Oct 31 2020

Walk in Beauty

I have a friend who in all his correspondence with me concludes with the words “walk in beauty.”  I’ve read enough Tony Hillerman novels to know that this is an important phrase in Navajo life.  The words come from a Navajo ceremony called Beautyway.  To walk in beauty means to walk in harmony with all living things, to live in harmony with God, with nature, with others and with self.  There is a lovely Navajo prayer that includes these words: “With beauty before me, may I walk.  With beauty behind me, may I walk.  With beauty below me, may I walk.  With beauty above me, may I walk.  With beauty all around me, may I walk.”  I find these words to be both powerful and instructive.  I happen to believe that we are all challenged to walk in beauty.  It is, however, easier said than done.

Why is living in harmony with all living things so difficult?  Perhaps the Scriptures give us some clues.  If you go back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 you see that the introduction of sin in Eden destroyed the harmony God intended for Creation.  That sin was basically humanity’s decision to put the will of self before the will of God.  In one word that sin was pride.  That same pride displayed in the Garden of Eden continues to be manifested in each of our lives.  We all have a tendency to put our will above that of God or that of others.  That pride results in discord.  Where pride raises its ugly head beauty and harmony are always found lacking.

Today many see nature as something to be used, not cherished and preserved.  Sad to say, the same thing can be said for our relationships with others.  Far worse, the same thing can be said for our relationship with our Creator.

I am convinced that until we find harmony with God we will not find harmony with self, others, or nature.  There must be peace in the center before there can be peace beyond.  Unfortunately, a lot of people leave God out of the equation.  To walk in beauty surely we should start with our Maker.

In Psalm 27:4 David says “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”   When we focus on the beauty of the Lord everything else falls into place.  We begin to see the true beauty in ourselves.  We begin to see the true beauty in others.  We begin to see the true beauty in nature.  This vision is what enables us to “walk in beauty” and to live our lives in peace and harmony.

I realize that I may not be doing justice to the Navajo concept of walking in beauty but this is how I understand the concept.   It is my prayer that I and everyone else may come to walk in beauty.  If we did, what a wonderful world it would be.

–Chuck

I took the images shown above on a trip earlier this week to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.


Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?

–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


May 26 2020

Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors

One of the benefits of being retired is having more time to read the books I want to read.  One I recently completed is called Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner.  The subtitle of the book is “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude Through Intimacy With Nature.”  In this delightful book Paintner speaks of Earth as the original cathedral, the original Scriptures, the original saints, the original spiritual directors, the original icon, the original sacrament, and the original liturgy.  I learned something from her chapters on each of these, but was particularly intrigued by her discussion of Earth as the original spiritual directors.

I have never had what most would technically consider a “spiritual director.”  Needless to say I have had many influence my spiritual journey but I never pursued a personal spiritual director to help me out.  I suspect I would have benefited had I done so.  But Paintner argues that not all spiritual directors are human.  The Earth—plants, animals, rocks, the seasons, etc.—has always been there to offer us spiritual guidance.  She quotes the Irish monk St. Columbanus, “If you want to know the Creator, understand created things.”  The more contemporary monk, Thomas Merton said “How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters.”  Paintner says “Merton knew that the true mentor of the soul was nature itself.  The fields, sun, mud, clay, wind, forests, sky, earth, and water are all companions for our own inner journeys.  The elements of water, wind, earth, and fire offer us wisdom and guidance.  They are the original soul friends.  Air is the gift of breath we receive each moment, the rhythm of life that sustains us.  Fire is the gift of life force and energy, and we might call to mind St. John of the Cross’s image of God as the living flame of love that burns in each of our hearts.  Water is the gift of renewal and replenishment, and we might call to mind the ritual of baptism as a call to claim our full gifts, or the blood that flows through our veins.  Earth is the gift of groundedness and nourishment.”

Reflecting on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin Paintner says, “Through every rock, every bird, every flower, and every creature, God enters into intimacy and communion with us.  This is how God’s wisdom is revealed, and we would do well to listen for their spiritual direction.”  I am convinced that Paintner is on to something here.  All of us have been graciously given a variety of spiritual directors in nature.  The question is, are we paying attention to these directors?  If this whole concept sounds strange to you, perhaps it will help to remember that Solomon encouraged us to pay attention to the ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Jesus said we should consider the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28).  The Bible itself points us to nature as a spiritual director.

If we can accept the truth that God is speaking to us through nature, hopefully it will cause us to begin paying more attention to the world around us.  I have no doubt that I have missed many lessons over the years because I was not paying attention.  At this point in my life I am trying to be more attentive.  What does this entail?  Paintner says “Cultivating contemplative presence to the natural world means growing in intimacy with creation so that the intimacy becomes a way of mutuality, in which we recognize that nature is not just there for our benefit but has intrinsic value apart from us and our needs.  Mutuality means that we listen to what nature has to say to us.  We allow our hearts to be opened by encounters there.”

I encourage you, and myself, to listen more carefully to what the Creator has to say to us through the Creation.  In doing so, may our hearts be more fully opened to the wonder and mystery of God.  Let us all take advantage of the spiritual directors God has given us.  What fools we will be if we don’t.

–Chuck


Apr 30 2020

A New Season

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

It has been a beautiful spring here in western Kentucky.  The redbuds were beautiful this year and the dogwoods magnificent. The daffodils came early and added a splash of color to the bleak landscape.  Now the trees are showing off their many shades of green.  I love spring!  Spring, however, does not last.  All too soon summer will arrive, then fall and then winter.  After that the cycle will repeat itself.  Seasons come, seasons go.

Just as God created the world with more or less definable seasons, there seems to be seasons in our human journey.  We have seasons characterized by new beginnings.  We have seasons characterized by growth.  We have seasons of decline.  We have seasons of ending.  And as with the natural seasons, the seasons of our lives often repeat themselves.  A time of ending will often usher in a time for new beginnings.  It’s all a part of this wonderful journey we call life.

I currently find myself at a seasonal transition.  In just four days I will be retiring.  After forty-four years as a minister I am stepping down from full-time church work.   This is an ending that comes with a lot of mixed emotions.  I am sadder than I thought I would be.  There is much I am going to miss about being a pastor. At the same time I find myself elated by this ending.  There is much I am not going to miss about being a pastor.  I am ready for a new beginning.  Or at least I think I am.  Who knows what the future holds?  I can only trust that the One who has guided me thus far will guide me until the end.

What I hope to do in this next season is spend more time studying and photographing God’s Creation.  I will certainly have more time to do so.  I hope to draw closer to God in this new season of my life.  Sad to say, pastors often spend so much time serving God that they do not have adequate time to commune with God.  I want to spend more time simply being in the presence of God.  That does not mean I do not want to continue to serve.  I do.  I cannot imagine a life that does not include serving others.  I hope to read more, write more, travel more, live more.  I hope to be a better husband.  I hope to be a better friend.  I hope to be a better me.

I am thankful for the four seasons of the year and I find myself now being grateful for the changing seasons of life.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me.  To quote Dag Hammarskjold words found in his journal Markings, “For all that has been–Thanks.  For all that shall be–Yes.”

–Chuck


Mar 27 2020

Staying Holistically Well

In a very short period of time our whole world has changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly altered our daily lives.  We now find ourselves in survival mode.  We have been forced to take drastic actions just to stay safe.  I hope that you are doing what is necessary to avoid the virus.  Washing one’s hands, practicing social distancing and self-quarantining should go a long way in helping one to stay safe.  Our goal, however, should not just be staying safe; we should strive for wellness too.  Our mental, emotional and spiritual health are just as important as physical health.  I hope you are doing what is needed to stay healthy in each of these areas.

For a lot of us getting outdoors and experiencing the beauty and wonders of God’s Creation plays an instrumental role in maintaining holistic health.  A couple of weeks ago I did a photo trip to the Everglades and this did wonders for my health.  I’m glad I got to go when I did as many national and state parks are now closing as a result of the coronavirus crisis.  It may be a while before we are able to find refuge and solace in these places once again.

What are we to do in the meantime?  This is a great time to start paying more attention to what we have right around us.  From our own yards and neighborhoods we can still observe the sun and moon, the clouds overhead, the birds flying around, the trees budding and the flowers blooming.  What we find close to home might not be as dramatic or beautiful as what we find in national and state parks but there is still so much to see, hear, smell and touch.  My friend, Rob Sheppard, is currently in the midst of a project where he is using his iPhone to record a picture each day of some natural wonder around him.  Even though he is not able to go far right now, he’s still producing beautiful images of nature and posting them daily on Facebook.  I think that’s a wonderful idea.

As I continue to take walks in my neighborhood I’m trying to pay closer attention to the natural world around me.  Doing so is good for my mental and emotional health.  It is also good for my spiritual health.  I’m currently reading Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ.  Throughout the book are reminders that God reveals Himself through the natural world.  At one point he writes, “When you look your dog in the face…I truly believe you are seeing another incarnation of the Divine Presence, the Christ.  When you look at any other person, a flower, a honeybee, a mountain—anything—you are seeing the incarnation of God’s love for you and the universe you call home.”   Who among us does not need to experience an “incarnation of God’s love” at this time?  Well, the truth of the matter is such incarnations are all around us.  I urge you to look for them and to find comfort in them.  Doing so may just be what we need to get through these trying times.

–Chuck