Apr 17 2017

There’s Always Something…

_CES4895Recently I had a chance to go to California and spend a week photographing with Rob Sheppard. It turned out to be a marvelous trip.  Everywhere we went there seemed to be something special waiting for us to explore and photograph.  Numerous times I found myself saying “Wow!”  Even more often I would catch myself saying “Thank you!” to God for the blessing of getting to see what I saw.  There were several adorable sea otters that we were able to spend time with around Morro Bay.  We also had many opportunities to enjoy this year’s super display of wildflowers.  At Carrizo Plains National Monument we saw wildflowers flowing across thousands of acres and even into the mountains.  It was a marvelous sight to behold.  We spent a good bit of time along the central coast of California and the beauty there likewise called for countless expressions of gratitude.  I felt incredibly blessed to see all I did.

A few days ago I was looking at a book I own which happens to be a collection of “famous prayers.” I came across one prayer that helped remind me that for those with eyes to see there are always blessings in nature waiting to be seen.  The prayer spoke to me and perhaps it will to you as well.  It was penned by John Oxenham and is taken from “A Little Te Deum of the Commonplace.”

_DSC3216“For all the first sweet flushings of the spring; The greening earth, the tender heavenly blue; The rich brown furrows gaping for the seed; For all thy grace in bursting bud and leaf… For hedgerows sweet with hawthorn and wild rose; For meadows spread with gold and gemmed with stars, For every tint of every tiniest flower, For every daisy smiling to the sun; For every bird that builds in joyous hope, For every lamb that frisks beside its dam, For every leaf that rustles in the wind, For spring poplar, and for spreading oak, For queenly birch, and lofty swaying elm; For the great cedar’s benedictory grace, For earth’s ten thousand fragrant incenses, Sweet altar-gifts from leaf and fruit and flower… For ripening summer and the harvesting; For all the rich autumnal glories spread—The flaming pageant of the ripening woods, The fiery gorse, the heather-purpled hills, The rustling leaves that fly before the wind and lie below the hedgerows whispering; For meadows silver-white with hoary dew; For sheer delight of tasting once again that first crisp breath, of winter in the air; The pictured pane; the new white world without; The sparkling hedgerows witchery of lace, The soft white flakes that fold the sleeping earth; The cold without, the cheerier warm within… For all the glowing heart of Christmas-tide, We thank thee, Lord!”

_CES5080Oxenham is right, there is always something in God’s Creation to catch our attention and elicit our praise and thanksgiving. Needless to say, some things catch our eyes or attention quicker than others but if we will really pay attention we will find plenty to give thanks for no matter where we are or what time of the year it happens to be.  What are you seeing right now that leads you to offer a prayer of thanksgiving?

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures shown above on my recent trip to California.)


Jun 26 2016

Nature’s Saints

_DSC0843As noted a few weeks ago, recently I have been rereading a number of Thomas Merton books. Earlier this week I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation once again.  I soon came across a fascinating section where Merton talks at length about how created things give glory to God simply by doing what they were created to do.  Merton says, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him.  It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to His creative love.  It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.” Later he adds, “…each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art. The forms of individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.”

_DSC1246In what follows Merton gives several examples of things in nature that give glory to God simply by being what they were created to be. He writes, “The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this widow are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God.  This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.  The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.  The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints.  There is no other like him.  He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way.  That is his sanctity.”

Later in this chapter Merton goes on to talk about how humans are different from the rest of Creation. He says, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God.”  He goes on to indicate that the secret of our identity is “hidden in the love and mercy of God.”

_DSC0755The uniqueness of humans makes for an interesting topic but that is not what I want to focus on here. Merton’s words about the rest of Creation proclaiming God’s glory, something David also said in Psalm 19:1, caused me to ponder why we don’t pay more attention to the “saints” all around us.  If the trees and their leaves bear witness to God why do we not sit and contemplate them more?  The lakes and sea, along with the fish that swim within, also offer God praise and reflect or imitates God’s glory.  If that be so, why do we not pause long enough to join in the chorus and soak in the glory of God?  I know we are supposed to seek God in others but as Merton wisely points out, humans offer an imperfect reflection of God’s glory.  Nature, however, lacking free will, offers that glory perfectly.  Realizing that makes me think I need to be paying even more attention to the glorious revelation found in Creation than I already do.  The witness of the “saints” is just waiting to be discovered by those willing to slow down and pay attention.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on a trip a few years ago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


May 18 2016

Careless in the Care of God

_DSC5775In Eugene Peterson’s amazing translation/paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, Matthew 6:26 reads “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count for more to him than birds.”  Ken Gire once wrote a wonderful response to this.  He said: “’Careless in the care of God.’  And why shouldn’t they be?  For their food, He provides insects in the air, seeds on the ground.  For their search for food, He provides eyes that are keen, wings that are swift.  For their drinking, He provides poolings of rainwater.  For their bathing, He provides puddles.  For their survival, He provides migratory instincts to take them to warmer climates.  For their flight, He provides bones that are porous and lightweight.  For their warmth, He provides feathers.  For their dryness, He provides a water-resistant coating.  For their rest, He provides warm updrafts so they can glide through the air.  For their journey, He provides the company of other travelers.  For their return, He provides the companionship of a mate.  For their safety, He provides a perch in branches far from the reach of predators.  For their nest, He provides twigs.  And for every newborn beak, He provides enough worms so that they can grow up to leave the nest and continue the cycle of life.  It’s no wonder they’re so free from the cares of this world.  The wonder is, if we count more to Him than birds, why aren’t we?”

_DSC5759When I read these words earlier this morning I have to admit I was convicted. Lately I’ve been worried about a lot of things and the word “careless” would definitely not describe me at this point in my life.  Jesus’ instructions to “look at the birds” was one of his ways of trying to get his followers not to worry so much.  He encouraged them to look around and pay close attention to the birds and the wildflowers that grew nearby.  Both, he said,  serve as reminders that God takes care of them and provides what they need.  Jesus then informed these followers that God cares even more for them and they shouldn’t worry, for if God meets the needs of the birds and flowers God will assuredly meet their needs as well.

_DSC3499I love the way Ken Gire lays out for us the many ways God provides for the birds. He lists so many ways and I’m sure others could be added to his list.  Surely the recognition that God goes out of His way to care for the birds ought to be enough to make us pause when anxious thoughts come our way.  Hopefully it will help me worry a whole lot less and move me to the point where I am “careless in the care of God.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)


Apr 26 2016

Seeking Nature’s Forgiveness

_DSC9845“Forgive us our sins…” Luke 11:4

One of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read is The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.  In one portion of this classic the character Father Zossima tells his fellow monks the story of his brother’s, Markel, last days.  Markel, who previously cared little for God or religion had a change of heart.  He began asking for both God’s forgiveness and that of others.  Next he did something no one could have expected, he asked the birds to forgive him.  Here are his words: “Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.”  Zossima says “None of us could understand it then, but he was weeping with joy.   ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky and I alone lived in shame.  I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all.’ “ When Markel’s mother told him he was “taking too many sins upon yourself” he responded, “Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them.”

_DSC3016I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately concerning forgiveness but most of them related to people who had hurt one another. In forty years of ministry I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone speak of asking the birds or nature to forgive them but as I read Dostoevsky’s words again this morning it seemed like what Markel did was something we all need to do.  In so many different ways we sin against Creation on a regular basis.  The birds Markel spoke of have certainly suffered.  At nearby John James Audubon State Park there is a museum that features a lot of items related to Audubon’s life.  One item tour guides invariably point to is a well preserved stuffed passenger pigeon.  At one time there were millions of these birds but today they are now extinct.  I almost feel like the next time I’m there I need to ask its forgiveness.

To some asking a bird or some tree for forgiveness would sound ridiculous but I do not believe that it is at all. When you look at the stress that we have placed on animals as we’ve wiped out their habitat how can you not apologize?  When you see where huge majestic trees have been clear-cut how can you not weep and feel sorry?  When you see fish that have died from pollution dead on the shore how can you not ask for their forgiveness?

B2175In Dostoevsky’s novel Merkel admits that he does not “even know how to love” all of God’s creatures.  Elsewhere in The Brothers Karamazov one of his characters says, “Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”  It is certainly clear that Dostoevsky believed that we should, in fact, love all of Creation and for good reason—so that we might in turn know and love the Creator.

In any relationship where love is involved there will come a time when we must ask the one we love for forgiveness. If we truly love God’s Creation there will likewise be times when we must say “I’m sorry.”  As I look around me it would seem that time is now.

–Chuck

(I photographed the northern cardinal and indigo bunting in western Kentucky and the raven at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.)

 


Mar 14 2016

Spring, Heart Surgery and Creation Care

Westerm-CottontailSince my recent heart attack and bypass surgery my time outdoors has been quite limited. I walk in our neighborhood when the weather permits and get out otherwise only to go to rehab or make a quick trip to the office. Even with the limited exposure to the outdoors it is apparent that spring is currently making its presence known. Jonquils are in bloom, redbuds are starting to bud, and a number of wildflowers are emerging. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get out and photograph the wonders of early spring this year but I still find much comfort and joy in the return of spring.

flowerSpring is a time of renewal and restoration. After winter’s cold and darkness spring gives us hope of better days to come. It brings the promise of longer days, rising temperatures and an explosion of color.   This year I find myself looking at spring differently.   Due to my health issues I see myself not just as an observer of spring but also as a participant in the cycle of spring. Like the world of nature, my body is going through a period of renewal and restoration. Following surgery my body is going through a season of healing. Although I still have a bit of pain and discomfort I live with the hope of better days to come.

Viewing myself as a participant of spring has caused me to also do some thinking about being a part of Creation itself. Even though we don’t admit it often we humans are just as much a part of Creation as flowers, birds, trees, and the rivers around us are. We owe our existence to God. One biblical writer declared that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Ps. 139:14)  It would be difficult for someone to debate that truth.   Like everything else, we were made by God and for God. Like the rest of Creation God made us in such a way that we can fulfill our divine purpose.  God made our bodies so that we can be and do what God planned for us.

robin 1I write often at this site about the need for us to be good stewards of God’s Creation.  What a lot of us may have forgotten is that our own bodies are a part of that Creation and that we must be good stewards of them too. I will confess I have not been a very good steward of my own body. Over the years I have not taken very good care of it. I have failed to eat right, exercise properly, and get the rest my body needed. When I had the episode with my heart a few weeks ago I did not ask “Why me?” I knew it was my own fault. I had no one to blame but myself.   I had not been a very good steward of the one part of Creation I have the most control over and I paid the price.

There is always a price to be paid when we fail to be good stewards of God’s Creation. The earth or we ourselves invariably suffer. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a good example of how failure to be good stewards can lead to sickness or death. Elsewhere rivers and lakes, even the oceans, are also being polluted and that pollution is causing ill effects for plants and animals and humans alike. There are countless examples of ways we have failed the earth and are now having to pay the price. We simply cannot treat the earth any way we please and not expect there to be some very serious repercussions.

My current health issues have helped me to see anew the importance of being a good steward of all aspects of God’s Creation. There is a very good chance I would not be alive today if a team of doctors had not intervened and performed the surgery I needed.  In the same way, plants and animals, whole ecosystems, and, yes, even fellow human beings may well die if we do not intervene. May God help us all to intervene where and when we can.

–Chuck

(I took the top picture in Wyoming, the second picture in South Carolina, and the bottom image here in Henderson, KY.)


Mar 2 2016

What’s in a Name?

SC March RS 2

There is somewhat of a debate among nature lovers as to how important names are. Some folk think that names get in the way of appreciating nature. That can be true if you feel you have to know “all the names”, an impossible task. When you see a photo like the one above, you can always think pretty flower even if you don’t know the name.

I happen to think names are important. Names give you context and connection. It is hard to say you love a flower, yet you can say you love California poppies or any other aspect of nature. Knowing the name of something in nature makes that something specific and concrete. You can know exactly what it is then. The flower above is a California poppy. The little native bee next is a green sweat bee.

SC March RS 3

There are two Creation stories in the Bible. The first (Genesis 1) shows what God thought of ALL of His Creation, “And God saw that it was good.”

Many people focus on the relationship of Adam and Eve in the second Creation Story (Genesis 2-4), plus the eating of the forbidden fruit. While those things are obviously important to the story, I find it interesting that the Bible says that God brought the animals to Adam “to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”   The story says that nature was not named by God, but God wanted to see how Adam would name it.

The implication is that Adam needed names in order to care about Creation and that the names helped God understand Adam. Names do imply care. As human beings, we are geared to support things we care about, not things we have no feelings for. It is difficult to have feelings for an anonymous person compared to someone we know by name.  In biblical thought, knowing someone’s name implied intimacy.

The same thing happens in nature. Anonymous animals, plants, places don’t get the care that animals, plants, places with names do. Next is a giant coreopsis, a native plant restricted to a small area of the Southern California coast and Channel Islands (and blooming now).

SC March RS 1

It is impossible to know the names of every living thing (some haven’t even been discovered yet).

But it is possible to know that every living thing has a name and is worth caring about.

– Rob