I took the picture above this past Wednesday prior to our Vespers service. I thought I might be able to use it for our church’s website. Once I got to looking at it, however, I was reminded of an important truth about nature. The God who created the world and made it good, has also made it holy.
The churches I have grown up in focus on two ordinances or sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these are powerful symbols that portray in graphic fashion the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ. What we may sometimes miss is that both holy acts make use of basic natural elements. Baptism, no matter how it is performed, utilizes water. In Communion we partake of bread that has come from grain grown in the earth; we drink wine or juice that that has been produced by grapes.
For me this is a reminder that there is a sacramental quality to nature. In what God has made we have the opportunity to experience His grace. I am certainly not a pantheist who believes that God is to be equated with the world but I do feel that God permeates Creation and that because He made it and because He cares for it, it is holy.
In God’s hands ordinary water becomes the fountain of life. Common everyday bread becomes a symbol of the broken body of Christ. Wine becomes more than a drink, it represents Christ’s blood poured out for our forgiveness. Remembering this might open the door to a sacramental outlook on nature. Many a poet and hymnist have taken this path, and so did Jesus. He found in the flowers of the field and birds of the air reminders of God’s providence and care. He showed us that water, bread and wine can become a means of grace.
The challenge before us is to discover and celebrate God’s presence in the ordinary things of life. Just look around you…
“All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” Henry David Thoreau
The photo you see here is about change. One sumac leaf is red while the others are green. I know most people will think this is about fall, but this photo was taken in the summer way before fall colors start to appear. So why the change?
This was taken in Minnesota early in August. Minnesota had been experiencing a drought, which stresses plants. Stressed plants often shut off connections to leaves so as to conserve water.
To me that is remarkable, truly a miracle. Here we witness a system so carefully integrated that it is self-adjusting! Sometimes people will talk about how terrible certain weather can be. There is no doubt that it can make people suffer, yet God has built our world into an amazing system that adapts and adjusts to natural changes.
This is why I feel bad when I see what we, as God’s children, have done without understanding this miracle of life on our planet. We are capable of truly throwing a monkey-wrench into the gears of life on earth, and one of these monkey-wrenches is climate change that is faster than the God-made systems of life were ever designed to handle. We have taken His work for granted, and I do worry what God will think about us trashing his beautifully designed ecosystems.
My thoughts today come about after reflecting on Rob’s last blog, as well as a conversation I had this afternoon with another friend, Bill Fortney. Both remind me of the importance of solitude and how God has a way of speaking clearest, if not loudest, when we are alone with Him. Many people do everything they can to avoid solitude but this is detrimental to the spiritual life.
Mark 1:35 tells us that “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” This is something we see throughout Jesus’ life. He recognized better than anyone how important it is to find time alone with God. Having visited the land where Jesus lived I know that he had many places where he could go to be alone with his Father. Apparently Jesus preferred to be alone with God in nature. That is my preference as well.
In his book, Sky Edge, Phillip Keller writes about the discipline of solitude: “The joyous renewal that comes to the anguished soul in solitude assures me again and again of my Father’s care that enfolds His earth children. If we are to know His compassion, if we are to sense His touch upon our torn spirits, if we are to feel the caress of His hand upon our wounded hearts, we must seek Him in solitude.” Keller goes on to talk about the many places he has encountered God alone in nature.
Obviously, God can be encountered anywhere; He is not limited to making Himself known through nature. Still, the testimony of many—including Jesus—is that the Creator often reveals His presence to us in His Creation. For that reason, we will be wise to seek solitude as often as possible in the beauty of His handiwork. Many times in my life it has been the combination of solitude and nature that has brought me near to the heart of God.
(The image above was taken on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.)
Toward the end of Psalm 104, having spent thirty verses praising God for His greatness made manifest in Creation, the Psalmist says in verse 31: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works…” What God has created is worth an eternity of praise! It is the Psalmist’s hope that God can “rejoice in His works.”
We know that when God created the earth that following each creating day He paused and “saw that it was good.” Like an artist (or photographer) standing before his or her work, God looked upon what He had made and took delight in it. In the Psalmist’s words here he seems to be hoping that this delight will be ongoing, that God would always be able to take delight in what He had made. Did he have reason for concern?
I don’t know if he did then or not but as we observe God’s Creation now there does, in fact, seem to be reason for concern. We have polluted the skies and water that once was clean. We have destroyed mountains and made new ones piled high with waste. We have hunted some of God’s creatures into extinction or destroyed their habitat to the point that they can no longer survive. We have poisoned the land and cut down the majority of the earth’s forests. If present day scientists are correct we have even altered the environment to the point where the climate is being changed in a detrimental fashion.
Is God still able to rejoice in His works? My guess is that He still does find much to delight in (just as we do) but I also cannot help but feel that He must experience some degree of sadness at the current state of the world. That which He created “good” has been marred. Out of love for God we should all seek to do everything we can to preserve and restore God’s Creation. It should be our concern, as it was the Psalmist’s, that “the glory of the Lord endure forever” and that He “rejoice in His works” always.
(The image above was taken at Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.)
I was in Minnesota earlier this month. I was there for a NANPA Road Show as well as visiting friends and family (my wife and I grew up in Minnesota).
I have often found it a real joy to get up before sunrise anywhere in the country and go out to a natural area. But in Minnesota that can mean going to a location that borders a lake or pond, and there are lots of lakes in the “land of 10,000 lakes”! This is usually a quiet time. Even in busy areas, there are few people out, the wind is generally calm, and it is a peaceful place beside the lake.
I don’t know about you, but my life often needs a peaceful time. “Deadlines and commitments …”, as the Bob Seger song says, can really mess with your head. And our world is so full of things clamoring for your attention, from the newspaper that arrives at your door (or the news website that arrives on your web browser) to the phone calls to the work that must be done in what seems like not enough time to the advertisements and commercials that scream at you that you are not enough without this or that new product to the politicians who want us to believe all sorts of things.
When you sit beside a lake filled with lily pads just after sunrise as here at Jensen Lake in Eagan, Minnesota, it can be easy to forget the challenges of the world. There are no ads, no phone calls (turn off that cell!), no deadlines, just you in God’s world.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) really comes to mind at this time. I also like the interpretation of this line that comes from The Message: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” It is a reminder to me that things can be okay if I am still and trust that God is God and I can let go.
Today my thoughts are still on that wonderful nature psalm, Psalm 104. In verse 24 the Psalmist says, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The Psalmist realized that there was an amazing diversity of life on this planet but could not have begun to imagine just how diverse and numerous that life actually is. Scientists have identified between 1.5 and 1.8 million different species. They believe, however, that there are many more that have yet to be identified. Some estimate there may be as many as 50 million different species in existence! Hearing numbers like that we cannot help but echo the Psalmist cry, “How many are your works, O Lord!”
The Psalmist declared that God made all of these creatures “in wisdom.” He believed that all of God’s Creation was made for a reason and served a useful purpose. Interestingly enough, the Psalmist realized that it was not just the land that was full of life, so was “the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small.” Scientists today would concur with the Psalmist concerning the oceans being filled “with creatures beyond number.” We have only begun to scratch beneath the surface in discovering all that lies under the waters.
In verse 26 the Psalmist mentions one particular sea creature, “leviathan.” This creature is mentioned several times in the Scriptures, usually with negative connotations. Here, however, it is simply identified as one of God’s many creations and that God formed it to “frolic” in the seas. Some speculate that leviathan was actually a whale.
In the next verse the Psalmist notes how all of the creatures God made look to Him “to give them their food at the proper time.” The God who made all the earth’s many creatures also provides for them. I think this indicates that not only did God make them “in wisdom,” He also made them in love and cares for every species He made. It would seem only appropriate that we care for each species as well.
(A number of years ago I had a chance to spend a week on a small boat photographing the Inside Passage of Alaska. This gave me an opportunity to photograph the humpback whale shown above ”frolicing” in the icy waters.)