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.
Today 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.
In 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.
(The top image is a pink lady slipper; the bottom image is a trout lily. I photographed these spring wildflowers close to home.)
As I read the Scriptures I continue to be amazed at how often the biblical writers use nature imagery to make theological comparisons. A case in point is the passage I’ll be discussing tonight at church, Hosea 6. Starting in verse 3 the challenge is made to “acknowledge the Lord” and to “press on to acknowledge him.” Then we read: “As surely as the sun rises he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Here we see God compared to the sun which rises each morning and to the winter and spring rains that you can count on like clockwork. Such images prove helpful to us. Since we must deal with an unseen God, it is beneficial when the biblical writers reveal that God is like something we can see with our own eyes. “What is God’s faithfulness like?” we might ask. The Bible says it is like the sun that comes up everyday—without fail. It is like the rains that return each winter and spring. In other words, God is as faithful as you can get!
In Hosea 6 nature imagery is also used to demonstrate our own unfaithfulness. God says to His people here, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears?” (v. 4) By pointing to the “morning mist” and “early dew,” both which come and go quickly, God declares that His people’s loyalty to Him is fleeting at best. Here again, by referring to something in nature that everyone is familiar with, the point is driven home powerfully.
One of the primary goals Rob and I have in sharing our thoughts with you on SeeingCreation.com is that people will realize that by paying attention to the world God has made they can learn much about God and about themselves. As Hosea 6 shows, the Scriptures can help us do that. When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I encourage you to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. If you happen to experience a morning mist or see dew around you, you may want to consider whether these may be a reflection of your own loyalty to God. There is so much in nature that makes us think about things that really matter.
(The image above of an Indian paintbrush surrounded by dew covered leaves was taken last month at Mount Rainier National Park.)
Chuck was talking to me a little while ago about an issue that we have both heard, namely that some Christians feel that we don’t have to worry about what happens to the earth because this is not our “final” home and that if Christ comes soon, none of this matters. I heard such things 40 years ago around the first Earth Day. I remember getting into such a discussion with a young woman once who said that all this worry about the earth was wrong, that we needed to just focus on God, and in a discussion with a self-professed “Jesus freak” who said essentially the same thing. My response was then, and still is now, what will you say to God when you die and are held accountable for your actions on the earth, his creation? The woman actually thought about it, but the Jesus freak quit talking to me.
I have thought about this a bit recently after Chuck and I talked. Imagine if a young couple were given a beautiful house to live in, everything taken care of for them, while their father built a new home for them on the other side of the mountain, in a place even more beautiful. Their father had actually built the beautiful house they now lived in, including wonderful gardens around it. Now suppose that young couple trashed the house and the gardens, saying it didn’t really matter what they did because their father was building an even better home for them on the other side of the mountain.
Can you imagine what most people would say about that young couple? Spoiled rich kids who can’t appreciate what is right in front of them. They do not deserve that home on the other side of the mountain.
Most people would not think highly of that young couple. So this is what I don’t get. It is not okay to trash something that your earthly father built even though it is not the final destination, yet it is okay to trash something our heavenly Father has created because it is not the final destination. That is really odd.
The photo above is from the Alabama Hills below Mount Whitney near Lone Pine, California. It is sort of looking out from the “house” of earth toward the mountains.
In the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis we find the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden. One can only imagine what a beautiful place this was. In the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation we are given a glimpse into what is to come. The place where God reigns is indescribable but in some ways it is similar to the original Garden of Eden. The tree of life is there and a river as well. I’ve wondered at times if the author of Revelation wanted us to see heaven as Eden restored.
The Bible reveals that the sin that entered the world in the Garden of Eden had ill effects on God’s Creation. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that Creation “groans” and eagerly awaits redemption. Maybe Paul, too, envisioned a new Eden to come.
Twice this week I have photographed last light in Arches National Park at a placed they call “The Garden of Eden.” The picture above was taken last night and the one below on Sunday evening. It is a beautiful location and worthy of its name. Standing there as the warm light of the setting sun strikes the red rock formations I experienced a remarkable sense of peace and joy. Maybe it’s the same peace and joy Adam and Eve felt in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture. Or perhaps it is a foretaste of the peace and joy that will be ours when the new heaven and the new earth arrive. Either way, it is a feeling I can give thanks for in the here and now.
On the trip I am on I have already visited four different national parks. In each park I have encountered a pristine beauty that delights my soul. In each I have felt a closeness to God. Since the original Garden was a place of communion for the first humans and God, I find myself thinking that the Garden of Eden might still exist. It exists wherever we encounter God in His glorious Creation.
(This entry was written yesterday but due to a problem with the internet in Bryce Canyon I was not able to post it until today.)
I studied in the biological sciences in college, getting BS and MS degrees in plant and soil science. I have also been a Christian all of my life. For me, learning about nature through the sciences helped me see the wonder of this world and strengthened my faith.
Studying the ecology and the history of an area helps me better understand it. Discovering how a plant or animal lives because scientists have studied that gives me new perspectives and a greater sense of awe. Chuck had shown a photo of a snow plant earlier. Here is one in context of its environment, the ponderosa pine woods of the Sierra Mountains (Yosemite National Park). What is fascinating to me is that this plant has no chlorophyll — what you see here is the plant’s flower stalk and that is all that ever comes above ground! At first, it was thought that this plant either broke down dead material in the ground for “food” or it tapped into a tree’s roots as a parasite.
The actual story is more complex. The ground is filled with mycorrhizae, root-like filaments of soil-fungi that have a very unique function. They have a direct connection to the trees and tap into the tree roots. However, they are not parasites. They are partners with the tree. The fungi has better access to nutrients from the soil and helps the tree get more of them. The tree, in return, supplies food from photosynthesis. Such mycorrhizal fungi is very important to most forests, and usually specific species of fungi are connected to a specific species of tree.
Along comes the snow plant. Its main root supports its flower, but small roots infiltrate the mycorrhizae and tap those fungal strands for its food. When you see how large and bold a snow plant is, you realize how extensive the mycorrhizae are.
All of this came from science investigating the life of nature and revealing this remarkable and amazing connection of life below the ground. There is no logical reason for a snow plant to exist, yet it does, and it is beautiful. To me, this shows what a stunning world we have, a world created by a God who knows far more than we do and loves art!
All of these thoughts were stimulated by an opinion piece from USA Today published this past Monday called “We believe in evolution — and God.” I love this quote from the article, “We understand science as a gift from God to explore the creation.” The article is on-line at http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/08/we-believe-in-evolution-and-god-.html?loc=interstitialskip. The authors also have a website, The BioLogos Foundation at www.biologos.org.