Nov 30 2018

Landscapes and Prayer

I recently started reading John O’Donohue’s book, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World.  In the opening chapter I found some words about landscape that resonated with me.  I suspect they will with many of you as well.  O’Donohue writes: “I love mountains. I feel that mountains are huge contemplatives.  They are there and they are in the presence up to their necks and they are still in it and with it and within it.  One of the lovely ways to pray is to take your body out into a landscape and to be still in it.  Your body is made out of clay, so your body is actually a miniature landscape that has got up from under the earth and is now walking on the normal landscape.  If you go out for several hours into a place that is wild, your mind begins to slow down, down, down.  What is happening is that the clay of your body is retrieving its own sense of sisterhood with the great clay of the landscape.  Water in a landscape is a fascinating thing as well.  I often think that water is the tears of the earth’s joy and sadness.  Every kind of water in a landscape has a different kind of tonality and a different kind of presence to it…  I also think that trees are incredible presences.  There is incredible symmetry in a tree, between its inner life and its outer life, between its rooted memory and its external active presence.  A tree grows up and down at once and produces enough branches to incarnate wild divinity.  It doesn’t limit itself—it reaches for the sky and it reaches for the source, all in one seamless kind of movement.  So I think landscape is an incredible, mystical teacher, and when you begin to tune into its sacred presence, something shifts inside you.” 

O’Donohue goes on to say, “One of the lovely developments in consciousness…is this dawning recognition that we are guests of the universe, and that landscape was the firstborn of creation and was here hundreds of millions of years before us. It knows what is actually going on.  To put it in a theological way, I feel that landscape is always at prayer, and its prayer is seamless.  It is always enfolded in the presence.  It is a high work of imagination, because there is no repetition in a landscape.  Every stone, every tree, every field is a different place.  When your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is to actually be here.”

I appreciate what O’Donohue has to say and can relate to it. I believe God does make Himself known through the Creation.  All of God’s works bear the mark of the Creator.  This includes the landscape.  This helps explain why many of us find ourselves closest to God in nature.  It also explains why prayer seems to come easier for us when we are out in nature.  Is it too much to believe that rest of Creation prays alongside us and contributes to our prayer?  O’Donohue specifically mentions mountains, water and trees as elements of the landscape that draw him to the presence of God.  These three elements have contributed much to my own experience of God as well.  I don’t think that is a coincidence.  In the Scriptures God is often found in mountains, water and trees.

If only we had eyes to see we would discover God all around us, in all the different parts of the landscape. And O’Donohue is right, “when your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is actually to be here.”  What a privilege indeed!

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above on a recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Sep 28 2018

The Weighty Season

Autumn officially arrived last week so I thought this would be a good time to share one of my favorite Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poems.” This one can be found in his book, A Small Porch.

“Again the air is full of falling: the falling of leaves in the weighty season that brings all home again to the lowly miracle from which they came. Nature, the mother and maker, requires that life take form, enflesh itself in the shapes and habits of the world’s unnumbered kinds.  And then she requires each one at last to shed its guise, giving up its matter to the life to come.  Think of a world of no fall, no gravity calling downward, homeward, bringing all by the light uprisen down to rest in the resting land–a world, instead, where all that dies would fly upward and outward, nameless and alone.  How sterile then would be the earth, seasonless the year.  The year is the showing forth of the heavenly love that is the being of the present world.  The leaves, opening and at last falling, hold a while the beauty of God who made them by the work and care of Nature, His vicar and our mother.  His only is the light of which all things are made, the beauty that they are, the delight that is our prayer.”

 There are many things I like about this poem about the “weighty season” we call fall. I appreciate the way Berry alludes to the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life itself.  There is indeed a rhythm to life that comes from the hand of the Creator.  Like Berry, I cannot imagine life without this intrinsic cycle.

I especially appreciate the notion expressed that “the year is the showing forth of the heavenly love…” With each passing day we have the opportunity to experience anew the love of God.  That love may be experienced numerous ways but one of the best is through nature.  Even in the falling leaves of autumn we can know God’s love and discern God’s wisdom and ways.  The leave, along with the rest of Creation, “hold a while the beauty of God.”

Berry’s “Sabbath Poem” likewise reminds us that God, who is Light, is the Source of all that is. All of Creation, including us, owes its existence to God.  All of Creation, including us, shares in the Beauty of God.  It is no wonder, then, that all of Creation, including us, becomes “the delight that is our prayer.”

 –Chuck


Jul 29 2018

Light and Love

This past weekend I spent some time reading from the works of John Muir. I always find his writings inspirational but this time especially so.  Consider the following passage I came across:  “Alpenglow is the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God and suggests the spiritual Love-light in which the flesh-walls of earthy tabernacles are dissolved and everything puts on immortality… The alpenglow is so holy, spiritual; even the inspired atmosphere of the New Jerusalem is inadequate.  When we read, ‘And God said: Let there be light,’ we are too apt to think only of the light of the sun.  But it is not the sun that makes the day, it is Love.  In this Light of light, rocks and seas and everything is not only illumined, but transfigured and fused and changed into religion.”

I find Muir’s connecting of light and love to be quite meaningful and do not recall seeing this connection made elsewhere. The Bible declares that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) but you usually don’t see these metaphors conjoined as Muir does.  I like the thought that when God said “Let there be light” that one can substitute the world “love” for light.  The beginning of Creation is indeed a manifestation of God’s love.  Light may very well represent God’s love.  If nothing else, it can serve as a perpetual reminder to us that God loves us.  One does not have to experience the alpenglow Muir wrote about to make the connection.  Simply observing the sun in the sky or the play of light on Creation should be enough to remind us of God’s love.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) Here, too, it would appear that substituting light for love works quite nicely.  How does one let his or her light shine before others?  Through deeds of love.

I am thankful for John Muir’s insight and definitely plan to give his idea further thought. I encourage you to do the same.

–Chuck


May 29 2018

Let Beauty Sink In Deep

_CES5077Earlier this month I took a photography trip to Arizona and Utah. For reading material while there I carried along Reflections From The North Country by Sigurd F. Olson.  It proved to be a wise choice.  In this book Olson has chapters on solitude, harmony, awareness, beauty, simplicity, wholeness, contemplation, and a number of other interesting topics.  Since I was getting to witness some extraordinary scenery on the trip, the chapter on beauty especially appealed to me.   Olson begins by saying “In nature all things are beautiful.” A bit later he adds, “There is beauty everywhere if one can see and understand its meaning.” When I read these words I could not help but think of Ecclesiastes 3:11 where it says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Truly, for those with eyes to see there is beauty to be found everywhere.

_CES5101While I was in Arizona I was blessed to stay with a dear friend who took me to some remote locations where I experienced beautiful sites I had not visited before. At places like White Pockets in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and a special place called “The Rock Factory” I stood in awe of God’s magnificent handiwork.  In addition to photographing the stupendous scenery and rock formations I also sought to let the beauty before me sink in.  There was a reason for this extra step.  At the end of his chapter on beauty Olson wrote these words: “In a lifetime of seeing beauty in the wilderness, I always feel a lift of spirit and an afterglow of serenity and content. I also know one must take time and wait for the glimpses of beauty that always come, and one must see each as though it were his last chance.”

_CES4875That final phrase struck a chord with me. We must see each expression of beauty as though it could be the last chance we had to do so.  Due to environmental degradation and governmental deregulation some examples of God’s beauty are disappearing.  There are places and things we must enjoy now while we can.  The other truth is none of us know how long we will live and when we witness the presence of beauty we must acknowledge that we may or may not get another chance to behold what we are seeing.  Doing so will cause us to experience beauty in a deeper way.

 

A recent example from my personal life has made me even more aware of this. My mother, a beautiful person, passed away a few days ago.  I got to visit with her just a few days before she died.  I didn’t realize that this would be the last time I would get to see her.  Had I known, perhaps I would have stayed a bit longer, asked a few more questions, or been more effusive with my affection.  But I didn’t know. Of course the truth is none of us know how long we have got to live, nor those that we love, but realizing this fact should cause us to live in the present more, to take advantage of the opportunities we have to show love and gratitude, and to make memories that will last.

_CES5184Trying to do this will make our lives richer. The same principles can and should be applied to our experiences with beauty in God’s Creation.  Let us learn to live in the present more.  Take nothing for granted. Let us learn to enjoy fully our time in special places.  Give thanks for expressions of beauty wherever they appear.  Let us make memories that will sustain us a lifetime.  There may come a time when memories are all we have.  Let beauty sink in deep…

–Chuck


Apr 18 2018

The Church’s Task

Psalm 5Gus Speth, an environmental lawyer and advocate, once said, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address those problems.  But I was wrong.  The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”  Speth acknowledged that these were beyond the realm of science.  He is, of course, correct but selfishness, greed and apathy are not beyond the realm of the church.  This is a needed reminder as we prepare to observe another Earth Day.

The biblical mandate is clear. Christians are called to be good stewards of the environment.  We are expected to do all we can to preserve and protect God’s Creation.  One of Christianity’s basic affirmations is that God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth, therefore, is sacred space.  In Genesis 1 God declares the goodness of the earth.  We later learn that God’s presence and power are made manifest in Creation. (Romans 1:20)  The earth is God’s gift to us on many different levels.  It was designed to meet both our physical and spiritual needs.  The earth is indeed holy ground.

Psalm 3The world today faces a number of environmental crises. Many of these are quite daunting.  Scientists are at work seeking solutions but as Gus Speth noted, behind the environmental crisis is a moral one.  Selfishness, greed and apathy truly are underlying causes and unless these are addressed by the religious community there is not much hope for improvement.

Somehow, someway, the church must encourage and model love for God’s Creation. We cannot fulfill the Greatest Commandment to love God with everything that we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves unless we do practice Creation Care.  These go hand in hand.  The Bible says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)  How can we love God if we do not care for what God owns?  And how can we love our neighbor completely if we do not care for that which sustains us all?  Love is the only thing that will overcome selfishness, greed and apathy.  And love is the church’s specialty, is it not?

More than ever, the church needs to help people make the connection between loving God and loving the earth. More than ever the church needs to model that love for others.  There are numerous ways this can be done.  For the past five years my church has sponsored a free electronic recycling event for the community.  We have also sought to curtail the use of Styrofoam products.  These are just two examples of things that can be done.  Others include establishing community gardens, participating in litter pickups, and installing programmable thermostats to reduce the use of electricity.  Some churches have gone so far as to install solar panels to produce electricity for themselves and those in their neighborhoods.

Psalm 65Every church, regardless of its size, can do something to promote ecological stewardship and practice Creation Care. Individual Christians should strive to do the same.  We may not be able to make a big difference as individuals but we can make a difference.   That is important.  By just practicing the “three Rs”—Recycle, Reuse and Reduce—we can have an impact on the earth.  We do the same when we plant trees, keep our vehicle’s tires properly inflated, feed the birds, and limit the use of pesticides.

One way we can make a big difference is by supporting environmental causes and organizations. Perhaps an even more effective way is by notifying our elected officials about our concern for issues that affect the environment.   Our government is definitely an area where selfishness, greed and apathy must be confronted.  I encourage you to pay careful attention to what is happening at the Environmental Protection Agency and to monitor legislation that effects climate change, clean air, clean water, and the protection of natural resources.  Let your voice be heard.  Make your vote count.

Psalm 73If we truly love God, others and ourselves we will make Earth Day not a one day event but a year round priority. What does love have to do with it?  Everything! In the conclusion of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson says “Maybe the environmental problem is ultimately spiritual.  If we put ourselves in order, perhaps we will do the same for the world.”  That is certainly my hope and prayer.

–Chuck

(This blog originally appeared on EthicsDaily.com.)


Dec 28 2016

The Connection

_dsc5238I have to admit I’m quite concerned. As someone who strongly believes that faith in God mandates the preservation and care of the earth, I am fearful where our country seems to be heading.  The next president’s choices for people to lead influential positions like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department does not bode well for the care of the earth.  I am trying hard not to be despondent about this but at the same time I am finding very little cause for optimism.  My primary hope is that people like you will care enough to fight those changes that will prove detrimental to God’s Creation.  Many see this as an economic battle, and it certainly is in part, but I believe it is also a spiritual battle.  We cannot claim to love God and at the same time not care what happens to that which God has created.  Nor can we afford to forget how closely God is tied to Creation.

_dsc2140In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass says “God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe.  This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”  Bass goes on to say, “We are powerfully connected to the ground, and the soil is intimately related to how we understand and celebrate God. The late Irish Catholic priest and philosopher John O’Donohue called the land ‘the firstborn of creation’ and the ‘condition of the possibility of everything.’  The earth itself, he insisted, holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.  When Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of ‘body’ to describe the relationship between the God and the world, she is reminding us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. ‘What if,’ she asks, ‘we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as  separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible God?'”

If the earth is to be preserved, and our health with it, then there must be a transformation in our understanding of the earth. The planet cannot be viewed primarily as a resource for private and corporate development.  Its sacredness must be maintained and our role as stewards of it preserved.

f_dsc0385I fear that most Americans do not have a theological understanding of the earth or fully understand how Creation interacts with and points to the Creator. It will be imperative in the next few years that people of faith who do understand the connection between God and Creation share that understanding with others. The connection between God and Creation is clear in the Scriptures. Now it must become clear among the populace.  Will that be enough to make a difference?  One can only hope and pray it will.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above in Kentucky, Indiana, and California.)