Nov 30 2018

Landscapes and Prayer

I recently started reading John O’Donohue’s book, Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World.  In the opening chapter I found some words about landscape that resonated with me.  I suspect they will with many of you as well.  O’Donohue writes: “I love mountains. I feel that mountains are huge contemplatives.  They are there and they are in the presence up to their necks and they are still in it and with it and within it.  One of the lovely ways to pray is to take your body out into a landscape and to be still in it.  Your body is made out of clay, so your body is actually a miniature landscape that has got up from under the earth and is now walking on the normal landscape.  If you go out for several hours into a place that is wild, your mind begins to slow down, down, down.  What is happening is that the clay of your body is retrieving its own sense of sisterhood with the great clay of the landscape.  Water in a landscape is a fascinating thing as well.  I often think that water is the tears of the earth’s joy and sadness.  Every kind of water in a landscape has a different kind of tonality and a different kind of presence to it…  I also think that trees are incredible presences.  There is incredible symmetry in a tree, between its inner life and its outer life, between its rooted memory and its external active presence.  A tree grows up and down at once and produces enough branches to incarnate wild divinity.  It doesn’t limit itself—it reaches for the sky and it reaches for the source, all in one seamless kind of movement.  So I think landscape is an incredible, mystical teacher, and when you begin to tune into its sacred presence, something shifts inside you.” 

O’Donohue goes on to say, “One of the lovely developments in consciousness…is this dawning recognition that we are guests of the universe, and that landscape was the firstborn of creation and was here hundreds of millions of years before us. It knows what is actually going on.  To put it in a theological way, I feel that landscape is always at prayer, and its prayer is seamless.  It is always enfolded in the presence.  It is a high work of imagination, because there is no repetition in a landscape.  Every stone, every tree, every field is a different place.  When your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is to actually be here.”

I appreciate what O’Donohue has to say and can relate to it. I believe God does make Himself known through the Creation.  All of God’s works bear the mark of the Creator.  This includes the landscape.  This helps explain why many of us find ourselves closest to God in nature.  It also explains why prayer seems to come easier for us when we are out in nature.  Is it too much to believe that rest of Creation prays alongside us and contributes to our prayer?  O’Donohue specifically mentions mountains, water and trees as elements of the landscape that draw him to the presence of God.  These three elements have contributed much to my own experience of God as well.  I don’t think that is a coincidence.  In the Scriptures God is often found in mountains, water and trees.

If only we had eyes to see we would discover God all around us, in all the different parts of the landscape. And O’Donohue is right, “when your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of differentiation, then you realize what a privilege it is actually to be here.”  What a privilege indeed!

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above on a recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Sep 28 2018

The Weighty Season

Autumn officially arrived last week so I thought this would be a good time to share one of my favorite Wendell Berry “Sabbath Poems.” This one can be found in his book, A Small Porch.

“Again the air is full of falling: the falling of leaves in the weighty season that brings all home again to the lowly miracle from which they came. Nature, the mother and maker, requires that life take form, enflesh itself in the shapes and habits of the world’s unnumbered kinds.  And then she requires each one at last to shed its guise, giving up its matter to the life to come.  Think of a world of no fall, no gravity calling downward, homeward, bringing all by the light uprisen down to rest in the resting land–a world, instead, where all that dies would fly upward and outward, nameless and alone.  How sterile then would be the earth, seasonless the year.  The year is the showing forth of the heavenly love that is the being of the present world.  The leaves, opening and at last falling, hold a while the beauty of God who made them by the work and care of Nature, His vicar and our mother.  His only is the light of which all things are made, the beauty that they are, the delight that is our prayer.”

 There are many things I like about this poem about the “weighty season” we call fall. I appreciate the way Berry alludes to the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life itself.  There is indeed a rhythm to life that comes from the hand of the Creator.  Like Berry, I cannot imagine life without this intrinsic cycle.

I especially appreciate the notion expressed that “the year is the showing forth of the heavenly love…” With each passing day we have the opportunity to experience anew the love of God.  That love may be experienced numerous ways but one of the best is through nature.  Even in the falling leaves of autumn we can know God’s love and discern God’s wisdom and ways.  The leave, along with the rest of Creation, “hold a while the beauty of God.”

Berry’s “Sabbath Poem” likewise reminds us that God, who is Light, is the Source of all that is. All of Creation, including us, owes its existence to God.  All of Creation, including us, shares in the Beauty of God.  It is no wonder, then, that all of Creation, including us, becomes “the delight that is our prayer.”

 –Chuck


Aug 31 2018

Seeking God’s Face

In Psalm 27:8 David says “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  The idea of seeking God’s face has always intrigued me.  What exactly does this mean?  In biblical thought, to seek someone’s face is to seek to enter that person’s presence.  Therefore, to seek God’s face is to seek God’s presence.  Needless to say, there are lots of ways one can seek God’s presence.  One may attempt to do so through reading the Scriptures, prayer, meditation, worship, and service.  One may also seek God’s face through the Creation.  I was reminded of this fact recently while reading John Philip Newell’s beautiful book, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace.

In Newell’s book one will find this prayer: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep. Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face; there is your face among us.”

The Scriptures declare that God does, in fact, make Himself known through His Creation. It only makes sense, then, that we can seek God’s face in the world around us.  In nature we experience something of the glory of God.  In the created order we can feel God’s presence.  For the one with eyes to see, “whichever way we turn” we can see the face of God.

If what Newell says is true, why, then, do we not see God’s face or experience God’s presence more often? I suspect there are a couple of answers.  First, we may forget that God’s face is revealed in the world around us.  This is not something that gets stressed very often in churches.  Second, we tend to be in a rush as we move through the world these days.  Rushing to and fro we are not likely to see much of anything.  We would all be wise to slow down and pay more attention.  Doing so will put us in a better position to seek God’s face and experience the wonder, mystery and awe of God’s presence.

–Chuck


Jul 29 2018

Light and Love

This past weekend I spent some time reading from the works of John Muir. I always find his writings inspirational but this time especially so.  Consider the following passage I came across:  “Alpenglow is the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God and suggests the spiritual Love-light in which the flesh-walls of earthy tabernacles are dissolved and everything puts on immortality… The alpenglow is so holy, spiritual; even the inspired atmosphere of the New Jerusalem is inadequate.  When we read, ‘And God said: Let there be light,’ we are too apt to think only of the light of the sun.  But it is not the sun that makes the day, it is Love.  In this Light of light, rocks and seas and everything is not only illumined, but transfigured and fused and changed into religion.”

I find Muir’s connecting of light and love to be quite meaningful and do not recall seeing this connection made elsewhere. The Bible declares that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) but you usually don’t see these metaphors conjoined as Muir does.  I like the thought that when God said “Let there be light” that one can substitute the world “love” for light.  The beginning of Creation is indeed a manifestation of God’s love.  Light may very well represent God’s love.  If nothing else, it can serve as a perpetual reminder to us that God loves us.  One does not have to experience the alpenglow Muir wrote about to make the connection.  Simply observing the sun in the sky or the play of light on Creation should be enough to remind us of God’s love.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) Here, too, it would appear that substituting light for love works quite nicely.  How does one let his or her light shine before others?  Through deeds of love.

I am thankful for John Muir’s insight and definitely plan to give his idea further thought. I encourage you to do the same.

–Chuck


Jun 30 2018

Quiet Places

Recently a friend shared the following quote by Dale Carnegie: “Let us not get so busy or live so fast that we can’t listen to the music of the meadow or the symphony that glorifies the forest. Some things in the world are far more important than wealth: one of them is the ability to enjoy simple things.”  I had not seen these words before but I certainly believe there is wisdom to be found in them.  A lot of us do, in fact, stay so busy and live our lives so fast that we miss “the music of the meadow” or fail to appreciate and enjoy “simple things.”

I was reminded of the richness to be found in the sounds of nature on a recent trip with Rob to northern Minnesota. One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to hear the loons call out.  I knew what their calls sounded like but had never experienced that in person.  What a treat it was to hear their song!  But we would never have heard the loons had we not found quiet places to experience them.   The truth is the noise of commerce often drowns out the beautiful life=giving sounds of nature.  I realize this is just the way things are, a necessity of life, but if we want to hear the music of the meadow or the symphony that glorifies the forest then we must find quiet places in nature.

I believe the same thing can be said about listening to God. I am convinced that God does still speak to us but we often fail to hear what God is saying because of all of the noise in our lives.  Once again, much of that noise is necessary and important.  But if we want to hear the still small voice of God we must find quiet places for our soul.  God, speaking through the Psalmist, said “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10)  Here is the problem for a lot of us.   We don’t hear God speak because we don’t take the time to be still or find the quiet places necessary to know God’s presence and hear God’s voice.

I definitely need to discipline myself to find those quiet places more often—both in nature and in the spiritual realm. Carnegie was right, some things in the world are far more important than wealth.  I believe experiencing God and the glory of God’s Creation are two such things.

–Chuck


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