Sep 25 2015

A Walk in the Woods

_CES2442The title of this blog may lead you to believe I’m about to offer a review of the current movie, A Walk in the Woods, based on the book of the same name by Bill Bryson.   If that is what you were hoping I’m afraid I will disappoint you, although I will say I thoroughly enjoyed both the movie and the book. Instead I want to use this opportunity to encourage you to take a walk in the woods. For practically my whole life I have enjoyed spending time in the woods. For the last couple of decades I’ve escaped to the woods whenever time allowed to either hike or photograph. It has only been in the last month that I have started making a deliberate effort to walk in the woods every day. I am glad that I’ve done so for a variety of reasons.

_DSC9450There are certainly physical benefits that come from walking in the woods. I desperately need to lose some weight and this was what originally led me to begin walking every day at nearby John James Audubon State Park. I have a treadmill at my home but I’ve never been able to use it regularly for long periods of time, primarily because I find it terribly boring. I always dreaded getting on the treadmill. Walking in the woods has proven to be an altogether different story. I look forward to my time there each day. I’ve already lost ten pounds and am hoping that I’ll be able to lose a lot more.   Losing weight, however, is only one physical benefit of walking in the woods. Various studies have shown doing so may help prevent cancer and that the scents of the forest (think pine, fir, cedar and cypress trees) can help reduce stress. I’m not sure I understand how but some studies suggest walking in the woods aids memory retention and learning. Another study indicates that walking in the woods helps lower blood pressure to a greater degree than walking in an urban setting.

_CES2453There are also mental health benefits to be gained by taking a walk in the woods. Earlier this year a study led by Gregory Bratman was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that indicated that walking in the woods, even for a short duration, can decrease the pattern of thinking that is associated with the onset, in some cases, of mental illness like depression. The focus of this study was rumination, that pattern many of us have of reminding ourselves of all the bad things that are going on in our life. The study revealed that there is a change in brain activity that occurs when people walk in a natural setting that does not occur in an urban setting that is quite beneficial to mental health.

_CES7688In addition to having both physical and mental benefits, I have discovered that a walk in the woods also has spiritual benefits. Like many others, I feel a closeness to God when I am in the woods. Being surrounded by God’s Creation leads me to a greater awareness of the Creator’s presence. I have also found that the time I have alone in the woods as I walk is a great time to pray. My walks typically last between forty minutes and an hour. Most of that time is spent praying. In my everyday work life I find it hard to set aside that much time to pray. Thus, by walking in the woods my prayer life has been enhanced. Furthermore, as I have noted in another recent blog, I find that there are lots of spiritual lessons to be learned just by observing God’s Creation. With good reason both the wise writer of Proverbs (6:6, 30:24ff) and Jesus himself (Matthew 6:26, 28) encouraged us to pay attention to the natural world around us.

_CES7623With all of this in mind, I do want to encourage you to take a walk in the woods. I realize that may not be possible for everyone but if you are physically able and have access to a good natural setting to walk in do it. There are physical, mental and spiritual benefits just waiting for those who will take the time to do so. That I know for a fact.


(In order to get the full benefits of my daily walks in the woods I do not take my camera with me.  The pictures used above are, however, images I’ve captured at John James Audubon State Park here in Henderson, KY, and are typical of what I see each day.)

Sep 18 2015

The Dangers of Biding One’s Time

_DSC8717Summer is my least favorite time to photograph for a number of reasons. Autumn, however, is one of my favorite times. I can’t wait for the fall colors to arrive. Most years I plan vacations to places that experience autumn before we do here in Kentucky so that I can photograph fall foliage over an extended period of time.  Autumn is such a special time! Here lately I’ve pretty much been biding my time until fall arrives to do photography. I was pretty sure there wasn’t much out there to see and photograph in early September around these parts. I was wrong.

_DSC8750A couple of days ago I decided to go out to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area with a friend to photograph. I really didn’t expect to see all that much but I knew it would be good for my mental and spiritual health to get out in nature. It quickly became obvious to me that I had been foolish to bide my time until fall to get out.   I was only in the Sloughs a couple of hours early Wednesday morning but I discovered so many wonderful treasures and got numerous images I really like.  It was amazing! If I had waited until fall colors arrived to go out to photograph I would not have the images you see displayed here.

My experience this week reminded me once again that at no time is there a shortage of marvels to see in God’s Creation. Admittedly, some days you will have to look harder than others to find these marvels but they are certainly there. The key is taking the time to look and being open to what is there each day.

_DSC8801Upon reflection, I’m convinced that our experiences with God are somewhat similar. I believe that God is there each day for us to see and experience but we may miss out by not being on the lookout for what God is doing or being open to the fact that God is actually there.  I also think we can get into a rut, not unlike my photography experience, and start looking so forward to an experience that is to come in the future that we miss what is happening this very day. Maybe it’s a spiritual retreat we are looking forward to, or perhaps a special conference or concert. We look ahead to these events and just know that we will experience God there. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to those times we know God is likely to reveal Himself to us.  There’s nothing wrong with this, that is, unless it keeps us from experiencing what God might want us to see, hear, or feel here and now.

_DSC8879In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” One of the things this verse teaches us is that none of us are smart enough to figure out just how or when God will show up in our lives.  If we are wise we will learn to live each day in eager expectation of what the present day might hold. I suspect if we did this we would experience far more of God than we presently do right now.


Sep 11 2015

Nature and Prayer Revisited

_CES2962I have a personal library of about 18,000 books. If I had to eliminate all but two I know which ones I would choose—a Bible and a hymnal. Hymns have played a vital role in my spiritual development and I’d be lost without them. Yesterday I was flipping through the hymnal my church uses (the Chalice Hymnal) and discovered a hymn I don’t remember seeing before. It is called God, Who Touches Earth with Beauty. This hymn, written by Mary S. Edgar, does a beautiful job of joining the themes of God, Creation and prayer together.  Here are the words: “God who touches earth with beauty, make my heart anew. With your Spirit recreate me pure and strong and true. Like your springs and running waters, make me crystal pure. Like your rocks of towering grandeur, make me strong and sure. Like your dancing waves in sunlight, make me glad and free. Like the straightness of the pine trees let me upright be. Like the arching of the heavens, lift my thoughts above. Turn my dreams to noble action, ministries of love.”

I think Edgar’s hymn can serve as a useful guide for “seeing Creation.” Throughout nature she finds things that direct her thoughts to God and she uses these images to inform and structure her prayers. Springs, running water, rocks, waves, and trees are all seen as visual aids for prayer.  In this hymn Edgar views God as someone who not only creates beauty but has the power to make our hearts anew.   She petitions the Creator to recreate her “pure and strong and true.” This is certainly a noble prayer. She also seeks greater purity and strength, an upright life and more lofty thoughts. I especially like her plea that God would turn her dreams to “noble action, ministries of love.”

_DSC9559Even though I’ve written about using nature as an aid to prayer before, I want to encourage you to consider once again how doing so can be beneficial. Recently I’ve been walking a couple of miles each day in the woods at our local state park. The trail I walk runs through a beautiful dense forest; there are trees everywhere.  A couple of days ago I found myself contemplating the trees.  I thought about how trees filter the air for us and provide shade.  Some produce food for us, others offer lumber or firewood. I can’t think of too many things that are more useful than a tree. Thinking about that, I asked God to make me useful too.

I also thought about the root systems of trees as I walked through the forest. Some trees send their roots deep into the ground while others spread them wide in more shallow soil. The trees that survive wind storms best are those with roots that run deep. Thinking about this I asked God to help me develop deep roots, or a strong foundation, that will enable me to endure the storms of life.

_DSC1366No matter where you live there are natural objects that can assist you in your prayer life if you will just pay close attention and listen for the Spirit’s promptings. This can happen as you drive your vehicle, take a walk, look out your window at home, or sit in a park. I’ve never encountered anyone who said they were satisfied with where they are in their prayer life. Perhaps this is what prompted Thomas Merton to once say when it comes to prayer we are all beginners. If you would like to strengthen or enhance your prayer life, let me suggest you consider intentionally using God’s Creation as a visual or audio aid. I have a sneaky suspicion this has been God’s intention for us all along.  And while you’re at it, make sure to offer thanks to the God who “touches earth with beauty.”


(I took the first image in the Ozarks and the bottom two in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Sep 4 2015

September 1–A Special Day

_DSC8374This past Tuesday, September 1, was a special day. By declaration of Pope Francis it was the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. For several weeks the current pope has been making news with his strong affirmation that we have a divine obligation to care for God’s good earth. In an effort to highlight this obligation Francis has called for everyone to observe the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation every September 1. It is hoped by doing so that light can be shed on the damage we humans have done to the earth and that it will open conversation among people about what we can do to help heal the world. I think this is a wonderful idea but I have to admit I didn’t see a lot of attention given to it this past Tuesday. Hopefully it is an idea that will catch on and grow in coming years.

_CES1075Two items that I did catch in the media pertaining to the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation were prayers. The first one was penned by Pope Francis himself. Here is his prayer: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.”

_DSC7676The second prayer was one written by the esteemed biologist, Dr. Jane Goodall. On her Facebook page she shared the following prayer in honor of World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation: “We pray that we may at all times keep our minds open to new ideas and shun dogma; that we may grow in our understanding of the nature of all living beings and our connectedness with the natural world; that we may become ever more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life; that we may strive to heal the hurts that we have inflicted on nature and control our greed for material things, knowing that our actions are harming our natural world and the future of our children; that we may value each and every human being for who he is, for who she is, reaching to the spirit that is within, knowing the power of each individual to change the world”

_DSC7460I was touched by both prayers and add to them my own plea that God would help us to learn to appreciate and value the earth, never failing to remember that it holds many avenues through which we can come to know and worship our Maker. I pray that we humans will take seriously our divine calling to be stewards of Creation so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy not only its beauty and wonders but in order that they, too, might come to see and love God through Creation.

I learned long ago that there are times when we cannot simply pray and sit back waiting on God to act. In many instances we must put feet to our prayers and this is undoubtedly the case when we offer our prayers for the earth. I encourage you to pray for Creation and to put feet to your prayers. Pope Francis and Jane Goodall believe it will make a difference. So do I.


(The images shown above are ones I’ve taken not far from my home in Henderson, KY.)


Aug 29 2015

Praise for Creation and Providence

CA Kings Canyon NP sunsetLast Sunday evening I spent the night with my brother at his home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Richard is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Frankfort and during the course of our conversation he told me about the choral anthem his choir had sung that morning. I was not familiar with the song but he said that he thought I’d like it since the words focus on God’s Creation. Once I took a look at the words to this hymn penned by Isaac Watts I told him that I did, indeed, like it. The hymn is called I Sing the Mighty Power of God and, interestingly enough, was written for children to sing.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)Here are the words to the song: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.  I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good. Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne; while all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; and everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

_DSC8404When this hymn first appeared in 1715 it was entitled Praise for Creation and Providence. The song does, in fact, offer praise to God for His Creation and for the providence of God seen in it. Even though I can’t imagine this song being written for children it definitely conveys truths that can be grasped by young and old alike.  Watts reminds us that God’s power is abundantly evident in Creation. This power can be seen in towering mountains, the vast oceans and the skies above us. Watts declares that God’s wisdom is also apparent in Creation. For him evidence of this can be seen in God forming the sun to give us light during the day, the moon to reflect its light during the night, and in the stars that appear each evening giving us a sense of direction.

_DSC6720Through this hymn we are taught that God’s wonders are on display wherever we turn. These wonders are below and above us; they are everywhere we look. They can be found in the plants and flowers we see, observed in the clouds above or experienced in the winds that blow against our face. The wonders and majesty of God are to be found throughout Creation.  Another affirmation Watts makes, one that is important for us to grasp whether we be old or young, is all that God has made is ever in God’s care. The Maker of heaven and earth is not a distant God who has abandoned the work of His hands.  No, God sustains Creation to this very day, just as the apostle Paul declared in Colossians 1:17. Understanding this leads us to the final truth Watts’ hymn declares—everywhere that we can be God is present there.  Creation itself is a reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

I am very thankful for hymn writers like Isaac Watts. Through hymns like this one these writers are able to put into just a few words truths that it would take theologians volumes to discuss. Through hymns like this one we find great truths affirmed that can be both remembered and sung by young and old alike. Through hymns like this one we can offer God our praise for both Creation and God’s continued presence and care.


(I took the first image at Kings Canyon National Park, the second at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the third at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the fourth at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)

Aug 22 2015

Like a Waterfall

e_DSC7882 (2)Last week a friend and I went to eastern Kentucky to photograph a number of waterfalls. Unfortunately there are very few waterfalls near where I live now so we had to drive a ways to photograph these. I’m convinced the drive was worth it and not just for the nice images we got. There is just something about waterfalls that appeal to me and also speak to my soul.

e_DSC7998 (2)A couple of times while we were photographing the falls I thought about Chris Tomlin’s song “Waterfall.” I remember hearing Tomlin talk about this song on the radio. He indicated that the inspiration for the song was Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Here are the words to the song: “O God, my God I seek You; I wanna move when You move. You’re more than I could long for; I thirst for You. You’re an ocean to my soul to my soul. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–running wild and free. You hear my heart when I call, when I call. Deep calls to deep. Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall–raining down on me, waterfall, waterfall. O God my God, I seek You in this dry and desert land. You lead me to streams of mercy once again. You’re an ocean to my soul, to my soul. It’s coming like a flood; I’m dancing in the rain. Everything I’ve done is covered in rivers of grace. Amazing!”

e_DSC8044God’s love certainly is like a refreshing waterfall. It brings both joy and cleansing. The only problem I have comparing God’s love to a waterfall is that I have experienced a number of seasonal falls. The first time I saw Yosemite Falls it was spring and I was overwhelmed by the power and height of this amazing waterfall. The second time I visited Yosemite National Park it was summer and Yosemite Falls was for all practical purposes nonexistent. You could not see any water coming over the top. I do not picture God’s love as a seasonal waterfall but one that is always flowing.e_DSC7970 (1)

I like Chris Tomlin’s description of God’s love “running wild and free” like a waterfall. Even though there is something quite predictable about God’s love (the Bible describes it as “steadfast and sure“) it is at the same time unpredictable. God’s love is constant but we often experience it in unexpected ways.  You never know where, how or through whom you might experience the love of God.

In order to photograph waterfalls these days I have to drive a long distance. In order to experience God’s love I don’t have to go anywhere. What I do have to do, however, is put myself in a position to receive this love. That does not always come as easy as some might imagine. If we are not careful we can let our problems and the stress of day to day living keep us from letting God’s love wash over us. I have certainly been guilty of doing this. Hopefully we can learn to be more receptive to God’s love and also open to the many different ways we might experience it on any given day. The more we do so the better we will be able to handle our problems and the stresses of life.

As you read this today it is my hope and prayer that you will somehow feel God’s love anew and be “covered in rivers of grace.”

Chuck Summers

(I took the pictures shown above last week.  The first and third images show Cumberland Falls; the second image is Dog Slaughter Falls; the fourth image is Eagle Falls.)