Feb 23 2021

Reading the Second Book of God

Numerous times I’ve written about how nature is God’s “Second Book.”  In addition to the Bible, Creation points us to and instructs us about God.  Recently I’ve been reading a book that elaborates on how we can read this Second Book of God.  It is called Forest Church: A Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Nature and was written by Bruce Stanley.

Stanley points to three ways of reading or understanding God in and through nature.  One way is Awe.  He says “Moments of Awe are perhaps the least formal encounters with the Divine in nature but also the most powerful and absorbing.”  If you have spent any significant time in nature you have likely experienced a moment of awe.  Perhaps it happened while looking up at the stars on a clear night, observing a sunrise or sunset, staring at the vast ocean, or while taking in the view of a lofty mountain.  Whatever it was, the experience caused you to feel awe and to sense the overwhelming power and presence of God.  Stanley says we would likely have more experiences of Awe in nature if we would “go mindfully, open and present to the reality around” us.  We would be wise, therefore, to slow down, physically and mentally, when outdoors.  Living in the moment may very well lead us to far more experiences of awe than we are accustomed to.

The next way into reading the Second Book of God is identified as Study.  Here one observes the world of nature and asks What?, How?, and Why?  Stanley says “Study provides a more practical and cerebral way into nature connection.”  As one puts forth an effort to learn more about Creation the door is opened for a closer connection with the Creator.  Study will lead you to a greater appreciation of nature but also even more experiences of Awe.  There are limitless areas of nature that might be studied.  Pursue those that most interest you. There are many resources available today to help us study nature.  Make sure to take advantage of them.

The third way into reading the Second Book of God is Meaning.  Stanley says “Meaning is about searching for insight and relevance.”  Here one looks at various aspects of nature and asks, “What does this mean?”  This is “the most challenging of the three areas, as it requires both discernment and creativity.”  Here we strive to discover what God might be telling us about the world around us, or what nature might be telling us about God.  This kind of communication can happen in one of two ways: it may be initiated by God or it might be initiated by us.

Stanley says “when you put these three together practically and imagine moving from one to another, you will see between them other elements familiar in spiritual practice.”  He goes on to say “When captured by a transcendent, awe-inspiring moment, you might ask yourself what it means and explore its depths, which can lead to a heart full of worship.  Study can deepen and speed up our reading of the world so that we’re more often delighted and more often captured by Awe.  Between Study and Meaning, moving between an analytical and a more philosophical mind, great leaps of creativity and insight can occur.”

Two later chapters in Forest Church go on to offer practical activities that might be utilized in groups or by individuals to help incorporate the three ways of reading God’s Second Book into one’s life.  If you are interested in learning more about how to do this, you might want to purchase a copy of the book.

I hope you will continue to give thought to how you might read God’s Second Book.  I am convinced that God truly can be experienced in nature and that the Creator has much to teach us through Creation.  If you would be willing to share with me your own experiences in this area I’d love to hear from you.

–Chuck


Dec 28 2020

A Scrooge Experience

In the days leading up to Christmas I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and watched five film adaptations of this classic work.  I simply love this story of redemption and change.  There are so many timeless truths contained within its pages.  Through visits by the ghost of Marley and the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge was forced to examine the purpose of his life.  He came to recognize the error of his ways and before it is over becomes a changed man.  The one who previously declared Christmas a “humbug” says “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  Dickens concludes by saying “Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more…”

The tale of Scrooge’s conversion has delighted people for over 150 years. It offers the hope that even the cruelest and greediest of souls might be changed.  It permits one to believe that there are no hopeless causes.  If Scrooge can change, anyone can.  Including you and me.

I have a feeling that there are lots of people who need a Scrooge experience today.  There are lots of areas where people need to change their behavior or attitudes.  One often neglected area concerns our attitude toward caring for the earth.  Despite the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the earth, many people fail to honor, care for and protect God’s Creation.  Unfortunately, the same greed that caused Scrooge to fail to see that “mankind” was his business, keeps a lot of us from seeing that Creation Care is our business too.

Perhaps we need a ghost from Earth’s past to appear to us and remind us that when God created the earth God declared that it was all “good.”  God created a perfect home for us where all of our needs might be met.  This ghost might show us where this same earth came to be mistreated by the very creatures it was meant to sustain.  We would likely be shown factories polluting both the air and water, rainforests being set ablaze, and litter being scattered all across the globe.  We would be shown countless examples of ways we have done harm to God’s good earth.

We may also need a visit from a ghost from Earth’s present.  This ghost would no doubt show us many ways the earth continues to be ravished and abused.  It might reveal to us how our carelessness has led to increased sickness, the elimination or decline of numerous species, and an unhealthy warming of the earth due to human-induced climate change.  This particular ghost would likely show us how it is the poor who are most affected by our failure to be good stewards of the earth.   This ghost might also point us toward people who are striving to practice Creation Care but are growing weary in the process.

And then, we may also need a visit from a ghost representing Earth’s future.  Scrooge said he feared the ghost of Christmas future most.  I think this is the ghost we would fear most.  It would show us where we are heading if things don’t change, if we don’t change.  It might reveal a world where clean water is fought over, a world that sees weather patterns radically altered, a world where the very existence of civilization is threatened.  I cannot help but believe that this ghost would reveal a frightening picture of our planet, one that is a far cry from God’s original intention.

I would like to think that if we were visited by these three ghosts that we would have our own “Scrooge experience.”  I want to believe that we, too, would want to change our ways–that we would change our ways.   Actually, we don’t need to be visited by such ghosts at all.  The Scriptures and scientists have already shown us what we need to see to make the needed change.  May God help us to make those changes before it is too late. 

And as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

-Chuck


Dec 25 2013

Merry Christmas

SC Christmas greetingsNo blog to post today; just wanted to wish all of our readers a very merry and blessed Christmas.  Rob and I appreciate it when you take the time to read our reflections on nature and spirituality and we look forward to sharing more reflections in the year ahead.

I encourage you in the coming days (the true Twelve Days of Christmas) to take advantage of the slower pace and less chaotic atmosphere to enjoy time with both the Creator and His Creation.  There are plenty of blessings to be found in both.

Once again, Merry Christmas and God bless!

Chuck


Sep 8 2013

Bristlecone Pine and Whose Values Anyway?

SC Bristlecone-03This summer I was privileged to spend a couple of days in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. For me, this is a spiritual place, a place that enhances my connection to God. There is something about being among and photographing trees that are thousands of years old in a place hard to access high on the mountains. There were some people in the Patriarch Grove, but I have never seen this place crowded because the road into the grove is a long, narrow, winding mountain road filled with sharp rocks that threaten tires. It can take up 45 minutes to traverse the 12 miles from the end of paved road to the Patriarch Grove.

Once there, I wandered among the striking trees, feeling honored to be there photographing them. That might seem odd if you have never been there. After all, how can you be honored by trees that don’t think? I felt honored to be in a special place of God’s creation. I stayed until after dark and even played a bit with star photography and the trees.

SC Bristlecone-01These trees live under difficult and challenging conditions. They grow in a soil too harsh for other trees, plus these trees deal with a short growing season high in mountains, severe winter conditions, and low annual rainfall. Bristlecone pine can live with only 10% of their bark left. They grow so slowly in the dry conditions and a very short growing season that their wood becomes extremely dense and resistant to mold, fungi and insects. Bristlecone pine grow in other areas more normally, but here, they handle the conditions quite well.

Now I have heard people say that these trees grow in spite of inhabitable conditions, that they are survivors against the odds. I can’t agree with that. I think that diminishes God’s creation. It implies man’s values rather than God’s values. These conditions may be inhospitable to man, but obviously they are not inhospitable to these amazing trees that hold adaptations for the conditions. Would God feel sorry for these trees growing in “inhospitable conditions”? I don’t think so. They are part of God’s creation, not man’s creation. Oh, those poor trees with only 10% of their bark left! Not really. That’s man’s values. These trees are smartly attuned to the difficult conditions for any other tree.

SC Bristlecone-02It seems to me that we want to attach our values to many things in nature without wondering what is God’s will. The Rim Fire in California near Yosemite is another example. It certainly is troublesome when it threatens people, but on the other hand, it is not going to “destroy” Yosemite, as I have heard news people say (“the Rim Fire threatens to destroy large areas of Yosemite”). We are beginning to understand that fire is actually a part of nature, a part of the world that God made. In some areas, such as Yosemite and its surroundings, fire has always been part of the environment, the ecology, God’s creation. In fact, much of Yosemite is quite unlike what it looked like when the white man first came there and started suppressing fires. Fire in such places is only “bad” from our perspective, not necessarily from God’s. Smokey the Bear came not from God, but from lumber interests that wanted the forests “protected” to protect “their” trees and any potential income they could get from them. In Proverbs 3:5, it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (NIV) I also like the translation in The Message: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”

We cannot possibly understand the immensity, the mystery of God, the wisdom of His creation, but then we can trust in God’s wisdom. When things grow in unique places, like the bristlecone pine, that does not mean they are suffering or any better or worse than any other part of God’s creation. They simply are and they are a beautiful part of that creation. When natural events like fires occur, they are disasters only in our eyes, not necessarily in God’s. And I will be a little harsh about people, too. Building a home in an area that burns and then getting upset it burns is kind of counter productive, and then blaming God for not protecting people is a bit odd.

There is an old story that has a number of forms about a man who expects God’s help. In one form, he desperately needs money because he has lost his job and has big medical bills. He prays to win the lottery. The lottery comes and goes – he wins nothing. He tries again, praying more fervently, prostrating himself on the ground. He wins nothing. Really desperate now, he spends all day and night praying non-stop before the next lottery. And again, he wins nothing. He rails against God, “Why have you forsaken me?” God replies, “It would help if you bought a lottery ticket.”

And it helps if we treat nature as part of God’s values, not ours. We cannot expect to do things the way we want to, based on our values, like the man wanting to win the lottery, if we do not follow God’s will and His values.

— Rob


Nov 6 2011

Blessing the Animals

This morning at church we sang a hymn that begins with the words, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing; Alleluia!  Alleluia!”  This hymn was written by Francis of Assisi.  Francis was known for his love for animals and it is said he often preached to them.  He saw them as his brothers and sisters.  Many continue to recognize our spiritual kinship to the animals we share this planet with.  In fact, this recognition has led several churches to have an annual blessing of the animals on St. Francis’ Feast Day, October 4.  People bring their pets, large and small, to a church or designated location and they receive a blessing from a minister.  When I lived in Middlesboro, Kentucky, I took our dog to such a service and had her blessed. 

I suspect a lot of people would think blessing animals to be sentimental nonsense but I cannot help but believe that this is a wonderful practice.  Like us, these animals were created by God.  In Genesis 1 we read “And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’  And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.”  This passage reminds us not only that God created the animals but that He also declared them to be good.  They were His idea and each plays a role in His Creation.  As such, they deserve to be blessed.

I really don’t know if anything special happens to the animals when they are blessed but I’m pretty sure that something happens to us.  We hopefully come to realize our kinship with the rest of Creation and also our responsibility to care for those God called “good” and St. Francis called his “brothers and sisters.”  My wife and I have a dog that we got from an animal shelter after it had been abused and abandoned.  Sierra has brought Bonita and I much joy.  I honestly see her as a blessing from God.  I can only hope she thinks the same when she looks up at me.

–Chuck


Mar 9 2011

A Suggestion for Lent

pink-lady-slipperToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.   Lent is a forty day (not including Sundays) period of preparation for the celebration of Easter.  The English word “Lent” comes from a Latin word that means “lengthen.”  It was chosen because Lent always comes in the spring of the year when the days begin to lengthen.  I find it interesting (but not surprising) that this religious season gets its name from the world of nature.

Tonight at church we will have an Ash Wednesday service.  At this time people will receive the imposition of ashes.  The ashes come from the burnt palm leaves used last year on Palm Sunday.  The ashes will be placed upon participants as a reminder of their mortality and as a sign of penitence for their sins.  There are many reminders in nature that we must all one day face death but we tend to ignore these.  Even though we know better most of us live in denial of our mortality.  Tonight’s ashes will be a helpful reminder.  Like Abraham we will remember that we are “nothing but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27)

During the season of Lent Christians are encouraged to give up something meaningful to them as a sign of their repentance and desire to follow Christ more closely.  It seems like most people give up favorite food items.  Several times I’ve given up chocolate for the 40 days of Lent.  Because I have been on a diet for the past few months and already given up a lot of foods I’m doing something different this year.  During Lent I’m giving up computer games.  I probably spend about 30 minutes a day playing Mahjong and Solitaire.  I intend to use the extra 30 minutes in the weeks to come to focus more on spiritual matters.

trout lily 979In recent years I’ve noticed that there is a trend to encourage people not only to give up something in their lives during Lent but to also add something during this time.  I’ve heard people suggest adding extra time in prayer or reading the Bible.  Others recommend spending extra time doing acts of service.  These are all good ideas.  I would like to add my own suggestion: spend more time outdoors connecting with God through His Creation.  The timing for Lent (Spring) certainly helps make this a viable and enjoyable option.  During Lent I’d like to encourage you to spend a few minutes every day in God’s Creation.  As Rob and I have said repeatedly, there is something special about meeting Christ in the natural world he has made.  Use this time to be reminded of Christ’s goodness and his undying love for you.

Whatever you choose to “give up” or “add on” during the season of Lent, I pray that this will be a time that you will be drawn closer to the Source of creation and our salvation.

–Chuck

(The top image is a pink lady slipper; the bottom image is a trout lily.  I photographed these spring wildflowers close to home.)