Aug 17 2014

My New Hero

_DSC6224I have a new hero now.  It happened by accident a few days ago.  Rob Sheppard and I hooked up in Missouri for a few days of photography in the southwest portion of the state.  We wanted to explore the prairies in the area.  It just so happened that one of the prairies we visited ended up being located quite close to the George Washington Carver National Monument.  Since we were that close by we decided we’d stop in and visit the place.  That decision proved to be a significant one for both of us.

_DSC6217Neither of us knew much about Carver other than he was an Afro-American who became famous for studying peanuts.  I have long used a particular quotation by Carver when I do talks on God and Creation.  He once said, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.”  Based on that quotation I assumed Carver was a person of faith.  I had no idea just how much so until touring the national monument that bears his name.

_DSC6201George Washington Carver grew up a slave that knew neither his mother or father.  He fell in love with nature as a young boy and in particular was fond of wildflowers.  With great determination he pursued an education, something that was not easy to do for a black person at that time in history.  He was extremely bright and talented.  He had great artistic talent and was also a musician, but he was destined to make an impact on the world through his botanical studies.  The list of his accomplishments is staggering.  In his book on Carver called The Man Who Talks With the Flowers Glenn Clark says “he discovered 300 new uses for the peanut and 150 new uses for the sweet potato and before he was through he had rebuilt the agriculture of the south.”  A movie about Carver’s accomplishment was shown at the national monument and after viewing it Rob and I both marveled that most people know so little about this great man.  His story truly is an amazing and  inspiring one.  It is a story of one who endured great hardship and adversity but overcame it.  It is a story of faith and perseverance.

Had blogs been in existence in his day it wouldn’t surprise me if Carver would not have written one similar to Seeing Creation.  He wrote and spoke often of the close connection between God and nature.  He once said, “nature in its varied forms are the little windows through which God permits me to commune with Him, and to see much of His glory, majesty, and power by simply lifting the curtain and looking in.”  At another time he said, “More and more as we come closer and closer in touch with nature and its teaching we are able to see the Divine and are therefore fitted to interpret correctly the various languages spoken by all forms of nature about us.”

_DSC6206George Washington Carver spent a great deal of time in communion with both God and nature.  He often gave God credit for his many discoveries and encouraged people to get to know both God and nature better.  He urged people to experience nature more, saying, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books,  for they speak with the voice of God.”  Once Carver came to look at the world this way he said “never since have I been without this consciousness of the Creator speaking to me through flowers, rocks, animals, plants, and all other aspects of His creation.”

I read a brief biography on Carver last night and it made me even more aware of what a person of faith he was.  His faith in God connected him even closer to nature and also to his fellowman.   He committed his life to studying one and to serving the other.  Carver lived a life characterized by humility and integrity.   He showed the world that faith and science are not opposites but companions.  He showed the world what one person who lives for the glory of God can do.  For all of these reasons and more, I now have a new hero.  How the world could use some more people like George Washington Carver today!

–Chuck

(All four of the pictures used above were taken at the George Washington Carver National Monument this past week.)

 


Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “Heaven on earth,  we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.   Sick of sorrow,  sick of pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on earth.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

 


Aug 3 2014

No Ugly Landscapes

_DSC2766Last night I came across the following quotation by John Muir: “God never made an ugly landscape, so long as it is wild.”  Muir’s words made me smile.  In the past couple of weeks I have stood in the presence of a variety of landscapes.  I’ve looked up at 700 foot tall sand dunes and down into a 565 foot gorge.  I’ve driven through the high Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains and across barren desert flatlands.  I have photographed wildflowers in the sloughs near where I live and wandered amongst some unique geological formations in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest.  The landscapes I have beheld in just this short time have been amazingly diverse and just as amazingly beautiful.

e_DSC3572e_DSC3572RGG3572I’m convinced Muir was right; “God never made an ugly landscape.”  Now there was a time when I would not have said this.  When I was much younger I was quite prejudiced concerning landscapes.  They had to be green or I didn’t like them.  Needless to say this gave me some trouble when I visited the desert.  I also loved  mountains and found it hard to appreciate any landscape that did not include these.  This is another prejudice I’ve been able to overcome.  Once you take the time to visit and truly get to know the various forms of landscape that exist you cannot help but come to the same conclusion as John Muir, there are no ugly landscapes.

All landscapes bear something of the beauty of their Creator.  Admittedly, that beauty is easier to find in some places than others but it is everywhere if you have the eyes to see or are willing to take the time to let that beauty make itself known to you.  Just as we often discover beauty in people we never thought we would once we let go of our prejudices and spend time with them, the beauty of natural landscapes can become clear when we approach them with an open mind and heart and without rushing past or through them.  Since the Bible declares that God makes Himself known through His Creation it is very important that we learn to find the beauty that is present in all wild landscapes.

_DSC5600Some of the prejudices we have concerning landscapes seem to have been imposed upon us.  Many have no desire to visit Death Valley National Park in California just because its name seems to imply a horrible landscape.  That is hardly the case.  Death Valley is beautiful!  Some would not consider visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota because, after all, it is “bad land.” Wrong again.  In early and late light the beauty of the Badlands will take your breath away.  Titles like these are about as useful as the labels we give people.  They prejudice our thinking and keep us from exploring the beauty that is to be found in such places.

DV-986Muir believed that God made no ugly landscapes but he did not say there are no ugly landscapes.  The fact that he added the words “so long as it is wild” indicate that what ugly landscapes he had beheld were not made that way by God but by the hand of man.  Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed a number of those ugly landscapes myself.  I’ve seen the scars left from mountain top removal and the clear cutting of forests.  I’ve visited many places where natural beauty once was prevalent but now can hardly be found.  Perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen but that makes it no less sad.  In such places the glory God intended to reveal will not be found.

BL7199I feel incredibly blessed to have traveled as much as I have during my life and to have seen so many different types of beautiful landscapes.  Each one has led me to a greater admiration of the Creator and has also taught me things I needed to know about God and myself.  If you’re looking for a good reason to visit some new landscapes, I’m not sure there is a better one than that.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the second one at Rio Grande Gorge, the third at Illinois’ Garden of the Gods, the fourth at Death Valley National Park, and the fifth one at Badlands National Park.)


Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)


Jul 20 2014

The Rebirthing of God

_CES4997The Rebirthing of God is the title of John Philip Newell’s new book.  Its subtitle is Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings.  This week I will be at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico  taking a workshop with Newell that focuses on this book.  I am certainly looking forward to that.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading the book itself.

In this brand new book Newell speaks of the death of Christianity as we know it and of the need for “the rebirthing of God.”  He believes that this rebirthing is a good thing “pointing to a radical reemergence of the Divine from deep with us.”  In each of the book’s eight chapters Newell discusses something the church needs to reconnect with. Having read a number of his other books I was not surprised to discover that the first thing he believes we need to reconnect to is the earth.  Newell concurs with eco-theologian Thomas Berry that “we need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world.”

_DSC2209Reflecting on both the Book of Genesis and the writings of Julian of Norwich Newell notes that we are not only made by God but are also “of God.”  He says “We are made of the Light that was in the beginning.  We are made of the Wisdom that fashioned the universe in its glory and interrelatedness.   We are made of the Love that longs for oneness.”  He sees one of our great needs “the desire to move back into relationship with everything else that is of God.”  This means “choosing to move in harmony with the universe again, knowing the rising of the sun and the whiteness of the moon as part of us, seeing the beauty and wildness of the creatures as expressions of what is also within us, the unnameable and untameable presence of the Divine in all things.  It means growing in awareness of earth’s sacredness, knowing that its moist greenness issues forth directly from the ever-fresh fecundity of God.”

If you are a regular reader of Seeing Creation you know that I write often about the sacredness of the earth.  I, too, feel that Christianity has suffered greatly by setting up a false dichotomy between the spiritual and material world.  This false dichotomy has kept many from being open to experiencing God in the natural world.   This is most strange considering the Biblical insistence that God is certainly to be found in the Creation.

_DSC1465I appreciate the fact that Newell utilizes the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  He refers to de Chardin as  “the first modern Christian prophet of the sacredness of the universe.”  De Chardin once wrote “at the heart of matter is the heart of God” and “the deeper we move into the mystery of any created thing, the closer we come to the Divine Presence.”  These are things I believe too. De Chardin believed that the Incarnation of Christ “points to the oneness of heaven and earth, the Divine and the human, spirit and matter” and also “reveals the essential sacredness of every person and everything that has been created.”

_CES1384In case you’re wondering, in the remaining chapters of his book Newell goes on to talk about how reconnecting with compassion, the Light, the journey, spiritual practice, nonviolence, the unconscious and love will also be important facets of the rebirthing of God.  I’ve not read the whole book yet but already I have found much encouragement about the future of Christianity in it.  If we would just take seriously this first part, reconnecting to the earth, it would make a world of difference.  I plan to keep pointing others in this direction and ask you to do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Jul 13 2014

Looking Beyond the Obvious

BeyondObvious1Earlier this summer, I was up in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada with Chuck. This is a wonderful park that is one of the quieter national parks because of its location.  While I did photograph some of the beautiful mountains of the park, I also spent time getting down and dirty with the small critters, the insects and spiders, that live there, as well as the great flowers that were in bloom, too.  Chuck has commented on my predilection to look at the small stuff. I believe these small things can be as unique to a location as the obvious mountains, and as much a testimony of God’s wonder as those mountains, if we are only willing to stop and look.

BeyondObvious7There is no question that this can require a conscious effort because our tendency is often to focus in on the obvious beauty, especially in bold locations like a national park. By looking beyond the obvious, I guarantee you will be rewarded with unique and special moments of wonder and joy that others truly will miss.

BeyondObvious6A cool thing about getting down and dirty with the little things is that you can do it in all sorts of weather and light. The light might just be awful for the distant mountain because of the wrong time of day or the clouds don’t cooperate. Maybe even there is fog blocking your view. Up close, none of this matters! You can always find wonderful opportunities for wonder up close. Light in the wrong direction? Move to the right or left and it changes instantly. Terrible skies? No need to look at them. Gray conditions? That can give an enveloping light for close-up views that allows you to better see details and colors that might be obscured by brighter, harsher light.

BeyondObvious5I think it is significant that Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28) when talking about people being worried about things like impressing people with clothing and also, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26)   He did not say to look at the beautiful mountains and what God does with them, nor did he say to look at the biggest and most dramatic animals. In addition, Christ fed the crowd with a few small fish and loaves of bread (Matthew 14:17-20). He started with small things. Could not Christ have created a feast with much more? Of course, but it was the small things that mattered.

Big things in God’s creation are made up of small things. The big obvious mountains are made up of so many small things, everything from rocks to trees to tiny flowers to spiders to deer to bees and so much more.

BeyondObvious4Big things don’t exist without the small things that they are made of. If our eyes are always looking up at the mountain tops, we will miss discovering much of the wonder of God’s creation right beside us.

– Rob