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


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.


Nov 26 2019

Thanksgiving and Contentment

As Thanksgiving Day approaches I’d like to ask you what your current level of contentment is.  I ask this because I happen to believe that there is a direct correlation between thanksgiving and contentment.  This belief was reaffirmed last night when I came across the following prayer found in Edward Hays’ book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim.  Hays writes, “O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher, for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.  As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty, I sense all about you an at-homeness with your amber riches.  You are the season of retirement, of full barns and harvested fields.  The cycle of growth has ceased, and the busy work of giving life is now completed.  I sense in you no regrets: you’ve lived a full life.  I live in a society that is ever-restless, always eager for more mountains to climb, seeking happiness through more and more possessions.  As a child of my culture, I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.  Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received, may I know that it’s enough, that my striving can cease in the abundance of God’s grace.  May I know the contentment that allows the totality of my energies to come to full flower.  May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure…” 

Hays is right; we can all learn something from the season of Autumn.  Contentment, may well be one of those lessons.  There is an “at-homeness,” a sense of peace, in Autumn that we should seek to emulate.  This peace, however, may not come naturally for we truly do live in a society that is “ever-restless.”  That society is also quite materialistic in nature.  It does little to make us content with what we have.  In fact, our society seeks to limit our contentment by constantly reminding us of things we do not have.  May we learn from Autumn that what we have is enough, that our striving for more can cease, in the “abundance of God’s grace.”

Thanksgiving Day is appropriately enough observed during the season of Autumn.  At this time we are all encouraged to count our blessings and be grateful.  I am convinced that if we will do this, and keep on doing it, we will experience far more contentment than we typically do.  By focusing on our blessings, on what we do have, we experience a peace that will never come when our attention is on that which we don’t have.  By focusing on our blessings, we come to the realization that we are “rich beyond measure.”

Autumn’s bounty reminds me of the many blessings God has poured out on my life.  This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for.  I suspect you can say the same thing.  My prayer for you is that in giving thanks you will also experience contentment.  That gift, in and of itself, is something to be thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck


Aug 30 2019

America’s Holy Ground

Anyone who knows me well knows I love our national parks.   Hopefully they also know how important my faith is to me.  Recently I came across a new book that encompasses both of these loves.  It’s called America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks.  The book was written by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer and was published by Chalice Press.  Knowing that many of you who read this blog share my love for the national parks I thought I’d share with you a bit of information about the book.  America’s Holy Ground covers all sixty-one of our national parks.  Although you will find valuable information about each park, this book is not a field guide.  Instead the authors offer a brief devotion or “reflection” on each park. Most parks receive four pages of coverage, some only receive two.  For each park a scripture passage is given and Lyons and Barkhauer choose a one word theme.  Here are some examples of the themes they chose: Grand Canyon—“Grandeur,” Death Valley—“Life,” Crater Lake—“Reflection,”  Big Bend—“Borders,” Great Basin—“Adversity,”  Petrified Forest—“Time,”  Yellowstone—“Faithfulness,” and Yosemite—“Trust.”  Sometimes the themes chosen seem obvious, at other times not so much.

At the conclusion of each devotion the authors give a series of questions for reflection.  For example, after writing about Everglades National Park (theme—“Preservation”) they ask “In what ways have you participated in the preservation of creation?  Did such an action feel sacred?  Does it change your behavior when you realize the world is an interconnected web of meaning in which you cannot affect part without impacting the whole?”  Most of the questions raised truly are thought-provoking.   Many remind us that we are all called to be good stewards of God’s Creation.

America’s Holy Ground includes nearly 200 color photos.  Many of these were taken by the authors.  The photographs illustrate the parks well and leave you wishing for more.  How do you adequately illustrate a park like Great Smoky Mountains or Yosemite with just two or three photos?   You can’t.

The book closes with a “Benediction,” a collection of spiritual sayings connected to nature.  Among those quoted are Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Wendell Berry, Mary Angelou, Thomas Merton and Theodore Roosevelt.  Following the Benediction there are a few pages for the owner of the book to journal in when visiting the parks.

If you are a person of faith who loves our national parks, this book is for you.  My only complaint about the book is that I wish I had come up with the idea first.:)

–Chuck

(I took the first picture at Mount Rainier National Park, the second at Yosemite National Park, and the third at Joshua Tree National Park.)


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