Mar 17 2017

Learning from St. Patrick

_CES1622Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Earlier today I came across a quote attributed to Saint Patrick.  It reads: “At Tara today in this fateful hour I place all Heaven with its power, and the sun with its brightness, and the snow with its whiteness, and fire with all the strength it hath, and lightning with its rapid wrath, and the winds with their swiftness along their path, and the sea with its deepness, and the rocks with their steepness, and the earth with its starkness– all these I place, by God’s almighty help and grace, between myself and the powers of darkness.”

I find these words to be fascinating. In a difficult time, when threatened by the pagan king of Ireland, Patrick invoked God’s help and does so in a way that may seem strange to most of us today.  He calls on not just heaven but various elements of the earth—the sun, the snow, fire, lightning, the winds, the sea, and the rocks—to be his protector.  Apparently he saw these as agents of God’s providence and protection.

_DSC5781I would love to know how St. Patrick would have explained this. I certainly cannot speak for him.  I do, however, feel that he was on to something here.  Nature can, in fact, still be seen as an agent of God’s protection today, and this in a number of different ways.  Although some see some of the elements of nature Patrick mentioned as frightening, we have to admit that when God created the world God put things together in a way that would benefit and protect us.  All the things he mentioned in his prayer have useful functions and serve God.

I believe that nature also offers provision and protection in ways that transcend the physical. Nature also offers us emotional and spiritual protection.  When we are experiencing tough times nature has a way of calming us and giving us perspective.  It has a way of connecting us with the Almighty God who is our true source of strength.

Clingmans Dome sunsetCeltic spirituality draws a close connection between God and nature. Nature could serve as “thin places” between us and God and nature could serve as instruments of God’s will.  Do you find room in your own spirituality for this connection?  It is a question worth pondering.

If we can accept the Celtic (and biblical) understanding of the closeness between God and nature it only makes sense that we will want to honor the earth and God by being good stewards of Creation. We are living in a time when environmental protection is being threatened.  Should we not realize that failing to care for the earth is failing to care for ourselves?  Should we not realize that it also has the potential to hinder our relationship with God and the ways God uses to minister to us?  This St. Patrick’s Day would be a good time for us all to give thanks for God’s provision through Creation and to recommit ourselves to being good stewards of the earth.

–Chuck

(It took the three images shown above in California, Utah, and Tennessee. A special thanks goes to Lon Oliver for sharing the St. Patrick prayer noted above with me.)


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.)


Dec 16 2016

A Seasonal Reminder

_dsc3637With the cold weather that has come our way the birds are flocking to my feeder. For that reason I’m checking the feeder regularly so that I can keep it filled with sunflower seeds for them.  Yesterday I pulled out a heated bird bath I purchased last year since the water was freezing in the one I had set out.  I know it’s important that birds have a good source of water this time of year.   I’ve seen a variety of woodpeckers around the feeder which has served as a reminder it’s time to put some suet out for them.  I really do try to take care of the birds that visit my yard.

_dsc3660As I watched my birds feed and drink earlier today I found some satisfaction in knowing that I am able to provide for them. This led my thoughts to reflect on how I, too, have someone who takes care of and provides for me.  This particular time of the year we cannot help but remember that in Christ God has graciously provided for our many needs. Although Genesis 1:1 teaches us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” the New Testament attributes the work of Creation to Christ or “the Word.” John 1:1-3 tells us that Christ has always existed with God as the Word and that “through him all things were made that has been made.”  In Colossians 1 Paul echoes this thought and says concerning Christ, “for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (v. 16)  Yes, the one whose birth we celebrate each Christmas is the one who created the world and in so doing provided for our many physical needs.

At Christmas, however, we tend to remember that Jesus came to provide for still other needs. The angels who spoke to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that first Christmas brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” and that good news was that “a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Having already provided for our physical needs through Creation Christ came to earth to meet our spiritual needs, especially our need for salvation.

_dsc4993Yesterday I read an article on Facebook that a friend had shared which stated that Jesus is not “the reason for the season.”  The writer explained that Christ had always existed with God so we cannot look at his earthly birth as his beginning.  He went on to say that the real reason for the season was you and me.  It was our need for salvation and eternal life that caused God in His infinite love to send Jesus into the world.  God saw our need and responded.  That’s why there is a Christmas to celebrate.

_dsc4950As I watched my birds earlier today and thought about all I was doing for them I wondered if they were aware that someone was taking care of them. I also wondered if they appreciated my efforts.  The same questions can be asked on a different level.  Do most people realize that there is a God who is taking care of them?  Do they appreciate what God is doing for them?  Hopefully during this busy and exciting season each of us will pause long enough to remember Someone is, in fact, providing for our needs.  Hopefully we will also pause and offer thanks for the way those needs have been met.  That would certainly be the appropriate thing to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I’ve included some pictures I’ve taken of the birds that come to my feeder.)


Dec 2 2016

Some Needful Reminders

_dsc1954In Celtic Prayers from Iona J. Philip Newell offers a series of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week.  In true Celtic fashion, many of the prayers focus on Creation.  I recently came across two of Newell’s prayers in this book that were especially meaningful to me and I want to share them with you.  The first prayer reads: “There is no plant in the ground but tells of your beauty, O Christ. There is no life in the sea but proclaims your goodness.  There is no bird on the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun but is full of your blessing.  Lighten my understanding of your presence all around, O Christ.  Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

The second prayer reads: “You are above me O God; You are beneath; You are in air; You are in earth; You are beside me; You are within.  O God of heaven, you have made your home on earth in the broken body of Creation.  Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”

_dsc1477Both of these prayers remind us that God may be found in the world around us. This is an important reminder.  Often I pray the Lord’s Prayer when I am walking or hiking.  I always make an effort to remember that God is with me when I pray.  One way I do this is by pausing after the words “who art in heaven” and adding “and also in [wherever I happen to be].”  I believe God is both transcendent and immanent.  God is both far beyond me and also all around and within me.  Recognizing God’s nearness is important.  The exciting Advent/Christmas message that Christ came as Immanuel—God with us—is important to hold on to at all times.

The other truth Newell’s prayers convey is that God’s Creation is to be loved and cared for. If Creation truly is “God’s Other Book” and reveals to us the glory of God, how can we not love the Creation?  If Creation tells of God’s beauty, proclaims God’s goodness, and is a source of God’s blessing, how can we not long to care for it?  I would encourage you to pray with Newell, “Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”  Likewise, pray “Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

_dsc1516I truly believe that working to preserve and protect the Creation is both a religious obligation and an act of worship. I am also convinced that people of faith must now, more than ever, be willing to take a stand for Creation Care.  If we fail to care for the earth we not only fail God, we fail ourselves.  God forbid that should happen.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on a recent trip to southern Georgia.)


Oct 13 2016

What’s So Bad About the Badlands?

_ces3871What’s so bad about the badlands? That’s the question I kept asking myself last week while visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  Why call such a beautiful land “bad”?  My guess is that early settlers found the terrain difficult to traverse or perhaps not conducive to grazing cattle.  But do these things warrant calling the land bad?  I don’t think the bison I saw there would call it bad.  Neither would the thousands of prairie dogs found in the region.  Nor would the pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep say this was a bad place to live.  Even the countless meadowlarks I saw there sang as if they had no complaint about the land about them.

_dsc0673Humans seem to have a tendency to give value to things primarily as they relate to themselves. A fancy word for this is anthropocentrism.  If something benefits us it is considered good; if it does not we deem it bad.  We may have a tendency to look at things this way but I don’t think God does.  For some reason we often forget that God declared in Genesis 1 that all that He made is “good.”  Perhaps we have trouble finding the good at times from a human perspective but that does not mean such things do not have an inherent goodness about them.  All of the earth is valuable and good because it was created by and belongs to God. In one of her poems Mary Oliver says “You cannot cross one hummock or furrow but it is His holy ground.”  The badlands are no exception.

_dsc0467As I enjoyed the beauty and diversity of Badlands National Park and pondered why they got the designation “bad-lands” I thought of the story in the Book of Acts where Peter has a vision where “he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.” (10:11) In that sheet were all kinds of animals and Peter heard a voice that instructed him to kill and eat what he saw.  Since many of the species were ceremonially unclean animals and forbidden by Jews for eating Peter protested and said he had never eaten anything impure or unclean.  At this point Peter heard a heavenly voice tell him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (10:15)   Perhaps we stand in need today of a new vision where we are reminded that there are no bad lands.  If we are going to be good stewards of the earth it would certainly help if we recognized the goodness of the land.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck


Aug 22 2016

Maintaining the Flow of Justice

_CES3656Last week a friend and I drove over to Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana to photograph the waterfalls at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail. Our area had received several days of rain and we thought it would be a good time to check the falls out.  It turned out to be the perfect time to be there.  Both of the waterfalls on the trail had an abundance of water.  I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph the falls because these are seasonal waterfalls.  The only other time I had been on the trail there was only a trickle of water coming over the falls.  I found myself wishing that the falls always looked like they did last week.  It would be wonderful to visit this area throughout the seasons and photograph the beautiful waterfalls but that’s not going to happen.  These falls are dependent on weather systems that will not support this and I have no control over that.

Thinking about the contrast in the water flow between my two visits my mind wandered to the ancient words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (5:24) Most of the streams in the land of Israel, like the falls at Hemlock Cliffs, are seasonal.  The streambeds or wadis remain dry until the rains come.  Soon thereafter they are dry again.  Through the prophet God declared that the justice he saw lacking in the land was meant to flow constantly like a steady river or a never-failing stream.

_CES3672Amos spent his time pointing out to Israel the many places where injustice raised its ugly head. It was obvious that God was not pleased with the way His people had ignored His calls that justice be practiced among all.  Only occasionally was justice practiced. That’s why there was the plea to let justice and righteousness flow on a regular basis.  God’s people, then and now, fall short when justice issues are ignored.

_CES3718I have a feeling that God is still trying to get this message across to people today. We live in a world where injustice continues to be prevalent.  We hear most often about matters pertaining to racial injustice but there are many other arenas where injustice occurs on a regular basis.  It happens in the arena of fair wages, gender discrimination, food distribution, penal incarceration and age discrimination.  As I have written about previously, many environmental issues are justice issues as well.

_CES3749Today Christians cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice. If we do we shouldn’t be surprised if God tells us the same thing He did Israel long ago: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)  No matter how big the crowds, how glorious the music or inspirational the preaching, our worship services are found unsatisfactory to God if we are not at the same time committed to maintaining justice.

I cannot change the weather to make the water flow more freely at Hemlock Cliffs but I can make a difference in whether the river of justice continues to flow, and so can you. May God help us all to do just that.

–Chuck

(I took these images last week at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail.)