Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


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.)


Mar 17 2017

Learning from St. Patrick

_CES1622Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Earlier today I came across a quote attributed to Saint Patrick.  It reads: “At Tara today in this fateful hour I place all Heaven with its power, and the sun with its brightness, and the snow with its whiteness, and fire with all the strength it hath, and lightning with its rapid wrath, and the winds with their swiftness along their path, and the sea with its deepness, and the rocks with their steepness, and the earth with its starkness– all these I place, by God’s almighty help and grace, between myself and the powers of darkness.”

I find these words to be fascinating. In a difficult time, when threatened by the pagan king of Ireland, Patrick invoked God’s help and does so in a way that may seem strange to most of us today.  He calls on not just heaven but various elements of the earth—the sun, the snow, fire, lightning, the winds, the sea, and the rocks—to be his protector.  Apparently he saw these as agents of God’s providence and protection.

_DSC5781I would love to know how St. Patrick would have explained this. I certainly cannot speak for him.  I do, however, feel that he was on to something here.  Nature can, in fact, still be seen as an agent of God’s protection today, and this in a number of different ways.  Although some see some of the elements of nature Patrick mentioned as frightening, we have to admit that when God created the world God put things together in a way that would benefit and protect us.  All the things he mentioned in his prayer have useful functions and serve God.

I believe that nature also offers provision and protection in ways that transcend the physical. Nature also offers us emotional and spiritual protection.  When we are experiencing tough times nature has a way of calming us and giving us perspective.  It has a way of connecting us with the Almighty God who is our true source of strength.

Clingmans Dome sunsetCeltic spirituality draws a close connection between God and nature. Nature could serve as “thin places” between us and God and nature could serve as instruments of God’s will.  Do you find room in your own spirituality for this connection?  It is a question worth pondering.

If we can accept the Celtic (and biblical) understanding of the closeness between God and nature it only makes sense that we will want to honor the earth and God by being good stewards of Creation. We are living in a time when environmental protection is being threatened.  Should we not realize that failing to care for the earth is failing to care for ourselves?  Should we not realize that it also has the potential to hinder our relationship with God and the ways God uses to minister to us?  This St. Patrick’s Day would be a good time for us all to give thanks for God’s provision through Creation and to recommit ourselves to being good stewards of the earth.

–Chuck

(It took the three images shown above in California, Utah, and Tennessee. A special thanks goes to Lon Oliver for sharing the St. Patrick prayer noted above with me.)


Jan 24 2017

My Awe-full Life

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve had an awe-full life. Not awful, mind you, but awe-full or full or awe.  I was teaching a class a few days ago and I asked those in it if they could point to instances where they had experienced awe or wonder in nature.  Every single member could point to a time.  As we listed these out loud together I found myself coming up with example after example.  From my first glimpses of the Appalachian mountains and Atlantic ocean as a child until the present moment nature has continued to fill me with wonder and awe.  I can’t help but believe that is true for everyone.

God’s Creation is simply awesome! I’ve seen that awesomeness in giant trees and tiny flowers.  I’ve seen it in the Milky Way above and in marvelous creatures here below.  I’ve seen it in the heated desert and in the frozen tundra.  I’ve seen the awesomeness of nature in calving glaciers, steaming geysers and raging rivers.  I’ve seen it in mountains high and valleys low.  Near and far I’ve been blown away by the wonders and mysteries of Creation and led to moments of pure awe and worship.

WA Olympic NP Hoh RainforestThis awe-full life I’ve had comes as no surprise because the Bible teaches us that there is an awesome God behind all of this. Nature is awesome because it is a reflection of the awesomeness of God.  That awesomeness is found everywhere.  Isaiah 6:3 says “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Because this is true there are awe-full moments waiting for us all of the time.  If we will but use the eyes and ears that we have been given we cannot escape experiencing God’s glory.

VA Atlantic Ocean sunriseThe apostle Paul believed that God’s awesomeness in Creation was so great and evident he declared “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  Having seen what I’ve seen, it would be difficult for me to argue with Paul concerning this matter.

I believe that the Creator made the world awesome on purpose so that it would lead individuals like you and me to God. The marvels of nature are signposts directing us to God.  Today I am thankful for those signposts and for this awe-full life I’ve been given.  It has brought me much joy and brought me closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

( I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone NP, Olympic NP, and the Atlantic ocean.)


Jan 5 2017

Christmas and Creation

_dsc3553“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Today is the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season. When you add the four weeks of Advent to the twelve days of Christmas, and then tack on all the pre-Advent weeks of Christmas decorations, music and commercials, Christmas seems to last forever these days.  I hope it has been a joyful and blessed season for you and before we officially leave it I’d like to pause one more time to consider the significance of the Incarnation.

a_dsc8008In today’s “Daily Meditation” by Richard Rohr he makes the claim that Christmas for many is an even bigger celebration than Easter. It would be hard to deny that claim.  In fact, I’ve often wondered why we go all out in our celebration of Christmas but seem rather subdued when it comes to Easter.  Rohr offers one reason.  He says “because for God to be born as one of us in this world among the animals and in a poor family shows that humanity is good, flesh is good, and this world is good!”  I’m not sure Rohr’s reason fully justifies the disproportionate celebration Christmas receives over Easter but he does point to an often forgotten truth that was made manifest when God took on human flesh that first Christmas. By entering this world and actually becoming a part of this world God revealed the goodness of Creation and humanity itself.  This goodness was already affirmed in the Genesis 1 account of Creation but by taking on human flesh and living in the midst of this Creation God affirmed their goodness on a whole new level.

Contrary to various philosophies that have dominated human thinking at times, this world is good and life in this world is as well. The birth of Jesus Christ offers proof of this.  If the world and life were not sacred prior to Jesus’ birth—and I believe that they were—they certainly were afterwards.  In a definitive way God added God’s stamp of approval on both when Jesus was born.

a_dsc1403At the end of today’s “daily meditation” Rohr says “Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega of history (Revelation 1:8), naming it correctly at the very start and forever alluring it forward. Love is both the cause and the goal of all creation. This is a meaningful universe, and meaning is what the soul needs to thrive.”   God’s love revealed at Christmas, and certainly Easter too, does in fact give meaning to the universe and life itself.  It also serves as a useful reminder that God is as much a part of this earth and this life as God is of heaven and the life to come.  I’m afraid far too many of us fail to recognize this.  If we fully understood this truth we’d be singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not just at Christmas but year round.

–Chuck

(I took the first and third image in Henderson County, KY., and the middle image at Yellowstone National Park.)


Dec 28 2016

The Connection

_dsc5238I have to admit I’m quite concerned. As someone who strongly believes that faith in God mandates the preservation and care of the earth, I am fearful where our country seems to be heading.  The next president’s choices for people to lead influential positions like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department does not bode well for the care of the earth.  I am trying hard not to be despondent about this but at the same time I am finding very little cause for optimism.  My primary hope is that people like you will care enough to fight those changes that will prove detrimental to God’s Creation.  Many see this as an economic battle, and it certainly is in part, but I believe it is also a spiritual battle.  We cannot claim to love God and at the same time not care what happens to that which God has created.  Nor can we afford to forget how closely God is tied to Creation.

_dsc2140In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass says “God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe.  This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”  Bass goes on to say, “We are powerfully connected to the ground, and the soil is intimately related to how we understand and celebrate God. The late Irish Catholic priest and philosopher John O’Donohue called the land ‘the firstborn of creation’ and the ‘condition of the possibility of everything.’  The earth itself, he insisted, holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.  When Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of ‘body’ to describe the relationship between the God and the world, she is reminding us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. ‘What if,’ she asks, ‘we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as  separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible God?'”

If the earth is to be preserved, and our health with it, then there must be a transformation in our understanding of the earth. The planet cannot be viewed primarily as a resource for private and corporate development.  Its sacredness must be maintained and our role as stewards of it preserved.

f_dsc0385I fear that most Americans do not have a theological understanding of the earth or fully understand how Creation interacts with and points to the Creator. It will be imperative in the next few years that people of faith who do understand the connection between God and Creation share that understanding with others. The connection between God and Creation is clear in the Scriptures. Now it must become clear among the populace.  Will that be enough to make a difference?  One can only hope and pray it will.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above in Kentucky, Indiana, and California.)