Jan 19 2015

Withdrawing From the Cares Which Will Not Withdraw From Us

_DSC0854A couple of days ago I came across the following words by Maya Angelou: “Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.”  These two sentences spoke to me in a powerful way; they were words I needed to hear.

_DSC1367I found Maya’s call to withdraw “from the cares which will not withdraw from us” to be especially poignant.  In recent weeks I have let some things bother me far more than I should.  I’ve had cares and concerns that I seemed unable to escape no matter how hard I tried.  It was actually comforting to read this poet’s words.  She seemed to understand that there are problems that will not give us a break, troubles that refuse to let us go.  But she also had the wisdom to advise us to find a way to withdraw from these nagging cares.  She knew that in such stressful circumstances you have to find a way to separate yourself from those cares that want to stay attached to you.

_DSC1193I also appreciated Maya’s advice concerning where one might withdraw.  She points us to a number of places in nature to seek relief.  She mentions spending time in a park, observing ants, and looking at the trees.  I’m not sure that there is a better place to turn for relief from the cares that will not withdraw from us than God’s Creation.  John Muir certainly felt this way.  He once said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  In nature, whether there be mountains or not, we often find that our cares do, in fact, “drop off like autumn leaves.”

I am convinced that God intentionally put therapeutic elements into the Creation to help us all deal with the problems and cares we face in life.  In one of the most beloved passages of the Bible David wrote about how God provided for his needs through nature.  He said God “makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2)   In God’s Creation David found the restoration his soul needed.  Countless times that is where I have found what I needed too.

_DSC9763I have long understood the restorative powers of God’s Creation.  What Maya Angelou’s words helped me understand is that it is imperative that I find a way to return to nature when life gets hard and my cares will not let me go.  When I am overly stressed, discouraged or depressed I don’t always feel like getting out but it is precisely at such times I must force myself to get outdoors.  In nature I always find reminders that God is bigger than any problem I might be facing and that God genuinely cares about me.  I may well have cares that will not withdraw from me but when I force myself to withdraw to God’s Creation I discover again and again a God whose love will not let me go and a peace that passes all understanding.  I definitely need to withdraw more often.  How about you?

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this past fall.)

 

 


Dec 3 2014

Things As They Should Be

RGG3519It is no secret that I love the outdoors.  I think I’m happiest and most at peace when I am in a nice natural setting.  There are lots of reasons for this.  First and foremost, I feel close to God when I’m surrounded by the work of the Creator’s hands.  Second, I delight in the beauty, mystery and variety to be found in Creation.  Third, I feel nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, many of them spiritual in nature.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that these are the three themes I tend to focus on most.

SFNF5134Today I thought of another reason why I enjoy being outdoors in nature so much.  There, for the most part, things are as they are supposed to be, things are as God intended.  I don’t find that scenario many other places in my life.  Not in my personal life, not in my church, not in my community, not in my state or country.  In so many areas things are not as they should be but in nature–at least where humans don’t adversely interfere–we see God’s plans being fulfilled day after day.  The mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys, coast or desert do what they are supposed to day after day.  The flora and fauna that live there do the same.  So do the rocks and minerals.  And because nature affords us this rare opportunity to be where things are as they should be I find peace and comfort there.

The reason we don’t see things as they should be in many other arenas is, of course, the fact that we humans have been granted an incredible gift called free will.  We get to choose whether we will live in the way God intended for us or choose a different path.  Apparently God chose to give this gift to us so that our relationship to Him would not be a forced one. (If we have no choice but to love God then it is no longer a relationship based on love.)  Considering all the discord, strife and injury that has resulted from our misuse of free will I can’t help but wonder if God wishes at times He had set things up a different way.  Today the order, harmony, and justice God must have desired is very hard to find.

SFNF4352That’s why it helps me to get out in nature on a regular basis.  I find solace being someplace God’s will is actually done.   Being in nature and observing all of this also serves as a reminder to me (and hopefully others) that things work so much better when we choose to follow God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  It is when we are selfish and greedy that we make bad choices that hurt us, those around us, and Creation itself.

GR4138The good news in all of this is that we can learn from nature and our past mistakes.  We can, in fact, be wiser in the future and strive more diligently to do God’s will.  Jesus taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  He also modeled this when he prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will but yours be done” to his heavenly Father.  I am convinced that the peace I find in nature can be found elsewhere, but not without our learning to seek first the kingdom of God.   I know I have no control over whether others do this but I do have a good bit of control over whether I do.  And so do you.  As we journey through this Advent season please join with me in praying that God’s will shall be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above earlier this year on a trip to New Mexico.)


Nov 12 2014

The Peace of the Forest

_DSC0586In recent days I’ve been reading Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Jane Goodall.  Her work amongst chimpanzees is legendary.  I was surprised when I learned the subject of her new book was plants.  Still, I knew it would be something I would want to read.

_DSC7876In Seeds of Hope Dr. Goodall writes about her lifelong love for plants.  Botany might not be her primary area of expertise but it is obvious she knows a lot about plants and is enthralled by their diversity and usefulness.  At one point, however, she offers a testimony of how the trees of a particular forest brought emotional and spiritual healing to her following a personal crisis.  She writes, “It was to the forest I went after my second husband, Derek, lost his painful fight with cancer in 1981.  I knew that I would be calmed and find a way to cope with grief, for it is in the forest that I sense most strongly a spiritual power greater than myself.  A power in which I and the forest and the creatures who make their home there ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).  The sorrows and problems of life take their proper place in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, with reality suspended by the timelessness of the forest world, I gradually came to terms with my loss and discovered that ‘peace that passes all understanding” (Isaiah 26:3).”

_DSC1272Later Goodall shares how the peace of the forest continues to sustain her.  She says, “As I travel around the world, people are always telling me that I have an aura of peace—even when I am surrounded by chaos, by people jostling for signatures, or wanting to ask questions, or worrying about logistics. ‘How can you seem so peaceful?’ they ask.  The answer, I think, is that the peace of the forest has become part of my being.  Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or the waves crashing onto the shore.” 

I can relate to what Jane Goodall writes here.  For many years I, too, have found my greatest peace in the forest.  There’s just something about being amongst trees.  A few days ago a friend and I took a short walk through a forest to photograph a natural arch.  As we walked the trail we talked about the therapeutic benefits of being in the woods.  It seems to have a calming affect for a lot of people.  I have no doubt that this is something God intended.  And like Goodall, I find peace not only in being amongst the trees but also when I pause to reflect on memories of times spent in forests.

_DSC0854It’s interesting how often the Bible talks about trees and how they often fulfill a vital role in the biblical stories.  Trees play an important part in the Creation accounts and the story of the Fall.  In a number of instances God reveals Himself near trees.  Both Abraham and Moses had close encounters with God near trees.  Jesus apparently often sought solace in a grove of olive trees.  And in the end, when John offers a graphic description of heaven, he says “And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

I realize that the peace Goodall and I experience in the forests others feel in desert settings, mountains or near rivers, lakes or oceans.  I feel peace in these places too.  Once again, I am convinced that God has designed Creation to give us peace so this is to be expected.  If we want the peace that passes all understanding we will be wise to spend time in the Creation with the Author of Creation and the giver of peace.  We will also be wise to make sure that such places are protected and preserved.  In at least one sense, the peace of the world is dependent on it.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Oct 6 2014

Though the Earth Should Change

_DSC0854I have just spent a wonderful week photographing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a great time away from the stress of moving into a new home and the usual pressures that come with being a minister.  Even more so, it was a great time to be out in the beauty of God’s Creation and to enjoy the splendor of autumn in the North Woods.  I have witnessed autumn in a number of locations all across North America and would concur with those who say autumn in the UP is hard to beat.

_DSC8504This was only my second trip to this region.  A friend I traveled with has been over thirty times.  One of the things that came up in many of our discussions was how various things had changed.  We hiked to one of the most popular waterfalls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and when we got to the platform designed for viewing the falls my friend was disappointed to discover that the trees in front of the falls had grown so tall that they basically blocked the view of the falls he remembers so fondly.  We stopped at another waterfall that both of us had visited on previous trips and were surprised to see that the falls had completely dried up.  Many times throughout the trip we were reminded that in nature things change.

Due to technological advancements the past couple of generations have experienced change at a far more rapid rate than those that went before them.  I remember as a kid marveling at Dick Tracy’s wrist radio transmitter.  Today the iPhone I carry in my pocket does far more than could have been imagined back in that day.  I have been photographing seriously about twenty-two years.  I marvel at how much has changed with cameras in that time.

_DSC8928The changes we have experienced in just the past few years is enough to make one’s head spin.  It is also enough to cause one to be unsettled.  How can one have any sense of peace or security in an ever changing world?  Some might answer that one cannot find either but I would suggest they are wrong.  More than ever I’m convinced that there is one place, or more accurately one person, where we can find a still point and a source of security and that is in God.

_DSC0942A passage that gives me both comfort and hope can be found in Psalm 46.  Here we are told “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Many times during this past week as I have contemplated changes in both nature and society I have given thanks for the refuge we find in God.  I have also reflected more than once on these words from my favorite hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”  In a world that is forever changing it is good to be able to point to and hold on to One who never changes.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(The images used above were taken this past week on my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “Heaven on earth,  we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.   Sick of sorrow,  sick of pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on earth.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

 


Apr 6 2014

Crazy Thinking

_CES2809For some crazy reason there is a huge disparity between the way I think and the way I see things.  If I have ninety-nine good things going on in my life or at work and only one bad thing, I tend to dwell on and stress over the one bad thing.  That is not good and I know it.  When it comes to seeing, especially with my nature photography, it tends to be right the opposite.  If I’m out photographing and 99% of what I’m around is ugly or boring and 1% is beautiful, I’ll focus on the beautiful and make the most of it.  I wish I thought more like I see.  I have a feeling God would rather have me focusing on the positives in my life than the negatives.  I’m not much good to Him or anyone else when I’m stressed out and fretting too much over the bad.

_CES2610I got to thinking about all of this the past couple of days.  This past week I spent five days photographing in the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas.  I had never been to this region and was really looking forward to doing some spring photography there.  When we arrived, however, there were very few signs of spring.  Apparently the cold and prolonged winter we’ve had in the south has caused there to be a significant delay in the arrival of spring in the natural world.  I thought for sure I’d be photographing redbuds and dogwoods and wildflowers but for the biggest part of the trip these were absent.  For all practical purposes it might as well have been February.

Some may have despaired and given up after discovering the conditions were not what one expected but I have learned over the years that there is always beauty to be found somewhere.  It may not be found in what you had hoped for but it is there nonetheless.  By focusing on some of the springs and waterfalls in the area, as well as some pretty remarkable geological features, I was able to take a lot of lovely images.

_DSC2962Somehow I have got to figure out a way to take the same approach with my thinking.  It’s absurd for people (me or anybody else) to ignore or minimize the good and beautiful in their life because one or two things in it are not so good or beautiful.  Such negativity is harmful. It keeps a person from living a life of gratitude and also robs them of a tremendous amount of joy and peace.  I certainly realize one should not ignore his or her problems and that they do, indeed, have to be faced and dealt with.  What I must learn to do, however, is not let my focus get distorted so that the problems become larger than they actually are.

Jesus said that he came so that we “may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  One way I can experience more of this abundant life is by focusing not just my eyes but my mind on the blessings in my life.  I have a feeling that doing so will give me a new perspective on my problems and might just enable me to do a better job of dealing with them.  What do you think?

Chuck

(I took the top image at Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the middle one at Elephant Rocks State Park, and the bottom on at Buffalo National River.)