Sep 13 2022

Prayer and Seeing Creation*

As I have noted numerous times in the past, seeing God in Creation does not necessarily come easy for most people.  A group of individuals might walk the same trail and see the same things but that does not mean that all of them, or any, will experience or see God.  I am convinced that there has to be both an openness and desire to see God in Creation for this to happen on a regular basis.  Likewise, I am confident that there is no better way to prepare oneself to see or experience God in nature than prayer.  With this in mind, I’d like to commend to you a prayer I discovered in John Baillie’s little book, A Diary of Private Prayer.  It reads:

“Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of the earth, enduing them with forms and colors which no human skill can copy, give me today, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy creation.  Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes: Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees:  Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky:  Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face: Let the energy and vigor which in Thy wisdom Thou has infused into every living thing stir today within my being, that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone:  And above all give me grace to use these beauties of earth without me and this eager stirring of life within me as a means whereby my soul may rise from creature to Creator, and from nature to nature’s God.”

I cannot help but believe that if we offered a prayer such as this on a regular basis it would be of great benefit to us.  The Bible would seem to affirm this.  In the Book of James we read “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (4:2)   Also, Jesus taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

I encourage all those wanting to see and experience God in Creation to remember the importance of prayer in this endeavor.  All my life I have heard people say, “prayer changes things.”  This is no doubt true; it even changes how we see or experience God in nature.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared September 19, 2012.


Jul 30 2022

Giving Nature a Second Look*

Today I want to share with you some thoughts from two writers separated by many centuries.  Ken Gire is a contemporary writer that I greatly admire.  His book, Windows of the Soul, is one of my all-time favorites. In this book he explores the many different ways God speaks to us today and he identifies these avenues as “windows of the soul.”  In the opening chapter of this book he writes: “We must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears, for the sounds are sometimes faint and the sights sometimes far away.  We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one.  Or one may find us.”

Gire goes on to explain that “windows of the soul is a way of seeing that begins with respect.”  To this he adds, “The way we show respect is to give it a second look, a look not of the eyes but of the heart.  But so often we don’t give something a second look because we don’t think there is anything there to see.  To respect something is to understand that there is something there to see, that it is not all surface, that something lies beneath the surface, something that has the power to change the way we think or feel, something that may prove so profound a revelation as to change not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”

Gire’s words deserve our attention.  He’s right; there truly are many “windows of the soul” available to us and we must make sure that we take advantage of them.  One of the windows he discusses at the end of his book is nature.  He realizes, like many who have gone before him, that Creation itself is a window of the soul.

Writing over eight hundred years before Gire, Bonaventure noted how important it is that we pay close attention to nature.  He said, “All the creatures of this tangible world lead the soul of the wise and contemplative person to the eternal God, since they are his shadows, echoes and pictures…  They are set before us for the sake of our knowing God, and are divinely given signs.  For every creature is by its very nature a kind of portrayal and likeness of that eternal Wisdom.”

Like Ken Gire, Bonaventure recognized that when people look at the things around them they do not always see all that is there to be seen.  For him it is “the wise and contemplative person” who is able to discern God’s Presence in Creation.  How does one become such a person?  By practicing the respect Gire writes about, by giving Creation a second look realizing that in it we do, indeed, find a window of the soul that reveals to us our God and Savior.  I truly believe that when we give nature a second look we actually do find “something that has the power to change the way we think or feel” and something that will alter “not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”  With that in mind, wouldn’t you agree that nature does, in fact, deserve a second look?

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in August, 2012.


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.


Mar 24 2022

Holy Love

During my retirement I have been rereading some of my textbooks from seminary.  Many of these are over forty years old!  Currently I’m reading The Christian Doctrine of God by Emil Brunner.  In this classic work Brunner highlights the self-revelation of God and emphasizes God’s revelation of Godself as holy and love.  Both aspects of God’s nature must be maintained in order to have a significant grasp of who God is.  Brunner says “love is the very nature of God.” “Love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is Holy Lord.” Elsewhere he adds, “Only now do we understand why love and revelation belong to one another. Love is the movement which goes-out-of-oneself, which stoops down to that which is below: it is the self-giving, the self-communication of God—and it is this which is His revelation. The idea of self-communication gathers up into one the two elements love and revelation.”

Reading Brunner’s words has caused me to give further thought to God’s self-communication through nature.  I firmly believe that God has used that which God created to reveal numerous truths to us.  These truths are given in love and continuously point us back to the Source of this love—a God who is Holy Love.  So many times nature has forced me to recognize the holiness of God.  How can we not be struck by God’s holiness or otherness when we contemplate the sun, moon, and stars?  The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)  How can we not sense God’s holiness when we visit the ocean, mountains, or desert?  I find myself standing in awe of God in natural settings more than any other place.  I suspect many of you do too.

Yes, Creation points me to the holiness of God over and over again, but it also serves as a perpetual reminder of God’s infinite love.  Creation may be viewed as an incredible gift God has lavished upon us out of love.  It is a precious gift for many reasons.  In Creation we find many of our physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs met.  In Creation we discover a beauty that both humbles and inspires us.  For those with eyes to see, all around us is the evidence of God’s love.  The fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) here on earth reveals the full measure of God’s love for both the world and us.  Recognizing the value of this gift of love should move us to pay more attention to God’s overtures of love and affection.  It should also move us to cherish, protect, and preserve this amazing gift.

Now that spring has arrived I hope we will all get outside more and with the eyes of faith contemplate the wonders and glory of God’s handiwork.  As we do so, let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who has been revealed to us as Holy Love.

–Chuck


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


Jan 27 2022

“Wholehearted Faith”

For a number of years I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evan’s books. I just completed reading Wholehearted Faith.  This is the book Evans was working on prior to her untimely death in 2019.  I am so glad this book still got published as it beautifully highlights God’s unconditional love for us and shows how this unconditional love challenges a number of questionable doctrines.  In a chapter called “Beginning Again With Love” Evans talks about God’s love for creation and says “Embracing God’s love for creation isn’t some trite form of positive self-talk; it’s not a wave of the hand that says, ‘Everything’s good,’ or ‘We’re all fine.’  It’s the complicated, challenging, and unwavering conviction that every single person is created in the image of God and loved by God, even your enemies, and even you.”  She goes on to say, “Operating from that conviction is no walk in the Edenic park, let me tell you.  In my experience, centering my worldview and ethics around the inherent worth and belovedness of all creation makes me even more attuned to the seriousness of doing harm to God’s beloved.  It makes me even more aware of my own capacity for destruction and desecration.  Centering our conversations about sin around God’s love rather than our depravity raises the stakes, for it means that salvation isn’t just about managing your own personal sins; it’s also about restoring health and wholeness to all of creation.”

I believe Rachel Held Evans is on to something here.  When we focus on God’s love for us and Creation rather than God’s condemnation, it changes how we look at ourselves, at others, and even at the world around us.  God truly does love us. That has been made clear in more ways than we could count.  In faith we must accept God’s love for us. This is, however, easier said than done.  Many people find it hard to believe that God loves them but it is true.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We may not feel worthy of God’s love but our feelings do not get the final word.  God does.  You are worthy.  God says so.

God loves you and every other person on earth.  This truth challenges the way most of us live our lives, especially how we see others.  We often judge certain people to be unworthy of God’s love and treat them accordingly.  This has created great strife throughout the course of history. It is the source of so many of our problems. God’s love of others challenges us to love and respect all people.  We are to view people through God’s eyes, not our own tainted vision. What a difference it would make if we seriously attempted to do this.  A “wholehearted faith” will lead us to do so.

Evans also points to the biblical affirmation of the goodness of Creation and God’s love for it.  Here, too, we must learn to view the world through God’s eyes.  Unfortunately, we are far more likely to view Creation through anthropocentric eyes.  The many environmental crises we face today offers proof of this.  Air and water pollution, climate change, deforestation, elimination of species, and many other issues have arisen from failure to see and love the Creation as the Creator does.  In our arrogance and pride we have failed to remember that this is God’s Creation (not ours) and if God loves and cares for it, so must we.  The true value and worth of Creation comes from its Maker, not what we think.

Jesus taught us that one aspect of “the greatest commandment” is that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  May God enable us all to love ourselves, love everyone else, and love this wonderful world we live in.  Doing this while loving God first and foremost surely is what it means to have a “wholehearted faith.”  I long for just such a faith.  Do you?

–Chuck