to Acadia National Park. While this was not a photo trip, I did, of course, spend some time photographing both in the Brunswick area and in Acadia.

I sent a group of photos to Chuck. This is one of his favorite places. It was my favorite place while I was there – my favorite place is always the place where I can be out in nature spending some time being close to and connecting with God’s Creation. Connecting with nature, and God, means for me, being aware of the totality of nature from bugs to landscapes, and photographing it all. Chuck liked my pictures and said he was glad I got to photograph some “creepy crawlies.” Kidding, I said that we lovers of God’s Creation don’t call minibeasts “creepy crawlies.”

Maine 1000p-13But this got me thinking. When Genesis says that God looked over his creation and said it was all good, I don’t think He said, “And those creepy crawlies are okay, too.” “Creepy crawlies” is a judgment of God’s Creation based on our prejudices, not God’s.

Maine 1000p-05The poet Maya Angelou used to emphasize how much words matter. I think they do. What words we use to describe our world affects how we see it, and this definitely affects how we see nature. How often have deserts and wetlands, for example, been called “wastelands” or “worthless” as a justification for destroying them? Or how often do you hear about a desert being “restored” or “reclaimed” or “made useful”?  I find it hard to believe God looks at His world with those descriptions. Once you spend some time in a desert, you discover what an amazing ecosystem it is with everything perfectly aligned to the environment. Just as it is. Without our help. Imagine that!Desert1

Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)”  I like the translation of this version by The Message, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” And of course there is Psalm 19:14, a verse memorized in so many Sunday School classes, “Let the words of my heart and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Now I really can’t believe giving prejudicial names to any of God’s creation, from spiders to people, swamps to mountains, is something that would be pleasing in God’s view.

Maine 1000p-06

– Rob

The pictures you see here are, from the top, sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, a daddy-long-legs (also called a harvestman), a jumping spider, Death Valley, and a tussock moth caterpillar.