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


Nov 26 2015

Two Thanksgiving Lists

_DSC6419“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”  Psalm 100:3-4

Last week when I wrote my article for our church newsletter I encouraged our members to make out a Thanksgiving list, to identify the things they would give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day.  On Sunday we had a guest speaker at church.  Rev. Amy Cates likewise encouraged us to make out a Thanksgiving list but suggested we use the letters of the alphabet to do so.  I decided last night I would follow my own advice and hers and make out my own Thanksgiving list.  I chose to make two, one focusing on God’s Creation and the other on more general things in my life.  Here’s what I came up with.

e_DSC7882 (2)Creation Thanksgiving List: A-asters; B-butterflies; C-clouds; D-Denali National Park; E-Everglades National Park; F-ferns; G-grizzly bears; H-herons; I-Indian paintbrush; J-Jasper National Park; K-killdeer; L-lichen; M-mountains; N-northern lights; O-owls; P-pikas; Q-quail; R-rainbows; S-sea otters; T-trees; U-Upper Peninsula of Michigan; V-violets; W-waterfalls; X-xenogamy (look it up) ; Y-Yellowstone National Park; and Z-Zion National Park.

e_DSC9232General Thanksgiving List: A-art; B-books, C-church; D-dreams fulfilled; E-education obtained; F-family and friends; G-grace; H-hope; I-imagination; J-Jesus; K-Kentucky (my home state); L-love; M-music; N-nature; O-opportunities to serve; P-photography; Q-quests to fulfill; R-regular meals (so many don’t have this luxury); S-senses to enjoy life; T-travel opportunities I’ve had; U-University of Kentucky basketball; V-vehicles to drive; W-water (millions do not have access to clean water); X-x-rays (I chose this one because X is hard and also to offer thanks for living in a time when we have made so many medical advancements); Y-youngsters; and Z-zoos and the research that takes place in many of them.

I share my lists with you not just to tell you what I’m thankful for but to encourage you to do the same.  I suspect you’ll find that it’s not as easy as it might sound.  Some of the letters are easy to come up with things to be grateful for, others are rather difficult.  Still, it’s a wonderful and fun thing to do on Thanksgiving Day.

DSC_0097Finally, I want to thank all of you who take the time to read the Seeing Creation blog.  It’s good to know that there are others out there who share my passion for God, Nature and Spirituality.  I hope and pray you have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day.

–Chuck


Aug 29 2015

Praise for Creation and Providence

CA Kings Canyon NP sunsetLast Sunday evening I spent the night with my brother at his home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Richard is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Frankfort and during the course of our conversation he told me about the choral anthem his choir had sung that morning. I was not familiar with the song but he said that he thought I’d like it since the words focus on God’s Creation. Once I took a look at the words to this hymn penned by Isaac Watts I told him that I did, indeed, like it. The hymn is called I Sing the Mighty Power of God and, interestingly enough, was written for children to sing.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)Here are the words to the song: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.  I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good. Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne; while all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; and everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

_DSC8404When this hymn first appeared in 1715 it was entitled Praise for Creation and Providence. The song does, in fact, offer praise to God for His Creation and for the providence of God seen in it. Even though I can’t imagine this song being written for children it definitely conveys truths that can be grasped by young and old alike.  Watts reminds us that God’s power is abundantly evident in Creation. This power can be seen in towering mountains, the vast oceans and the skies above us. Watts declares that God’s wisdom is also apparent in Creation. For him evidence of this can be seen in God forming the sun to give us light during the day, the moon to reflect its light during the night, and in the stars that appear each evening giving us a sense of direction.

_DSC6720Through this hymn we are taught that God’s wonders are on display wherever we turn. These wonders are below and above us; they are everywhere we look. They can be found in the plants and flowers we see, observed in the clouds above or experienced in the winds that blow against our face. The wonders and majesty of God are to be found throughout Creation.  Another affirmation Watts makes, one that is important for us to grasp whether we be old or young, is all that God has made is ever in God’s care. The Maker of heaven and earth is not a distant God who has abandoned the work of His hands.  No, God sustains Creation to this very day, just as the apostle Paul declared in Colossians 1:17. Understanding this leads us to the final truth Watts’ hymn declares—everywhere that we can be God is present there.  Creation itself is a reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

I am very thankful for hymn writers like Isaac Watts. Through hymns like this one these writers are able to put into just a few words truths that it would take theologians volumes to discuss. Through hymns like this one we find great truths affirmed that can be both remembered and sung by young and old alike. Through hymns like this one we can offer God our praise for both Creation and God’s continued presence and care.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Kings Canyon National Park, the second at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the third at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the fourth at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Jul 8 2015

The “Trembling Giant” and the Church

_DSC7241A couple of years ago Rob and I spent some time photographing at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  As we got to the end of our time there he asked if I minded if we stopped at the Pando forest in Utah on the way back.  I had never heard of it.  He told me of reading about it in one of Jane Goodall’s recent books and how it is a clonal colony of quacking aspens.  Some researchers believe that it is the earth’s oldest living thing, some 80,000 years old.  Intrigued by this we drove to Fish Lake, Utah, and found the forest.  I say “forest” but in reality it is a single tree with a massive underground root system that has produced what appears to be some 47,000 trees springing from that system.  Standing in the midst of Pando it was hard to comprehend how all we saw was part of one thing.

_DSC7235Yesterday I was reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching For Sunday, and came across a chapter where she, too, talks about the Pando forest.  She shares the same basic information above but also indicates that a name has been given to this ancient tree, Trembling Giant.  Rachel then goes on to draw some interesting and pertinent analogies between the Pando and the church.  She notes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing from Pando.  Each one looks different—beautiful and broken in its own way—but we all share the same DNA.”  She concludes the chapter with these words: “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and a single tree—one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible force.”

I really like Evan’s comparison of the Pando and the church.  It makes sense.  The apostle Paul uses a different analogy than Evans in his Corinthian correspondence to make the same point: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

_DSC7208The main reason I’m writing about this today is I am very concerned about how polarized things are in Christianity these days.  The way many Christians attack one another you would think we were in the midst of a civil war.  Some Christian groups believe that they have a monopoly on truth and that all others are either not Christians or sub-Christian.  The sources of contention are innumerable but include things like how one views the inspiration of Scripture, the age of the earth, the Second Coming, the sacraments, women in ministry, etc.  If you do not agree with some Christians about any of these, or other matters, you are deemed a heretic or worse.

What is so crazy about this is we are all one Body.  We’re like the trees Rob and I saw at the Pando forest.  What we saw with our eyes appeared to be a bunch of different trees but in reality was one living organism.  There’s no way the various churches or denominations in the world are going to agree on everything.  I’m not even sure they should.  I’m convinced our diversity should be honored and celebrated.  God is bigger than all of us combined so how could any one group get it all right?

_DSC7309I wish somehow, someway, we would quit focusing on what separates us as Christians and concentrate on what we have in common.  As the New Testament boldly affirms “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  Just hours before he was crucified Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers “might be one.” (John 17:21)  I don’t believe he expected us to all be or think exactly alike but we are to live our lives cognizant of the fact that in him we are all one.  Another thing Jesus sought to make clear before his death was that his followers should be known first and foremost by their love for one another.  He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 35)  My hope and prayer is that followers of Christ will learn to set aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and actually present a unified witness to the world that is characterized by love.  Is that too much to ask?  Jesus didn’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here at the Pando forest in Utah.)