Jul 12 2022

Embracing Struggle*

In Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke says “we must embrace struggle.”  He writes this after noting that most people seek to resolve everything  “the easy way.”  When I read this a few days ago I had to admit I have a tendency to want to resolve things the easy way.  I am certainly not one prone to embrace struggle.  Rilke then goes on to say, “Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance.  We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.”

Since reading these words I’ve given them a good bit of thought.  Rilke has a point.  When you look at nature you see that there is a sense in which everything “grows and struggles in its own way.”  This struggle in many instances is not something bad at all but necessary.  For example, I remember hearing about a person who came across a cocoon where a butterfly was in the process of emerging.  Seeing that it was quite a struggle for the creature this person assisted the butterfly by cutting the cocoon.  The butterfly was freed but soon died.  What this good intentioned person did not realize is that the struggle to free itself from the cocoon is a necessary part of the process.  It is what strengthens the wings so that the butterfly can fly.   I guess you could say the butterfly’s struggle is a prelude to flight.

As I think back over my own life I cannot help but see that I, too, have found strength through life’s struggles.  I can’t say I enjoy struggle but my life would be very different today had I been able to escape all the hard times or struggles that have come my way.   It’s probably only human that we try to avoid struggles when we can but no one can escape struggle entirely.  Nor should we want to.  What I now see is that struggle is necessary for the building of character.   If we do not experience struggles in life we, like the butterfly, cannot grow nor can we fly.  I think that’s what Rilke was trying to say in his letter.  I also feel it is the message sounded in the first chapter of  the Book of James.  Here we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (vs. 2-4)

I’m not sure how quick I will be to embrace struggle in the future but both of God’s books—Scripture and Creation—teach me that it is a wise thing to do.  If I want to grow and fly I really have no choice.  Neither do you.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in September of 2011.


Feb 24 2022

“Rewild Yourself”

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible.  It’s by a British writer I enjoy reading named Simon Barnes.  The book begins with these disturbing words: “We’re not just losing the wild world.  We’re forgetting it.  We’re no longer noticing it.  We’ve lost the habit of looking and seeing and listening and hearing.  We’re beginning to think it’s not really our business.  We’re beginning to act as if it’s not there anymore.” 

I find these words to be alarming, sad, and discouraging.  Furthermore, I fear these words have the ring of truth to them.  So many people these days are largely disconnected from nature.  It plays only a small role, if any, in their lives. For me this is disheartening.  I firmly believe that nature is meant to play a much larger role.  Likewise, I’m convinced that there are serious repercussions for failing to give nature our careful attention.

Spiritually, our snubbing of nature causes us to miss out on one of God’s primary sources of revelation.  Both the heavens and the earth offer witness to their Maker’s love, mercy and goodness.  They supplement the Scripture’s witness to God’s majesty and glory.  As spiritual beings our understanding of God will be truncated if we fail to give nature our careful attention. 

Emotionally, our failure to notice nature will rob us of much joy and peace.  Numerous studies have confirmed that exposure to nature has many emotional benefits.  Our very health, emotional and physical, is connected to our exposure to the natural world.  We literally hurt ourselves when we fail to connect with nature on a regular basis while we reap benefits when we do. 

I would also argue that when we neglect nature we are less likely to be good stewards of God’s Creation. When we connect with nature we tend to love it.  When we love something we are strongly inclined to care for it.  Could our disconnection from nature be one of the underlying causes of the current environmental crisis?  I suspect so.

We, and the world itself, would be better off if we gave nature the consideration it deserves day by day, season after season.  But how do we do that?  In Rewild Yourself Simon Barnes offers many suggestions.  He urges us to be more intentional about being a part of nature and observing all it has to offer.  He suggests that we get a good pair of binoculars and take a closer look at nature.  Barnes believes we are missing much because we are not deliberately attempting to see what is around us. He encourages us to look for signs of wildlife around us, for tracks, scat, trails. We are likewise encouraged to listen more carefully for the sounds of nature.  If we only “look” at nature we will miss out on so much.  We need to put our ears to good use too.  Barnes thinks we would all benefit from learning to identify birds by their songs alone. 

Learning the names of various species, fauna and flora, is also strongly encouraged.  As Barnes points out, when we know the names of others we automatically enter a more personal relationship.  This is true for people; it is true for plants and animals too.   A similar suggestion is purchasing field guides or books on nature so that we can learn more about the subjects we see and hear.  Ideally, all of us should have a nature library.

There are many ways we can “rewild” ourselves and many good reasons for doing so.  Spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally we will benefit from paying more attention to nature.  Simon Barnes would suggests now would be a good time to start. I couldn’t agree more.

–Chuck


Jun 29 2020

In Praise of Insects

One of the books I read this month is Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  It is a very interesting book and gave me a much greater appreciation for insects and the role they play in God’s Creation.  There certainly are a lot of insects on earth.  Scientists estimate that there are close to a million different kinds!  These six-legged creatures make up a huge percentage of the world’s living organisms.  It’s a good thing they are there as they provide many valuable services for both humans and other creatures.  The author of the book states “…we humans rely on insects getting their job done.  We need them for pollination, decomposition, and soil formation; to serve as food for other animals, keep harmful organisms in check, disperse seeds, help us in our research, and inspire us with their smart solutions.  Insects are nature’s little cogs that make the world go round.” 

There are around thirty different orders of insects in the world.  These include butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, dragonflies, termites, and orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).  Other than butterflies and a few beetles like the lightning bug, most people do not look favorably on insects.  They appear to be little more than pests to a lot of folks.  But as already noted, insects play a vital role in our lives.  Sverdrup-Thygeson notes that it is not easy to put a price tag on the services insects provide.  She says “the annual contribution of the many pollinating insects is estimated to be worth around $577 billion.  Decomposition and soil formation are estimated to be worth four times as much as pollination in total.”

Unfortunately the insect population is declining worldwide.  This is due to a number of factors.  Those most frequently cited are “increasing land use, intensive farming and forestry practices, pesticides, and the decline in natural remnant habitats, as well as climate change.”  It has been estimated that one-quarter of all insects may be under the threat of extinction.

I learned a lot about insects by reading Buzz, Sting, Bite and if you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures and all they do to enhance life on earth, I highly recommend you read it.  The book left me marveling at the amazing web of life God created.  Marvelous, indeed, are the works of the Lord!  We should all give thanks for insects and learn to appreciate them more.  They are worthy of our admiration, as King Solomon recognized, and protection.

A Canadian insect researcher once said, “The world is rich in small wonders—but so poor in eyes that see them.”  I pray God will give us all the eyes to see the wonders of the insect world and all the other small creatures around us.

–Chuck


Jan 27 2020

Loneliness and Nature

Do you experience loneliness?  Statistics would indicate that periodically you do.  Just about everyone does.  How do you deal with loneliness?  Some choose harmful paths but most people simply seek companionship.  But where do we find the companionship we’re looking for?  An obvious answer might be in our friends and family.  A less obvious answer would be in nature.

A few days ago a good friend sent me a link to an article found in the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  In this article the author, Tricia Gates Brown, claims that our problem isn’t just loneliness, it’s “species loneliness.”  This phrase she picked up from novelist Richard Powers.  Brown writes, “For Powers, species loneliness denotes the ways human beings have cut ourselves off from the nonhuman species inhabiting our world.  In our desire for dominance and self-gratification we have put ourselves in solitary confinement, and in the worst cases become the tormenter of all things nonhuman.  We have deprived ourselves of love relationships with nonhumans.”  Brown goes on to say that species loneliness is making us sick.  “We were never meant to operate as an autonomous and independent species.  We desperately need the full cooperation of other species to survive, from large mammals that maintain a crucial balance within ecosystems to microbial communities in our own guts.  As a result of our non-cooperation, interspecies disconnection is breaking down the systems humans depend on.  This disconnection is deeper than the interdependence of biological systems; it is also theological.  That’s why, to my ears, the word loneliness gets at the issue with such scalpel-precision.  Loneliness has been defined as being ‘destitute of sympathetic companionship.’  It is a sickness of the heart and soul, the parts of ourselves we cannot see yet know to be our very essence.”

I believe that Brown is on to something here.  Loneliness is a reality for many of us and the root of that loneliness is not always human.  This explains why some people turn to their pets for companionship.  It may sound strange to some but there are people I know who find companionship in certain trees or flowers.  I’m convinced that this is just how God has made us.  In the Creation stories in the Bible animals and plants play a prominent role.  We are meant to interact with the rest of Creation and can find an antidote to loneliness there as well as with other humans.  This enables us to “widen the family circle of love.”  At the end of Brown’s article she says “God as immanent companion encountered in nature—under a stone or in the eyes of a hummingbird or a dog—is wonderfully good news for people sick with loneliness.  Love is abundant and waiting for us, right there in nature.”  Are you willing to expand the boundaries of your love?  If so, you may well find your periods of loneliness lessen to a significant degree.

–Chuck


Dec 30 2019

Respecting the Elderly

For Christmas a dear friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher.  The Dutchers have devoted much of their lives to studying and photographing wolves.   Throughout this book they share lessons they have learned from wolves over the years.   In one chapter Jamie Dutcher writes about the important role elderly wolves play in the life of the pack.  She believes “the presence of elders is what shapes the very character of a wolf pack” and that “the soul and wisdom of the pack lives in its elders.”  The Dutchers cite evidence that the presence of older wolves are necessary for the survival of packs.  Jamie also concludes that the same is true with humans and society in general.  She writes: “In the developed world, where we prize youth and vigor, always looking toward the next technological advance and all too eager to forget the past, the elderly are often marginalized.  We tend to think of our senior citizens as a group that needs to be cared for but not necessarily venerated.  How often do we acknowledge our elders as ones who remember history firsthand, as the holders of knowledge and experience, as the keepers of our culture?”   In another passage she says “If we don’t look to our elders, we ignore our history and shared experience, and we end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  If we truly cherish the young and let our elders be our teachers, we can break the cycle of ignorance and grow together.”

I believe, with the Dutchers, that we do indeed have much to learn from wolves.  If nothing else we can learn from them the importance of respecting and honoring the elderly of our society.  The Scriptures certainly teach us the same lesson.  Job 12:12 says “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”  Leviticus 19:32 says “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged.”  In 1 Peter 5:5 young men are encouraged to “be submissive to those who are older.”  In numerous passages children are exhorted to honor or respect their parents.

As we come to the end of one year (and decade) and prepare to begin another, I would suggest that one resolution we might all make is to give more respect to our elders.  They truly do have much to teach and offer us.  In humility let us learn from their wisdom.  Let us strive to give them the dignity they deserve.  Wolves are wise enough to recognize the importance of doing so.  Are we?

–Chuck

I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.


Oct 23 2019

Bad News for the Birds

Have you heard the news?  A recent study has indicated that birds in North America are in trouble.  In the past fifty years the total number of birds has declined nearly 30%.  That means over one in four birds have disappeared in North America.  The study, published by the journal Science, reveals that close to three billion birds have been lost during just a portion of my lifetime.  This is tragic news!  Everyone knows that birds play an important role in the various ecosystems they abide in.  They are an instrumental part in the web of life.  Thankfully, not all species have experienced decline but every biome in the United States and Canada has been affected.  The populations of waterfowl, raptors and turkeys have increased significantly.  That is not the case for major families like sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches.  Many of our most beloved birds are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Ken Rosenberg, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says the bird losses “are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.  And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”

What are the reasons behind the dramatic decline in the bird population?  There are several.  Habitat loss and the widespread use of harmful pesticides are two primary factors.  A decline in the insect population has affected those species that depend on insects for food.  Other causes include climate change, detrimental land use policy, and the weakening of wildlife protection policies.  Even things like window collisions and cat predation have been pointed to as contributing factors for decline.  Knowing the causes for decline is important but doing something about them will require significant effort and changes.  Do we care enough to make these changes?  I believe people of faith should care enough.

About the time I first read the reports about the loss of three billion birds in North America I was studying the story of Noah and the Flood.  I can’t read that story without remembering that God was insistent that the flood not destroy all wildlife.  God instructed Noah to build an ark not just to preserve humans, but all creatures as well.  I found Genesis 7:2-3 to be very interesting.  God told Noah, “Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”  It would seem that God made a special effort to preserve the birds—seven pairs of “every kind of bird” were to be placed in the ark.  Could God have a special love and concern for birds?  It would not surprise me if that was the case at all.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus paid careful attention to the birds and encouraged us to do so as well.  Now, especially now, would seem to be a good time to do so.

–Chuck