Aug 24 2020

God’s Other Sanctuary

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us.  For many people of faith it has affected their ability to gather for worship.  Early on our government authorities were urging us not to congregate.  Those requests have largely passed and many churches are now meeting again.  But it’s not the same.  We’re encouraged to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks while in the sanctuary.  We have been asked not to sing.  We worship but it doesn’t feel quite right.  Even with places of worship resuming services a lot of people have elected to stay home and experience church on television or Facebook Live services.  I think all of us long for the day things will return to some sense of normalcy.  In the meantime, Covid-19 will continue to hinder our corporate gatherings of worship.

The pandemic need not, however, hinder our private expressions of worship.  We may worship God anytime and anyplace we choose.  We may or may not be able to go to church but there is another “church” that is always accessible—nature.  I was reminded of this recently when I read a selection from one of William Barclay’s books.  In it he writes: “To Jesus the whole world was full of signs, the corn in the field, the leaven in the loaf, the scarlet anemones on the hillside all spoke to him of God.  He did not think that God had to break in from outside the world; he knew that God was already in the world for anyone who had eyes to see.  The sign of truly religion persons is not that they come to Church to find God but that they find God everywhere; not that they make a great deal of sacred places but that they sanctify common places.”

John Muir once told his readers that “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.”  These words remind us that by stepping outside, or perhaps just looking out the window, we can find ourselves at church.

The Bible makes it clear that God is revealed through Creation.  In nature we find a vast sanctuary where we can commune with God and offer our Creator our heartfelt worship.  I walk outdoors every day and use this time to pray and worship God.  I don’t have to worry about social distancing or wearing a mask.  I can even sing out loud if I want.  Each day when I return from my walk I feel like I’ve been to church and there is a sense in which I have.

I hope you’ll take advantage of God’s other sanctuary and use it to bring you closer to the Holy One.  The restrictions that have come with the current pandemic cannot prevent us from sanctifying common places.  Not now.  Not ever.

–Chuck


Jul 28 2020

Using Art to Glorify God

Since I am now retired and no longer serving a church, I’ve been looking for new ways I might be able to offer a positive witness of my faith to others.  One new way I’ve discovered is creating and sharing memes on social media.  Doing so affords me the opportunity to combine my love for God, Creation and photography.  I have enjoyed putting Scripture passages or inspirational words onto pictures I have taken over the years.  These memes are shared on three different Facebook pages.  I share them on my own Facebook page.  I also share them on R120’s Facebook page.  R120 is a non-profit organization I support.  Its name comes from Romans 1:20 which reminds us of the universal witness of Creation to God’s “eternal power and divine nature.”  I have also recently started a SeeingCreation Facebook page that features these memes.  If you are on Facebook and have not liked one of these three pages I hope you will do so.

I have found so much joy in creating memes that I would encourage you to find your own unique way of sharing your faith.  Many of you have hobbies that can certainly be used for God’s glory.  It may be poetry, music, photography, painting, quilting, pottery, cross-stitching, crocheting, calligraphy, baking, or any number of other artistic expressions.  The arts have been used as expressions of worship and faith from the very beginning.  The Creator God apparently delights in our own creativeness.  I would even dare say that the Creator God is reflected in our own creativeness.  So give it a try.  Find some way to offer a positive witness through the gifts God has given you.

Below you will find a few of the memes I’ve already posted.  I hope you like them.  If you have suggestions for verses or inspirational sayings you’d like to see used in one of my memes, let me know.

–Chuck

 



May 26 2020

Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors

One of the benefits of being retired is having more time to read the books I want to read.  One I recently completed is called Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner.  The subtitle of the book is “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude Through Intimacy With Nature.”  In this delightful book Paintner speaks of Earth as the original cathedral, the original Scriptures, the original saints, the original spiritual directors, the original icon, the original sacrament, and the original liturgy.  I learned something from her chapters on each of these, but was particularly intrigued by her discussion of Earth as the original spiritual directors.

I have never had what most would technically consider a “spiritual director.”  Needless to say I have had many influence my spiritual journey but I never pursued a personal spiritual director to help me out.  I suspect I would have benefited had I done so.  But Paintner argues that not all spiritual directors are human.  The Earth—plants, animals, rocks, the seasons, etc.—has always been there to offer us spiritual guidance.  She quotes the Irish monk St. Columbanus, “If you want to know the Creator, understand created things.”  The more contemporary monk, Thomas Merton said “How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters.”  Paintner says “Merton knew that the true mentor of the soul was nature itself.  The fields, sun, mud, clay, wind, forests, sky, earth, and water are all companions for our own inner journeys.  The elements of water, wind, earth, and fire offer us wisdom and guidance.  They are the original soul friends.  Air is the gift of breath we receive each moment, the rhythm of life that sustains us.  Fire is the gift of life force and energy, and we might call to mind St. John of the Cross’s image of God as the living flame of love that burns in each of our hearts.  Water is the gift of renewal and replenishment, and we might call to mind the ritual of baptism as a call to claim our full gifts, or the blood that flows through our veins.  Earth is the gift of groundedness and nourishment.”

Reflecting on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin Paintner says, “Through every rock, every bird, every flower, and every creature, God enters into intimacy and communion with us.  This is how God’s wisdom is revealed, and we would do well to listen for their spiritual direction.”  I am convinced that Paintner is on to something here.  All of us have been graciously given a variety of spiritual directors in nature.  The question is, are we paying attention to these directors?  If this whole concept sounds strange to you, perhaps it will help to remember that Solomon encouraged us to pay attention to the ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Jesus said we should consider the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28).  The Bible itself points us to nature as a spiritual director.

If we can accept the truth that God is speaking to us through nature, hopefully it will cause us to begin paying more attention to the world around us.  I have no doubt that I have missed many lessons over the years because I was not paying attention.  At this point in my life I am trying to be more attentive.  What does this entail?  Paintner says “Cultivating contemplative presence to the natural world means growing in intimacy with creation so that the intimacy becomes a way of mutuality, in which we recognize that nature is not just there for our benefit but has intrinsic value apart from us and our needs.  Mutuality means that we listen to what nature has to say to us.  We allow our hearts to be opened by encounters there.”

I encourage you, and myself, to listen more carefully to what the Creator has to say to us through the Creation.  In doing so, may our hearts be more fully opened to the wonder and mystery of God.  Let us all take advantage of the spiritual directors God has given us.  What fools we will be if we don’t.

–Chuck


Apr 30 2020

A New Season

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

It has been a beautiful spring here in western Kentucky.  The redbuds were beautiful this year and the dogwoods magnificent. The daffodils came early and added a splash of color to the bleak landscape.  Now the trees are showing off their many shades of green.  I love spring!  Spring, however, does not last.  All too soon summer will arrive, then fall and then winter.  After that the cycle will repeat itself.  Seasons come, seasons go.

Just as God created the world with more or less definable seasons, there seems to be seasons in our human journey.  We have seasons characterized by new beginnings.  We have seasons characterized by growth.  We have seasons of decline.  We have seasons of ending.  And as with the natural seasons, the seasons of our lives often repeat themselves.  A time of ending will often usher in a time for new beginnings.  It’s all a part of this wonderful journey we call life.

I currently find myself at a seasonal transition.  In just four days I will be retiring.  After forty-four years as a minister I am stepping down from full-time church work.   This is an ending that comes with a lot of mixed emotions.  I am sadder than I thought I would be.  There is much I am going to miss about being a pastor. At the same time I find myself elated by this ending.  There is much I am not going to miss about being a pastor.  I am ready for a new beginning.  Or at least I think I am.  Who knows what the future holds?  I can only trust that the One who has guided me thus far will guide me until the end.

What I hope to do in this next season is spend more time studying and photographing God’s Creation.  I will certainly have more time to do so.  I hope to draw closer to God in this new season of my life.  Sad to say, pastors often spend so much time serving God that they do not have adequate time to commune with God.  I want to spend more time simply being in the presence of God.  That does not mean I do not want to continue to serve.  I do.  I cannot imagine a life that does not include serving others.  I hope to read more, write more, travel more, live more.  I hope to be a better husband.  I hope to be a better friend.  I hope to be a better me.

I am thankful for the four seasons of the year and I find myself now being grateful for the changing seasons of life.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me.  To quote Dag Hammarskjold words found in his journal Markings, “For all that has been–Thanks.  For all that shall be–Yes.”

–Chuck


Mar 27 2020

Staying Holistically Well

In a very short period of time our whole world has changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly altered our daily lives.  We now find ourselves in survival mode.  We have been forced to take drastic actions just to stay safe.  I hope that you are doing what is necessary to avoid the virus.  Washing one’s hands, practicing social distancing and self-quarantining should go a long way in helping one to stay safe.  Our goal, however, should not just be staying safe; we should strive for wellness too.  Our mental, emotional and spiritual health are just as important as physical health.  I hope you are doing what is needed to stay healthy in each of these areas.

For a lot of us getting outdoors and experiencing the beauty and wonders of God’s Creation plays an instrumental role in maintaining holistic health.  A couple of weeks ago I did a photo trip to the Everglades and this did wonders for my health.  I’m glad I got to go when I did as many national and state parks are now closing as a result of the coronavirus crisis.  It may be a while before we are able to find refuge and solace in these places once again.

What are we to do in the meantime?  This is a great time to start paying more attention to what we have right around us.  From our own yards and neighborhoods we can still observe the sun and moon, the clouds overhead, the birds flying around, the trees budding and the flowers blooming.  What we find close to home might not be as dramatic or beautiful as what we find in national and state parks but there is still so much to see, hear, smell and touch.  My friend, Rob Sheppard, is currently in the midst of a project where he is using his iPhone to record a picture each day of some natural wonder around him.  Even though he is not able to go far right now, he’s still producing beautiful images of nature and posting them daily on Facebook.  I think that’s a wonderful idea.

As I continue to take walks in my neighborhood I’m trying to pay closer attention to the natural world around me.  Doing so is good for my mental and emotional health.  It is also good for my spiritual health.  I’m currently reading Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ.  Throughout the book are reminders that God reveals Himself through the natural world.  At one point he writes, “When you look your dog in the face…I truly believe you are seeing another incarnation of the Divine Presence, the Christ.  When you look at any other person, a flower, a honeybee, a mountain—anything—you are seeing the incarnation of God’s love for you and the universe you call home.”   Who among us does not need to experience an “incarnation of God’s love” at this time?  Well, the truth of the matter is such incarnations are all around us.  I urge you to look for them and to find comfort in them.  Doing so may just be what we need to get through these trying times.

–Chuck


Feb 28 2020

A Call to Gratitude

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God…”  Psalm 50:14

During the season of Lent I usually “give up” something (like desserts) and also try to “take up” something.  I’ve chosen this year to read a number of books.  One of these is Inhabiting Eden: Christians, The Bible, and the Ecological Crisis by Patricia K. Tull.  Early in this book Tull writes about gratitude and Creation.  She says “Gratitude is a most appropriate response for us as inhabitants of this world, a home we neither bought nor paid for nor could ever have designed.”  She goes on to say, “We were intended to draw sustenance from creation’s bounty.  With each breath, we take in God’s provision of air; with each drink, the precious water supply; with each bit of bread, the manna for one more day of love and service.  We can begin to uphold the world that upholds us by recognizing these gifts with gratitude, especially our place in an ordered world that is full and fundamentally good, and our vocation to preserve the goodness and health of this living, teeming, exuberant world.”

I am one who appreciates, admires and marvels over God’s Creation but I’m afraid I’m not always as grateful as I should be.  I fear I may at times take it all for granted.  During Lent (and hopefully beyond) I intend to practice gratitude for the many gifts of God found in Creation. I want to not only notice the flowers, birds, trees and other gifts of God in nature but to give God thanks for them.  Surely, failure to do so is a sin.  The Bible says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)  Yes, all of Creation is a gift of God and gifts should be acknowledged with gratitude.

The practice of gratitude is a much needed discipline.  It keeps us humble.  It keeps us connected to God.  It brings us joy.  I also happen to believe that gratitude for Creation is a key to caring for the world God has made.  If we are not mindful and grateful for what God has made we will not be prone to work for its preservation.  We will not seek to protect that which we are not grateful for.  Perhaps at the heart of the ecological crisis is the sin of ingratitude.

I hope you will join me during this Lenten season in striving to be more grateful for the work of God’s hands.  Try to find at least one thing in nature each day to give thanks for.  Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the bounty of gifts that are there.  There simply is no shortage of God’s blessings to behold!

–Chuck