Aug 5 2012

Thank the Lord for the Nighttime

From time to time I hear Neil Diamond singing “Thank the Lord for the nighttime” on the radio.  Although it is for totally different reasons than he suggests in the song, I have learned from my studies of Celtic Spirituality that giving thanks for the nighttime is actually a very good thing to do.  I realize that a lot of people find nighttime frightening, but it, too, is a part of God’s Creation.  Genesis 1:3-5 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”  Later in the same chapter we read that God made “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night.” (v. 14)

For most of us night is a time for sleeping and rest.  When it grows dark we turn out the lights and go to bed.  We may sleep during the night but life goes on.  In fact night is the most active time for much of Creation.  Nocturnal creatures hunt and feed while we sleep.  The bright light of the sun that we need to operate is not so critical for them; the light of the moon and stars is sufficient.

The ancient Celts recognized the value of the moon in ways we typically do not.  They often spoke of the moon in their evening prayers.  In the Carmina Gadelica one such prayer begins, “Bless to me, O God, the moon that is above me.”  Another includes the sentence, “Holy be each thing which she [the moon] illumines.”  Commenting on this latter phrase, Philip Newell says the Celts didn’t think the moon made things holy, “but rather that in her light the holiness of each thing is more readily perceived.”  Newell goes on to suggest, “We need to rediscover ways of experiencing the light of the night, for it can open in us perceptions that are complementary to seeing by the light of day.”

I wonder if we are not missing out on much of what God has to say to us through His Creation by ignoring what goes on at night.  Do our observations of the earth have to cease once the sun goes down?  The Psalmist apparently didn’t think so.  In Psalm 8 he wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (vs. 3-4)   His observations of the night sky led him to awesome wonder and praise.  Our observations of the world around and above us at night might very well do the same.

I love the stillness of the night and the coolness that usually comes with it.  I love the shadows and silhouettes nighttime brings.  I love the sounds of nature you hear only at night.  And, like the Psalmist, I love looking at the moon and stars above.  These things help me feel closer to God.   They help me sense His presence.

I encourage you to look for ways you can enjoy nature at night and the revelations of God that come with it.  I’ll close with a prayer Philip Newell includes in his beautiful little book, Celtic Benediction“Glory to you, O God of the night, for the whiteness of the moon and the infinite stretches of dark space.  Let me be learning to love the night as I know and love the day.  Let me be learning to trust its darkness and to seek its subtle blessings.  Let me be learning the night’s way of seeing that in all things I may trace the mystery of your presence.”


(I took the top image at Death Valley National Park, the star trails in Kentucky, and the moonlit landscape at Big Bend National Park.)


Jul 8 2012

“And Would We Be Dumb!”

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you.” –Job 12:7

The Irish monk Columbanus once said, “If you wish to know the Creator, come to know his creatures.”  Meister Eckhart echoed this thought when he wrote, “Every creature is a word of God and a book about God.”  Other Christians over the centuries have made similar claims.  There is this belief that since God made all the other creatures that inhabit this world, we should be open to the fact that He might have something He would like to teach us through them.

After noting in his volume, The Book of Creation, that Eriugena claimed every creature “can be called a theophany” or manifestation of God, Philip Newell goes on to write: “This is not to say that what is shown in a creature is the essence of God, for God is essentially unknowable.  Rather, what is manifested is an expression of God’s essence.”  Newell adds to this, “God, therefore, is not simply in every creature but is the essence of every creature.  At heart, creation—including our creatureliness—is a showing forth of the mystery of God.”   In everything that God has made we can perceive something of God’s nature and goodness.

In the passage from the Book of Job noted above we are reminded that the animals and birds that surround us can, in fact, teach us about God and His ways.  In order for us to learn from them we must first be humble enough to acknowledge that we do not know it all and that their existence may unlock some of the mysteries of God for us.  Once we have taken that first step we must go on to be good students.  This means learning all we can about the creatures God has made and paying close attention to those we have the privilege of seeing.  By being open to their instruction and through careful observation we may well be able to unlock some of “the mystery of God.”

In the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of hymns and prayers from the Celtic tradition, one woman declares, “Every creature on the earth here below and in the ocean beneath and in the air above was giving glory to the great God of the creatures and the worlds…and would we be dumb!”  One of the things we can learn from our fellow creatures is the necessity of giving glory to the God of Creation.  The animals and birds around us are constant reminders that we, too, are called to worship God.  If we’re looking for lessons to learn, this might be a very good place to start.


(I took the image of the moose above in Alaska, the raccoon in Kentucky, and the wood duck in California.)

May 13 2012

Mirrors of Life

When I was much younger I remember there being a song by Jim Stafford in which he declared “I don’t like spiders and snakes…”  I have a feeling that there are many who feel the same way about these creatures.  For some reason a lot of people hate spiders and snakes.   I will confess that at one time I did too.  I disliked them because I was afraid of them.  Part of this fear was instilled in me by others while I was a child.  Watching horror movies that featured spiders and snakes probably didn’t help either.  I suspect the biggest reason I feared and disliked them was I did not understand them.

In Rob’s last blog on this site he wrote about Death Valley’s pup fish and noted that they are good and valuable, if for no other reason, because God made them and declared them to be good.  The same thing can be said for spiders and snakes, along with any other creature we may deem detestable or unlikeable.  Every creature that exists on the earth is here because the Creator chose to make it.  From this truth we can discern that every creature that exists also has a purpose.  If we would only take the time to learn about those creatures we don’t like we would discover that each one has a beneficial role to play in their respective ecosystem.   We might also be forced to admit they are beneficial to us.

It would help all of us to remember that everything that God has created manifests His glory.  I have been reading a lot lately about Celtic Spirituality.  Last night I came across a Celtic hymn in Carmina Gadelica that included these words: “There is no plant in the ground but is full of His virtue; there is no form in the strand but is full of His blessing.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.  There is no life in the sea; there is no creature in the river, there is naught in the firmament, but proclaims His goodness.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.  There is no bird in the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun, but proclaims His goodness.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Meet it were to praise Him.”

Each of our lives would be enriched if we could come to recognize that everything God made, including spiders and snakes, proclaims His goodness and can lead us to offer praise to Jesus.  With that in mind, I encourage you to pray the prayer Thomas a’Kempis prayed long ago: “Lord God, make my heart straight in your sight, so that every creature will be to me a mirror of life, and a book of holy doctrine, for there is no creature so small or insignificant that it does not show forth and represent the goodness of God.”


(I took the spider, snake and wasp images shown above last week in Big Bend National Park.)


Jul 1 2009

Celtic Praise

bad-branch-falls-051If you know anything at all about Celtic spirituality you already know that there is much there that I find appealing.  In my office at home I have a Celtic cross hanging next to my computer.  For those who may not know, a Celtic cross is a circle imposed on a cross.   The symbolism is clear—the circle represents the world and the cross the redemption of it made possible by Jesus Christ. 

Central to Celtic spirituality is the interconnection of redemption and creation.  As Esther De Waal points out in her book Every Earthly Blessing, “Celtic spirituality is deeply incarnational.  It is through his world, in its totality, however mundane and down to earth, that God reveals himself.  So the Celtic way of seeing the world is infused with the sense of the all-pervading presence of God.  This is God’s world, a world to be claimed, affirmed and honored.”

The close connection between God and nature is evident in many of the ancient Celtic prayers.  Below is one example found in the Carmina Gadelica:

There’s no plant in the ground

But is full of His blessing.

There’s no thing in the sea

But is full of His life.

There is nought in the sky

But proclaims His goodness.

Jesu! O Jesu!  It’s good to praise thee!


The ancient Celts have much to teach us about “seeing Creation” and worshipping God.  If you would like learn more about Celtic spirituality let me know and I’ll be glad to recommend some excellent resources for you.


–Chuck Summers


*The picture above was one I recently took of Bad Branch Falls in southeastern Kentucky.