Sep 29 2019

Rocky Mountain High & Psalm 104

I recently got to spend several days photographing at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  It was a truly wonderful experience!  This park has so much to offer—majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, abundant wildlife, and stunning vistas around almost every turn of the road or trail.  As is typically the case when I visit our national parks, the trip proved to be a spiritual experience.  For me there is nothing like the beauty of God’s Creation to stir the depths of my soul. I read the words of Psalm 104 while on the trip and they seemed so fitting.  I found myself echoing the opening words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.  O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”  (v. 1)  How can you view such beauty and not offer praise to the Creator?  We had a number of experiences where we got to see alpenglow on the mountain tops.  This special light reminded me of the Psalmist’s words, “He wraps himself in light as with a garment.” (v. 2)

In the mountains it did, in fact, seem as though God “makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” (v. 3)  Looking up at those grand peaks I had to affirm that “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” (v. 5)  Viewing the waterfalls and streams in the park it was clear “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.” (v. 10)  We photographed birds next to one stream and this seemed to correspond with v. 12, “The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.”  As I photographed a pika and a marmot in the higher region of the park I couldn’t help but think of v. 18, “The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.”  Seeing the mule deer emerge at dusk made me think of the words “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.” (v. 20)   Spending time watching herds of elk I couldn’t help but affirm with the Psalmist “How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (v. 24)

Having spent a number of days in Rocky Mountain National Park it seemed appropriate to pray “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (v. 31)   It also seemed appropriate to sing.  The Psalmist said “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to him as I rejoice in the Lord.” (vs. 33-34)  On the last morning of the trip, as I photographed the first light on several peaks, I played John Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High,” on my iPhone.  It somehow seemed appropriate.  Even more appropriate, however, are the words of Psalm 104.

–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.)


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


Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)


Sep 6 2017

Bearing Witness

DNP Nugget PondI have been an avid nature photographer for twenty-five years. I got into nature photography to help me deal with stress in ministry. I was desperately needing a hobby and after flirting briefly with the idea of getting into pottery I decided I would pursue nature photography. I am so thankful I chose that path. It has opened a lot of doors for me, enabled me to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country, introduced me to some awesome people, and brought me a great deal of joy and fulfillment. Along the way I have been able to publish three books and see my photographs appear in numerous magazines, calendars, advertisements, post cards, and other books. I’ve also been able to teach a number of workshops and mentor other photographers. Best of all, my nature photography has enabled me to bear witness to the glory of God.

19990417_878534568968429_1700340611320172729_n[1]Recently my wife purchased me a t-shirt that I love. On the front it says “God creates the Beauty. My camera and I are a witness.” That pretty much sums up my approach to photography. I seek to capture the beauty of God’s Creation and share it with others. When other people comment on how beautiful my pictures are I often remind them that God is the one responsible for the beauty. My job is simply recording it with my camera. So it is true that when I take a photograph my camera and I are simply witnesses to the beauty God creates. That is not to deny that some skill is required to take good photographs but in the end I cannot take credit for the beauty that is captured in my images–that is God’s handiwork.

My goal in doing nature photography is not just to be a witness of God’s beauty when I photograph but also to be a witness for God’s beauty afterwards. That’s why I enjoy doing digital “slide shows” for groups and posting pictures on Facebook.   It is my desire to share with others the same beauty I witnessed in the field so that they too can see the work of God’s hands and give God glory for it. For twenty-five years I have seen this as part of my “calling.” I truly do view photography as an extension of my ministry. The apostle Paul once said “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) I believe this should and does include my photography.

BSF East Rim Overlook fallIn addition to bearing witness to the beauty of God’s Creation I seek to bear witness to the goodness of that Creation with the hope that people will want to preserve and protect it. That type witness is sorely needed right now. Since its inception, photography has been used to bring awareness to others. I want my work to be used to promote Creation Care and environmental stewardship. I hope other photographers will join me in this endeavor.

I encourage each of you, whether you are a photographer or not, to find ways to bear witness to the beauty of God’s Creation and to urge others to do all they can to honor and protect that beauty. Through art, song, poems, or just a personal testimony be a witness for the God of Creation and a witness for Creation.

–Chuck


Aug 24 2017

My Partial Eclipse

Clingmans Dome sunsetThe much heralded total eclipse of the sun has now come and gone. Did you see it? I’ve heard some people share what an amazing experience it was. I’ve heard others speak about how disappointing it was. Some confessed to me they never looked out that day, they just watched it all on television. I watched the eclipse from our church’s playground. Thankfully I had a pair of safe glasses to use to watch the moon cover the sun to varying degrees. When the moon almost covered the sun the streetlights around the church came on and the crickets began to chirp. The quality of the light definitely changed making it a surreal moment. Here in Henderson the moon covered 99.4% of the sun. I thought that would surely be close enough to a total eclipse that I could take some photographs. But I was wrong. Even at the peak moment there was too much light for me to risk taking a picture. If I had purchased a solar filter I could have done so but, once again, I was convinced we would be close enough to a total eclipse that I wouldn’t need one. Oh well, live and learn.

Slot Canyon light shaftI did learn an important truth on Monday, one that concerns the spiritual life.  I learned that it doesn’t take a whole lot of light to make a big difference. Even when only .6% of the sun was visible it was still bright, so bright I had to have my solar glasses to look at it. Here we should all be reminded that Jesus, who was himself the “Light of the world,” has called each of us to be “the light of the world” also. The Bible says we are to let the light of God shine through us before others. Why is this important? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Because there is so much darkness in the world. There is so much hatred, ugliness and division. Racism and injustice are prevalent. Greed, lust, and anger continue to dominate the scene. Wars and rumors of war are in the news daily. The amount of darkness in the world is staggering, so much so that we may wonder if there is any hope for the world. But there is hope. Darkness can be defeated. It doesn’t take a lot of light to dispel the darkness. That’s why it’s so important that we let our light shine. I may not be but a single light but I can make a difference. My church may not be a large church but if we shine together it can make a huge difference in our community and beyond. John 1:5 says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I hope we will all do our part to make sure that God’s light continues to shine in and through us. I hope we will do our part to dispel all the darkness we can. For God’s sake, and that of others, let your light shine!

Chuck