Jul 30 2019

Wonder and Awe

“For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” Psalm 92:4

While on a road trip with a friend last week he told me about a book by Leigh Ann Henion called Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World.  In this book Henion talks about the importance of wonder for our lives and how it can be found especially in nature.  She chronicles her experiences of wonder visiting migrating monarchs, Hawaiian volcanoes, viewing the northern lights, while on an African safari, and observing a total eclipse of the sun.  Learning about this book has made me think about some of the places where I have experienced wonder and its counterpart, worship, in nature.  Space does not permit an exhaustive list but here are a few.

I have experienced wonder each time I have visited slot canyons in the desert southwest.  When light from above is reflected on the sandstone rock walls the result is pure magic.  Like Henion, I have also experienced wonder and awe observing the northern lights.  Watching the curtains of light move across the Alaskan skies moved me to the depths of my soul.  It was truly a spiritual experience.   I have likewise experienced a deep sense of wonder in Alaska watching giant glaciers calve.  The sights and sounds of this phenomenon inspire me in a remarkable way.   I could say the same thing about walking amidst the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.

I remember feeling wonder and awe the first time I looked up at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.  There was something about those mountains that humbled me and made me feel small in more ways than one.  I have also experienced a heightened sense of wonder each time I’ve visited the geyser basins in Yellowstone National Park.  Watching geysers like Old Faithful, Giant, Grand, and Castle erupt thrill both my heart and soul.  The same thing can be said for sunsets I’ve experienced in the Grand Canyon and sunrises on the coast of Maine.

Many times I have been moved to awe and wonder watching wildlife.  It’s happened observing a whitetail fawn take its first steps and coastal brown bears snatching salmon midair at Katmai’s Brooks Falls.  It’s happened while listening to sandhill cranes migrate overhead and while watching humpback whales frolic in the seas.  Getting to see wolves and moose in the wild have likewise provoked wonder and awe.

Henion speaks about how the phenomena she experienced proved to be life-changing.  The things I’ve mentioned have also been life-changing for me.  In each instance I believe I have been able to catch a glimpse of the Divine.  I see each example as a gift of God’s grace.   I sincerely believe that it has been the Creator’s intention all along to show us God through the handiwork of Creation.  Most of the examples I cited are big things but God is also revealed in the small for those with eyes to see.  It might be a tiny delicate wildflower or the wings of a butterfly.  It could even be something so simple and complex as a snowflake.  The truth is, God may be found in all that God has made and when we truly see we cannot help but be moved by wonder and awe to worship.  Wouldn’t you agree?  What natural phenomena have moved you to wonder and awe?

–Chuck


Jun 28 2019

Extinction Is Forever

It seems like every other day I come across another discouraging report concerning the environment.  Recently I read about an assessment made by an United Nations study.  It indicated that “humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival.”  According to Brad Plumer, “in most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20% or more, mainly over the past century.  With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate ‘unprecedented in human history.’  At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.”

The United Nations report should be a wake-up call for all of us.  Humans are accelerating the rate of extinction by rates unseen before.  This will ultimately affect all of us.  I happen to believe that people of faith should be particularly concerned about this trend.  The Creation story in the Bible affirms the goodness of all that God made. Genesis 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  There is a divine reason for the existence of every plant or animal.  All play an important role in the web of life.  In First Corinthian 12 the apostle Paul makes a case that the church is like a human body.  He says all the parts have a role to play; all the parts are important.  I would argue that the same thing is true in Creation.  All that has been made is good, is essential for the well-being of the larger body, and has a role to play.  Paul says in the church no one has the right to say to another part “I don’t need you.”  In the same way, we have no right to say that we don’t need certain plants or animals.  That is not our call.  Surely we are humble enough to admit that God is wiser than us.  If we believe the hand of God is behind all living creatures we should be willing to fight for their protection.

A few days ago I found a prayer in a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation that would be good for all of us to pray:  “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.”  It seems well past time that we began to take species extinction seriously.  If we claim to love and serve the Creator, we will love what has been created too and be willing to do what we can to protect all species.

–Chuck


Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)


Aug 9 2017

Majestic!

_CES1146Majestic. 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!

_CES0783Even 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.

_CES1505I 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

 


Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


Apr 17 2017

There’s Always Something…

_CES4895Recently I had a chance to go to California and spend a week photographing with Rob Sheppard. It turned out to be a marvelous trip.  Everywhere we went there seemed to be something special waiting for us to explore and photograph.  Numerous times I found myself saying “Wow!”  Even more often I would catch myself saying “Thank you!” to God for the blessing of getting to see what I saw.  There were several adorable sea otters that we were able to spend time with around Morro Bay.  We also had many opportunities to enjoy this year’s super display of wildflowers.  At Carrizo Plains National Monument we saw wildflowers flowing across thousands of acres and even into the mountains.  It was a marvelous sight to behold.  We spent a good bit of time along the central coast of California and the beauty there likewise called for countless expressions of gratitude.  I felt incredibly blessed to see all I did.

A few days ago I was looking at a book I own which happens to be a collection of “famous prayers.” I came across one prayer that helped remind me that for those with eyes to see there are always blessings in nature waiting to be seen.  The prayer spoke to me and perhaps it will to you as well.  It was penned by John Oxenham and is taken from “A Little Te Deum of the Commonplace.”

_DSC3216“For all the first sweet flushings of the spring; The greening earth, the tender heavenly blue; The rich brown furrows gaping for the seed; For all thy grace in bursting bud and leaf… For hedgerows sweet with hawthorn and wild rose; For meadows spread with gold and gemmed with stars, For every tint of every tiniest flower, For every daisy smiling to the sun; For every bird that builds in joyous hope, For every lamb that frisks beside its dam, For every leaf that rustles in the wind, For spring poplar, and for spreading oak, For queenly birch, and lofty swaying elm; For the great cedar’s benedictory grace, For earth’s ten thousand fragrant incenses, Sweet altar-gifts from leaf and fruit and flower… For ripening summer and the harvesting; For all the rich autumnal glories spread—The flaming pageant of the ripening woods, The fiery gorse, the heather-purpled hills, The rustling leaves that fly before the wind and lie below the hedgerows whispering; For meadows silver-white with hoary dew; For sheer delight of tasting once again that first crisp breath, of winter in the air; The pictured pane; the new white world without; The sparkling hedgerows witchery of lace, The soft white flakes that fold the sleeping earth; The cold without, the cheerier warm within… For all the glowing heart of Christmas-tide, We thank thee, Lord!”

_CES5080Oxenham is right, there is always something in God’s Creation to catch our attention and elicit our praise and thanksgiving. Needless to say, some things catch our eyes or attention quicker than others but if we will really pay attention we will find plenty to give thanks for no matter where we are or what time of the year it happens to be.  What are you seeing right now that leads you to offer a prayer of thanksgiving?

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures shown above on my recent trip to California.)