In our day-to-day world, there are so many things vying for our attention. Bills are due, the President is doing something right or wrong that we have to know about, the news tells us about people doing terrible things to other people, the economy is better but not great, and so it goes. It is easy to be distracted from what is really important in our lives because these things always seem so very important. Or at least the news people think so.
I knew a pastor once who would simply quote scripture as if that would make these things go away. Scripture can be very important for our spiritual growth and for connecting with God, but I don’t believe it has any magic talisman properties that will make the world stop bugging us.
Today I hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains with a friend. While he is also a photographer, he is also a serious hiker. Still, he is good natured when he has to stop and wait for me to catch up because I got distracted by another wonderful scene or subject. We were on the trail by sunrise and hiked about six miles, returning to our cars by late morning. Even with me being distracted.
I like being distracted by the beauty of our world. Often it truly amazes me. The challenge is not to find a good subject as there are lots of them, but to find a way to capture that subject that will do it justice. I feel like I am in the presence of God’s craft and art and get excited to experience it. And with photography, there is always the opportunity to share that beauty.
The photo here is of one of the Calachortus or mariposa lilies that grow in the chaparral. I have not gone through my photos from today — this is from earlier this month, but also up in the Santa Monica Mountains.
I am about half way through reading Terry Tempest Williams’ newest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. In this book she writes extensively about the decline in numbers of prairie dogs in North America. Reading her book has reminded me how important it is to preserve as many species of animals as we can.
There is certainly a biblical background for species protection. The one that comes first to mind for most people is Noah’s taking the animals aboard the ark so that they would be saved from the Flood. There is, however, another well-known biblical story that also reveals God’s concern for animals. It is the story of Jonah.
At the end of Jonah’s story he is frustrated and angry that God did not destroy Nineveh. After he vents at God it is God’s turn to address Jonah. He chides Jonah for being more concerned about his own comfort than for the city of Nineveh. His final word to Jonah is “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
This passage reveals that God’s reason for not destroying Nineveh was not just the many people who lived there but the cattle as well. For some reason many people have never noticed the part about the cattle in this story. It is, however, another reminder that God is concerned about all of His Creation and that we should be as well.
A couple of days ago I went to Middlesboro, Kentucky, for a photo assignment. I was asked by the owners of Cumberland Gap Mountain Spring Water to come over and take a number of images for a magazine article and for their website. During the course of the day we drove over to the creek which is the actual source of their water. I took a number of pictures of the staff and their product at the creek. At one point there was a lull in the action so I took a few images of just the creek (the image here is one of them).
While I was doing this, Neil Barry, a friend and my family physician, stopped by to talk. As we looked at the beautiful setting and enjoyed the music of the stream, Neil made the comment, “I don’t know how anyone can look at a place like this and not believe that there is a God.” That is a sentiment I have heard many people express over the years. A lot of folks find strong evidence for God in Creation itself.
The apostle Paul was one of those persons. In Romans 1:20 he wrote: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” I know that there are certainly many people who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence for one reason or another, but I concur with Paul. I cannot help but believe that there is plenty of evidence in Creation itself for people to affirm the existence of God. Those who fail to do so are “without excuse.” Furthermore, they are missing out on an opportunity to not just witness the beauty of the world around them but to enjoy a relationship with the One who made it all. It is sad that God has worked so hard to make Himself known to us through His Creation and His Son and yet so many people fail to discover Him. They really don’t know what they are missing!
I love fog. Being out in the fog is such a great experience. You feel like you have left the world behind. It is quiet; the sounds of the world are muted and seem far away. You cannot see the horizon. Sometimes you can barely see what is close. The world takes on a layered look, simplified from what we usually see.
I think that perhaps one reason why I like fog is that it forces you to simplify how you see the world. Sometimes the world is so filled with stuff, things you should do, things you shouldn’t do, crazy things in the news, lots of things fighting for our attention. And often that distracts us from what is important, including our connection with God. I know it can do that to me.
Fog reminds me to keep it simple. Let the world go for a moment. It will be okay. God is in control, and I can enjoy a fog that takes away my ability to see everything. In our busy world, we often think we have to see and know everything that is going on, that maybe this will give us some control over the world. Yet ultimately, we have no control over the world. And in a fog, you really know that. You can only trust that the world is okay in God’s hands, and of course, it is. A fog confines my vision and forces me to just be with me and with God. It even helps me see how sacred even ordinary places are, such as this field in front of fog-shrouded trees. Sometimes it takes the simplifying aspects of a fog to help see the light.
“…He makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.” Jeremiah 10:13
“He has made everything beautiful in its time…” Ecclesiastes 3:11
My younger sister, Betty, is a regular reader of our blog. Earlier today she sent me a couple of quotes she thought I might find interesting. One is a Turkish proverb that says “A heart in love with beauty never grows old.” The other quotation comes from the pen of D. H. Lawrence: “The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread.” The common denominator in these two sayings is, of course, beauty. My sister’s e-mail got me to thinking about what others have said about beauty.
In words similar to Lawrence’s, John Muir wrote “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” Elsewhere Muir said, “No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening—still all is Beauty!”
Apparently Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson concurred on this connection between God and beauty for Emerson wrote, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”
No matter where we live there is much beauty to behold. If we will take time to notice it and contemplate it we truly will find food for our soul. And in ways I cannot fully explain, we will also find God.
Long before I ever realized my calling to be a minister or pursued an avocation as a nature photographer I wanted to be an astronaut. I was a child during the 60s and closely followed NASA’s space program. I dreamed of one day being able to go to the moon. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the first journey to the moon. I was thirteen when Apollo 11 landed on Tranquility Base but still vividly remember watching the events unfold on a black and white television. It was a truly inspiring moment.
For many people simply looking at the moon and the stars on a clear night is a moving experience. It can also be a religious one. In Psalm 8 David wrote, “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 care for him?” He both begins and ends this psalm with the words, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
I suspect most Christians can relate to the Psalmist’s reflection. Observing a full moon, looking at the planet Saturn through a telescope, or marveling at the vast expanse of the Milky Way on a cold winter night can be a very humbling experience. Actually, there is much in nature that creates in me a sense of humility. I have felt humbled by the majestic Grand Teton mountains, the roar of calving glaciers, and viewing the northern lights. In those moments I have felt quite small and wanted to say with the Psalmist “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
I have no doubt that one reason God made the world so beautiful and amazing is that He wanted us to remain humble and in awe of Him. It sure works for me!