Fall has finally arrived in southeastern Kentucky. It will be a while before we have any significant color in the foliage but the temperatures have dropped significantly and the feel of fall is in the air. I love autumn and always have. I have wonderful childhood memories of making huge piles of leaves and jumping into them. I remember fall festivals at school and hayrides at church. From my earliest days I have loved the colors of fall. Every year I look forward to seeing leaves turn red, yellow, orange, brown and purple. One of the blessings of living in the southern Appalachians is the glorious autumn display put on by our native hardwoods.
A few weeks ago Rob wrote about fall in southern California and how it, too, has its seasonal changes. I guess most places do. I’m very thankful, however, to live where the four seasons are quite distinct. It adds variety and a sense of rhythm to the year. It also provides a wonderful reminder of God’s faithfulness.
My favorite hymn is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The second verse reads, “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness, to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.” For the writer of this great hymn, and for me, the changing of the seasons bears witness to God’s faithful hand behind Creation.
In Genesis 8 God promised Noah that He would maintain the changing seasons. He told him, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” As the temperatures have dropped this week and a few leaves have begun to present their fall colors, I am reminded one more time that the Creator of this world is still in control. It makes me want to sing “Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” It also makes me want to go take some pictures…
(The image above was taken at Kingdom Come State Park in southeastern Kentucky.)
This past Wednesday I led a Bible study on Acts 16. In the story of Paul’s second missionary journey he and his partners pay a visit to Philippi. When Paul entered a new city he would typically begin his work by speaking at the local synagogue. Philippi did not have one so we read, “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” What Paul found was a group of women praying. From this group would emerge the church of Philippi—the recipients of the Book of Philippians.
I find it interesting that Paul and his companions “expected” to find a place of prayer down by the riverside. Why? What was it that led him to believe this? Apparently it was not uncommon in that day for people to gather by a river to worship. In the case at Philippi it may have been that the river “outside the city gate” provided some protection from local authorities who might not understand this group’s beliefs. Still, we know that others in different locations also gathered by rivers to worship. Why?
Rivers play a prominent role in the Scriptures. In numerous instances it is by a river that God makes Himself known to someone. People such as Jacob, Joshua, Ezekiel, and Daniel could testify to this, as could Jesus. It was by the River Jordan that Jesus heard God say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In that time, rivers came to represent the source of life for many. This makes sense considering most of the biblical narrative unfolds in an arid region. Rivers have also long been associated with cleansing. Most of the world’s religions have rituals involving water and usually they imply cleansing. Christianity is no different. Later some came to see rivers as symbolic of God’s ever-flowing love and mercy. For others, a place to lay down their burdens as suggested by the song, Down By the Riverside.
Perhaps people have gathered near rivers to worship simply for the beauty and peace they find there. For the way that God seems nearby in His Creation. I’m certainly glad we have beautiful sanctuaries to worship in today, but like those in the Scriptures, I often find myself drawn to a riverside, a forest or a mountain to worship my God and Savior. I cannot help but believe that there is good reason to do so.
(The picture above is of the Cumberland River at Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky.)
I am in Maine right now helping my parents move into assisted living. I have taken a camera (of course) and shot a few images, but I haven’t had much time to do much (although I did get up at dawn yesterday for a great sunrise — Chuck, you just don’t know how much you miss in that fresh time of day).
On the plane to Maine, I read some essays by Wendell Berry that Chuck had shared with me, Christianity and the Survival of Creation and God and Country. Chuck is a big fan of Berry. These essays are very thoughtful and even thought-provoking for anyone thinking about God and nature. He says something that hits home for me, “What about the things [of nature] that are outside the human economy? What about the things that from the point of view of human need are useless or only partly usable?”
What about those things? What about a small grasshopper in a prickly pear cactus in a huge field outside of Moab, Utah, as seen in this photograph? The grasshopper is a very small part of the image — you might have to look for it. Yet, that is exactly as this creature lives, a small creature in a big world of cactus.
Berry supports the idea that such creatures are indeed important to God, and therefore, we need to see them as important, too. He quotes Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure, they are and were created.”
I love photographing the little things, like grasshoppers, even when I am in a big place, like Arches National Park outside of Moab, too. I think they are fascinating to observe and also important, and perhaps, a sign of how we treat the “least” of God’s creations reflects on how we see all of God’s creation.
In Rob’s last entry he praised the virtues of sunrises. As soon as I read the blog I sent him an e-mail telling him his message was not convincing, that I’d still rather sleep in and settle for sunsets (I’m not a morning person!). He responded by calling me “one of those lazy folks who can’t appreciate the welcoming embrace of early light.” The truth hurts!
In my e-mail to him I tried to make a biblical case for the priority of sunsets. Interestingly enough, in the biblical account of Creation the day does not begin in the morning but in the evening. Throughout Genesis 1 we read, “There was evening, and there was morning….” In a strange sort of way, sunsets come first.
Various answers have been offered for why evening is placed first in the Creation story. I like the pastoral answer best. By placing evening first and morning last we are reminded that light always follows darkness. This is most encouraging for those who are going through periods of “darkness” in their life, for those who cannot presently see what path to follow. It means there is hope. In the words of the Psalmist, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (30:5) This truth is reiterated in the Book of Revelation where we are told that in heaven “there will be no more night.” (22:5)
In one of my all-time favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof, two of the main characters sing a song called “Sunrise, Sunset.” The chorus to the song goes, “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days; seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.” It is a beautiful song but I think the writers got it backwards. It should be “Sunset, Sunrise.” This is the hope we have as Christians, a hope confirmed the first Easter morning when Jesus rose from the grave.
Rob is right; sunrises are special. But so are sunsets…
(I took the sunset picture above at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—no early wakeup call, alarm clock, or coffee needed.)
I recently ordered a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation. I wasn’t real sure what it would be like but thought it might be interesting. It came a few days ago and I have found it to be a wonderful little book. It offers readings for three prayer times each day, enough to take you through an entire month. Each day there are hymns to consider, Scripture to meditate on, and a diverse collection of readings to ponder. All of these focus one’s attention on the Creator and His Creation.
Earth Gospel is designed to help one pray for Creation. I wonder how many people actually take the time to pray for the physical world we live in. Praying for the earth might seem strange to some but didn’t Jesus himself teach us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? For those who love God and His Creation offering prayers for the earth should come naturally.
One prayer that deeply touched me in Earth Gospel comes from The Evangelical Reformed Churches in German-speaking Switzerland. It reads: “Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you. Give us reverence for life and love for every creature. Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and , as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.” This particular prayer is followed in the book with a blessing by Ray Simpson, “God bless the earth that is beneath us, the sky that is above us, the day that lies before us, your image deep within us.”
I recommend Earth Gospel to you. Even more, if you are not already doing so, I encourage you to begin offering prayers for Creation. I truly believe that prayer makes a difference. Praying for the earth may help lead to its healing, as well as our own.
(I photographed the pika above in Colorado. I like to think he’s praying for Creation too.)
I love to be outside at sunrise and in the light of the early sun. Admittedly, it is easier to do as the days get shorter, but it is still a magical time in any season.
In Psalm 19:4-5, it is written, “In the heavens, He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.” Now that’s a pretty energetic view of sunrise. Maybe it is worth considering. There is something truly special about that time in nature. The day is fresh and renewed. Possibilities are whatever our imaginations can take us to. While at the end of the day, a sunset may be just as beautiful, but it is when we are thinking about day’s end. All of our work, our challenges, our worries for the day are still with us.
I also find that sunrise is most often a quiet time no matter where you are. Most people don’t get up for sunrise. Yet, most people are up for sunset, so sunsets get more active and much less a quiet time. For me, then, sunrise is a time that really reminds me of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” When I am out at sunrise in nature, I feel like I want to add an exclamation point to that verse, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
I know, not everyone is a morning person. But to me, if you miss too many sunrises, you are missing one of the great joys of the world God has blessed us with, plus it truly can be a refreshing and uplifting time to be outside. The photo here is up in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Los Angeles, in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area; the photo was taken shortly after sunrise.