Feb 28 2020

A Call to Gratitude

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God…”  Psalm 50:14

During the season of Lent I usually “give up” something (like desserts) and also try to “take up” something.  I’ve chosen this year to read a number of books.  One of these is Inhabiting Eden: Christians, The Bible, and the Ecological Crisis by Patricia K. Tull.  Early in this book Tull writes about gratitude and Creation.  She says “Gratitude is a most appropriate response for us as inhabitants of this world, a home we neither bought nor paid for nor could ever have designed.”  She goes on to say, “We were intended to draw sustenance from creation’s bounty.  With each breath, we take in God’s provision of air; with each drink, the precious water supply; with each bit of bread, the manna for one more day of love and service.  We can begin to uphold the world that upholds us by recognizing these gifts with gratitude, especially our place in an ordered world that is full and fundamentally good, and our vocation to preserve the goodness and health of this living, teeming, exuberant world.”

I am one who appreciates, admires and marvels over God’s Creation but I’m afraid I’m not always as grateful as I should be.  I fear I may at times take it all for granted.  During Lent (and hopefully beyond) I intend to practice gratitude for the many gifts of God found in Creation. I want to not only notice the flowers, birds, trees and other gifts of God in nature but to give God thanks for them.  Surely, failure to do so is a sin.  The Bible says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)  Yes, all of Creation is a gift of God and gifts should be acknowledged with gratitude.

The practice of gratitude is a much needed discipline.  It keeps us humble.  It keeps us connected to God.  It brings us joy.  I also happen to believe that gratitude for Creation is a key to caring for the world God has made.  If we are not mindful and grateful for what God has made we will not be prone to work for its preservation.  We will not seek to protect that which we are not grateful for.  Perhaps at the heart of the ecological crisis is the sin of ingratitude.

I hope you will join me during this Lenten season in striving to be more grateful for the work of God’s hands.  Try to find at least one thing in nature each day to give thanks for.  Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the bounty of gifts that are there.  There simply is no shortage of God’s blessings to behold!

–Chuck


Jan 27 2020

Loneliness and Nature

Do you experience loneliness?  Statistics would indicate that periodically you do.  Just about everyone does.  How do you deal with loneliness?  Some choose harmful paths but most people simply seek companionship.  But where do we find the companionship we’re looking for?  An obvious answer might be in our friends and family.  A less obvious answer would be in nature.

A few days ago a good friend sent me a link to an article found in the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  In this article the author, Tricia Gates Brown, claims that our problem isn’t just loneliness, it’s “species loneliness.”  This phrase she picked up from novelist Richard Powers.  Brown writes, “For Powers, species loneliness denotes the ways human beings have cut ourselves off from the nonhuman species inhabiting our world.  In our desire for dominance and self-gratification we have put ourselves in solitary confinement, and in the worst cases become the tormenter of all things nonhuman.  We have deprived ourselves of love relationships with nonhumans.”  Brown goes on to say that species loneliness is making us sick.  “We were never meant to operate as an autonomous and independent species.  We desperately need the full cooperation of other species to survive, from large mammals that maintain a crucial balance within ecosystems to microbial communities in our own guts.  As a result of our non-cooperation, interspecies disconnection is breaking down the systems humans depend on.  This disconnection is deeper than the interdependence of biological systems; it is also theological.  That’s why, to my ears, the word loneliness gets at the issue with such scalpel-precision.  Loneliness has been defined as being ‘destitute of sympathetic companionship.’  It is a sickness of the heart and soul, the parts of ourselves we cannot see yet know to be our very essence.”

I believe that Brown is on to something here.  Loneliness is a reality for many of us and the root of that loneliness is not always human.  This explains why some people turn to their pets for companionship.  It may sound strange to some but there are people I know who find companionship in certain trees or flowers.  I’m convinced that this is just how God has made us.  In the Creation stories in the Bible animals and plants play a prominent role.  We are meant to interact with the rest of Creation and can find an antidote to loneliness there as well as with other humans.  This enables us to “widen the family circle of love.”  At the end of Brown’s article she says “God as immanent companion encountered in nature—under a stone or in the eyes of a hummingbird or a dog—is wonderfully good news for people sick with loneliness.  Love is abundant and waiting for us, right there in nature.”  Are you willing to expand the boundaries of your love?  If so, you may well find your periods of loneliness lessen to a significant degree.

–Chuck


Dec 30 2019

Respecting the Elderly

For Christmas a dear friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher.  The Dutchers have devoted much of their lives to studying and photographing wolves.   Throughout this book they share lessons they have learned from wolves over the years.   In one chapter Jamie Dutcher writes about the important role elderly wolves play in the life of the pack.  She believes “the presence of elders is what shapes the very character of a wolf pack” and that “the soul and wisdom of the pack lives in its elders.”  The Dutchers cite evidence that the presence of older wolves are necessary for the survival of packs.  Jamie also concludes that the same is true with humans and society in general.  She writes: “In the developed world, where we prize youth and vigor, always looking toward the next technological advance and all too eager to forget the past, the elderly are often marginalized.  We tend to think of our senior citizens as a group that needs to be cared for but not necessarily venerated.  How often do we acknowledge our elders as ones who remember history firsthand, as the holders of knowledge and experience, as the keepers of our culture?”   In another passage she says “If we don’t look to our elders, we ignore our history and shared experience, and we end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  If we truly cherish the young and let our elders be our teachers, we can break the cycle of ignorance and grow together.”

I believe, with the Dutchers, that we do indeed have much to learn from wolves.  If nothing else we can learn from them the importance of respecting and honoring the elderly of our society.  The Scriptures certainly teach us the same lesson.  Job 12:12 says “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”  Leviticus 19:32 says “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged.”  In 1 Peter 5:5 young men are encouraged to “be submissive to those who are older.”  In numerous passages children are exhorted to honor or respect their parents.

As we come to the end of one year (and decade) and prepare to begin another, I would suggest that one resolution we might all make is to give more respect to our elders.  They truly do have much to teach and offer us.  In humility let us learn from their wisdom.  Let us strive to give them the dignity they deserve.  Wolves are wise enough to recognize the importance of doing so.  Are we?

–Chuck

I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.


Nov 26 2019

Thanksgiving and Contentment

As Thanksgiving Day approaches I’d like to ask you what your current level of contentment is.  I ask this because I happen to believe that there is a direct correlation between thanksgiving and contentment.  This belief was reaffirmed last night when I came across the following prayer found in Edward Hays’ book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim.  Hays writes, “O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher, for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.  As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty, I sense all about you an at-homeness with your amber riches.  You are the season of retirement, of full barns and harvested fields.  The cycle of growth has ceased, and the busy work of giving life is now completed.  I sense in you no regrets: you’ve lived a full life.  I live in a society that is ever-restless, always eager for more mountains to climb, seeking happiness through more and more possessions.  As a child of my culture, I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.  Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received, may I know that it’s enough, that my striving can cease in the abundance of God’s grace.  May I know the contentment that allows the totality of my energies to come to full flower.  May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure…” 

Hays is right; we can all learn something from the season of Autumn.  Contentment, may well be one of those lessons.  There is an “at-homeness,” a sense of peace, in Autumn that we should seek to emulate.  This peace, however, may not come naturally for we truly do live in a society that is “ever-restless.”  That society is also quite materialistic in nature.  It does little to make us content with what we have.  In fact, our society seeks to limit our contentment by constantly reminding us of things we do not have.  May we learn from Autumn that what we have is enough, that our striving for more can cease, in the “abundance of God’s grace.”

Thanksgiving Day is appropriately enough observed during the season of Autumn.  At this time we are all encouraged to count our blessings and be grateful.  I am convinced that if we will do this, and keep on doing it, we will experience far more contentment than we typically do.  By focusing on our blessings, on what we do have, we experience a peace that will never come when our attention is on that which we don’t have.  By focusing on our blessings, we come to the realization that we are “rich beyond measure.”

Autumn’s bounty reminds me of the many blessings God has poured out on my life.  This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for.  I suspect you can say the same thing.  My prayer for you is that in giving thanks you will also experience contentment.  That gift, in and of itself, is something to be thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck


Oct 23 2019

Bad News for the Birds

Have you heard the news?  A recent study has indicated that birds in North America are in trouble.  In the past fifty years the total number of birds has declined nearly 30%.  That means over one in four birds have disappeared in North America.  The study, published by the journal Science, reveals that close to three billion birds have been lost during just a portion of my lifetime.  This is tragic news!  Everyone knows that birds play an important role in the various ecosystems they abide in.  They are an instrumental part in the web of life.  Thankfully, not all species have experienced decline but every biome in the United States and Canada has been affected.  The populations of waterfowl, raptors and turkeys have increased significantly.  That is not the case for major families like sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches.  Many of our most beloved birds are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Ken Rosenberg, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says the bird losses “are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.  And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”

What are the reasons behind the dramatic decline in the bird population?  There are several.  Habitat loss and the widespread use of harmful pesticides are two primary factors.  A decline in the insect population has affected those species that depend on insects for food.  Other causes include climate change, detrimental land use policy, and the weakening of wildlife protection policies.  Even things like window collisions and cat predation have been pointed to as contributing factors for decline.  Knowing the causes for decline is important but doing something about them will require significant effort and changes.  Do we care enough to make these changes?  I believe people of faith should care enough.

About the time I first read the reports about the loss of three billion birds in North America I was studying the story of Noah and the Flood.  I can’t read that story without remembering that God was insistent that the flood not destroy all wildlife.  God instructed Noah to build an ark not just to preserve humans, but all creatures as well.  I found Genesis 7:2-3 to be very interesting.  God told Noah, “Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”  It would seem that God made a special effort to preserve the birds—seven pairs of “every kind of bird” were to be placed in the ark.  Could God have a special love and concern for birds?  It would not surprise me if that was the case at all.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus paid careful attention to the birds and encouraged us to do so as well.  Now, especially now, would seem to be a good time to do so.

–Chuck


Sep 29 2019

Rocky Mountain High & Psalm 104

I recently got to spend several days photographing at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  It was a truly wonderful experience!  This park has so much to offer—majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, abundant wildlife, and stunning vistas around almost every turn of the road or trail.  As is typically the case when I visit our national parks, the trip proved to be a spiritual experience.  For me there is nothing like the beauty of God’s Creation to stir the depths of my soul. I read the words of Psalm 104 while on the trip and they seemed so fitting.  I found myself echoing the opening words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.  O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”  (v. 1)  How can you view such beauty and not offer praise to the Creator?  We had a number of experiences where we got to see alpenglow on the mountain tops.  This special light reminded me of the Psalmist’s words, “He wraps himself in light as with a garment.” (v. 2)

In the mountains it did, in fact, seem as though God “makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” (v. 3)  Looking up at those grand peaks I had to affirm that “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” (v. 5)  Viewing the waterfalls and streams in the park it was clear “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.” (v. 10)  We photographed birds next to one stream and this seemed to correspond with v. 12, “The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.”  As I photographed a pika and a marmot in the higher region of the park I couldn’t help but think of v. 18, “The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.”  Seeing the mule deer emerge at dusk made me think of the words “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.” (v. 20)   Spending time watching herds of elk I couldn’t help but affirm with the Psalmist “How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (v. 24)

Having spent a number of days in Rocky Mountain National Park it seemed appropriate to pray “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (v. 31)   It also seemed appropriate to sing.  The Psalmist said “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to him as I rejoice in the Lord.” (vs. 33-34)  On the last morning of the trip, as I photographed the first light on several peaks, I played John Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High,” on my iPhone.  It somehow seemed appropriate.  Even more appropriate, however, are the words of Psalm 104.

–Chuck