Dec 22 2022

Seeing Creation and the Meaning of Christmas

I came across a quote by Joan Chittister a few days ago that I really like and want to share with you: “To understand Christmas is to come face-to-face with the incarnation.  The very notion that God imbued creation with divinity makes everything we see sacred, every step we take a pilgrimage to the divine.”  I find these words to be quite profound and helpful. 

Chittister’s first sentence conveys a truth most Christians readily accept.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  The word “incarnation” means “in flesh” and points to the miracle of Christmas—that the Almighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth, at one point in history took on human form (flesh) in Jesus and actually dwelt among us.  It is this event we celebrate every December 25.  And well we should!

It is the second sentence in Chittister’s quote that conveys a truth that many believers may not be so aware of and this is that by joining us here on earth God made “everything we see sacred.”  We now abide on holy ground.  The Bible makes clear from the very beginning that God created the world and declares its goodness.  The Bible also tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1); it belongs to God.  I suppose there is a sense in which these two truths also point to the earth’s sacredness but this is made most clear in the incarnation, the birth of Christ.  At Bethlehem “God imbued creation with divinity.”  I’m not sure many, if any, of us can fully comprehended the meaning of this but it should be enough for us to realize that the world we live in is holy and that all we see in God’s creation is sacred.  God’s holiness is literally all around us.  This should lead us to worship God every day and cause us to live in a perpetual state of wonder and awe.  I would also like to think that realizing the earth is sacred would cause us to do a better job of protecting and preserving it.

I like Chittister’s suggestion that every step we take here on earth is “a pilgrimage to the divine.”  This probably shouldn’t be taken literally but there is a sense in which what Chittister says is true.  We are not only created by God, we are made for God.  It is God’s intention that we draw nearer and nearer to Him.  God longs to envelope us in His love and to enjoy fellowship with us.  Hopefully every step we take will, in fact, draw us closer to the fullness of God’s love and His divine presence.  That is my goal for the days to come and throughout the New Year.  I hope it will be your goal too.

Merry Christmas and God bless!

–Chuck


Nov 22 2022

Thank God for our Senses!

With Thanksgiving Day just two days away I have been spending some time reflecting on the things I am grateful for.  This may sound strange but one of the main things I am thankful for is that I have so many things to be grateful for.  I could not begin to list the many ways God has blessed me in my life.  Obviously in my Seeing Creation blogs I tend to focus on the world of nature and in this area there are innumerable things for which I offer thanks.  I am so thankful for the beauty of God’s Creation, for inspiring sunrises and sunsets, majestic mountains and mysterious deserts, all creatures great and small, towering trees and miniscule flowers, star-filled skies and the northern lights, flowing rivers and raging oceans, and on and on I could go. For years I have been careful to express my appreciation to God for the endless wonders of nature.  What I have not been so careful to do is voice my gratitude for the senses God gave us to experience these wonders.

Growing up I was taught that humans typically had five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.  Students today learn that there are other senses beyond these five. All the senses we have been given enrich our lives and enable us not only to survive but to enjoy the world around us.  My enjoyment of nature goes well beyond just seeing the beauty around me—it is enhanced by all the other senses as well.  I am thankful for the smells of nature, even if all of them are not pleasant.  I am thankful for the sounds of nature.  My senses enable me to experience nature in a holistic manner.  Here lately I have been thanking God more often for my physical senses and asking God to help me use them more fully and effectively.

I probably should go on to tell you why I have been doing this more often lately.  A few months ago my friend, Rob Sheppard, sent me a book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ed Yong, called An Immense World.  The subtitle of the book is “How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us.”  I don’t read a lot of weighty science books but I am so glad I read this one. It shook my world.  In chapter after chapter Yong reveals how other creatures experience life through the senses they have developed.  He points out right from the start that though many animals share some of the same senses we do that does not mean that they experience their world in the same way we do with those senses.  In so many ways they don’t.  A lot of creatures even have senses that we humans do not and what they do with them is almost unbelievable.  An Immense World is one of the most fascinating and mind-blowing books I have ever read.  I learned so much reading this book and even found reading it to be a worshipful and spiritual experience.  It certainly is not a “religious” book, far from it.  It is, once again, a science book.  But page after page I found myself saying “Wow!” out loud and praising God for being such an awesome Creator.  I couldn’t help but echo the psalmist’s sentiments: “How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts!” (Ps. 92:5)

Learning about the senses of other creatures and how they use them also made me appreciate the ones we have been given.  They should definitely not be taken for granted.  I will be giving thanks for mine this Thanksgiving and I encourage you to do the same. Happy Thanksgiving and God bless!

–Chuck


Oct 31 2022

What Frightens Me This Halloween

It’s Halloween.  Are you afraid?  I am.  It’s not the ghosts and goblins that may appear at my front door tonight that I’m afraid of.  No, it’s something much more sinister.  It is the lack of concern for the environment I see in so many people, especially political leaders.  A number of recent studies indicate that our planet is in big trouble.  On a weekly basis we see reports on television of growing wildfires, severe drought, extreme storms, and devastating floods.  We now know that no one on earth is safe from the harmful effects of pollution.  Climate change and pollution are taking a heavy toll on plants and animals everywhere.  They’re taking a toll on all of us.  But who cares?  O, I know many people do but not nearly enough.  I’ve seen several polls listing the primary concern of voters for the midterm elections.  In most of them environmental issues do not even make the list.  The lack of concern for our planet right now truly does frighten me!

The damage we are doing to the earth literally affects everyone.  It affects our physical health.  It affects our economy.  It affects the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.  It affects our general well-being.  It affects the places we choose to live and love to visit.  It affects the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.  It affects our children and pets.  It affects our future.  How can something that affects all of us so much be of such little concern in today’s society?  This frightens me!

It also scares me that environmental issues have polarized our political leaders.  If there should be unity on any issue it should be the health and welfare of our planet and its inhabitants.  But that is not the case, is it?  Every day I pray that our leaders will learn to put aside their political differences and do what is right, what is best, for our country and the rest of the world.  Far too much is at stake for them not to!  We can do better than this.  It frightens me that we’re not.

Finally, it frightens me that so many who claim to believe in God and the Bible ignore the biblical mandate to be good stewards of Creation.  Too many forget that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) and that it does not belong to us to do with as we please.  One of God’s first commands was that we tend the Garden and be good caretakers.  God gave us “dominion” so that this wonderful planet can be preserved and maintained for the good of all–not to abuse for selfish gain.  I happen to be a Christian minister who believes that caring for the environment is a vital part of our spiritual journey.  It frightens me that so many other believers do not.

Yes, on this Halloween I am finding many things that frighten me.  I hope they frighten you too.

–Chuck


Sep 25 2022

The Right Place*

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog you know I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Whenever she publishes a new book I find cause for celebration.  Last week I celebrated the release of her newest collection of poems, Felicity.  You can easily read through this book in one sitting but I wouldn’t suggest that.  Oliver’s poems are to be savored and contemplated.  I especially like the ones where her love for nature and God merge.

f_DSC0415

One of the poems in this new collection is called “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way.” It begins, “If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among. If you’re Emily, a garden will do.  Try to find the right place for yourself.  If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.”  I like the idea of trying to find “the right place” for you.  Muir did, Emily Dickenson did, and so can you and I.  It’s interesting how different people are drawn to various landscapes or things.  We do not all connect to the same thing but it seems as though we all connect to something in the natural world.  How could we not?  I connect to a lot of things.  I no longer live near mountains but I will always love them.  I will visit them when I can.  And when I can’t, I can always dream.  Thankfully, I also find a connection with trees and there are lots of wonderful trees in my area, some right outside my door.  These trees offer me a special connection with God’s Creation.  What is your right place?

f_DSC9745

Later in this poem Oliver writes “God, or the gods, are invisible, quite understandable. But holiness is visible, entirely.”  Here the poet makes a wise observation.  We are not able to see God with our eyes; for many reasons that is just not possible.  Still, we are able to see a reflection of the divine, God’s holiness, in a variety of places.  Certainly it can be seen in some special people from time to time but God’s holiness is always evident in the Creation. “In the beginning” a holy God spoke the world into existence and declared it good (Genesis 1).  That world, the parts not marred by humankind, is still good and bears witness daily to the holiness of its Maker.  For me, holiness is most readily seen in God’s handiwork.  It is through God’s Creation that I can visibly see the invisible God’s holiness on a regular basis.

In some parts of the country this is the peak season for fall foliage. This year I hope you will make a special effort to take a close look at and enjoy the delightful colors of autumn.  As you do so, make sure to offer a word of thanks to the Creator for this annual display of divine holiness.  Wherever you happen to be, make it the “right place” to commune with God.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared October 22, 2015.


Sep 13 2022

Prayer and Seeing Creation*

As I have noted numerous times in the past, seeing God in Creation does not necessarily come easy for most people.  A group of individuals might walk the same trail and see the same things but that does not mean that all of them, or any, will experience or see God.  I am convinced that there has to be both an openness and desire to see God in Creation for this to happen on a regular basis.  Likewise, I am confident that there is no better way to prepare oneself to see or experience God in nature than prayer.  With this in mind, I’d like to commend to you a prayer I discovered in John Baillie’s little book, A Diary of Private Prayer.  It reads:

“Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of the earth, enduing them with forms and colors which no human skill can copy, give me today, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy creation.  Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes: Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees:  Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky:  Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face: Let the energy and vigor which in Thy wisdom Thou has infused into every living thing stir today within my being, that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone:  And above all give me grace to use these beauties of earth without me and this eager stirring of life within me as a means whereby my soul may rise from creature to Creator, and from nature to nature’s God.”

I cannot help but believe that if we offered a prayer such as this on a regular basis it would be of great benefit to us.  The Bible would seem to affirm this.  In the Book of James we read “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (4:2)   Also, Jesus taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

I encourage all those wanting to see and experience God in Creation to remember the importance of prayer in this endeavor.  All my life I have heard people say, “prayer changes things.”  This is no doubt true; it even changes how we see or experience God in nature.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared September 19, 2012.


Aug 31 2022

Majestic!*

Majestic. That’s the word my wife, Bonita, kept using on our recent cruise to Alaska to describe what we were seeing.  This adjective means “having or exhibiting majesty.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines majesty as “greatness or splendor of quality or character.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers as synonyms for “majestic” the words “grand” or “exalted.” That being the case, I will concur with Bonita that majestic was indeed the appropriate word to describe what we were seeing.  And just what did we see?  We saw awesome glaciers cutting their way through mountains.  We saw humpback whales feeding in the icy waters around us.  We saw gorgeous sunsets.  We saw sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles.  We saw lovely fjords carved by glaciers.  And, yes, it was all majestic–exalted and grand. This was my eighth trip to Alaska so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. In fact, I had seen all the things mentioned above before in various places throughout the state.  Still, the sights remained overwhelming. There is just something special, almost holy, about our 49th state. It truly is majestic!

_CES0783

Even more worthy of the adjective “majestic” is the One who created all the sights we saw. The Creator of Alaska and the rest of the world deserves the title majestic more than anyone or anything else.  Twice in Psalm 8 David declares, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9)  In Psalm 111 the Psalmist says “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.  Glorious and majestic are his deeds…” (vs. 2-3)  In the Song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 the question is raised, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (v. 11)  In 2 Peter 1:17 God’s divine glory is described as being “Majestic.” God’s name, deeds, holiness and glory are all described as majestic.

That God would be associated with the word “majestic” should not surprise anyone. God is, after all, God. If we can use the word majestic to describe what God has made then surely the One who fashioned the natural world deserves to receive the same exaltation.  When we consider all that God has done through Christ, this becomes even more true.

I hope as a result of your experiences with God you can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  God’s Creation and mighty acts are all meant to lead us to exalt God’s holy name.  They call us to worship the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  May we all heed that call and lift up the majestic name of the Lord.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in 2017. Bonita and I just got back from another Alaskan cruise and it seemed like the ideal one to share during my summer repeat series.