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.)


Dec 2 2016

Some Needful Reminders

_dsc1954In Celtic Prayers from Iona J. Philip Newell offers a series of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week.  In true Celtic fashion, many of the prayers focus on Creation.  I recently came across two of Newell’s prayers in this book that were especially meaningful to me and I want to share them with you.  The first prayer reads: “There is no plant in the ground but tells of your beauty, O Christ. There is no life in the sea but proclaims your goodness.  There is no bird on the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun but is full of your blessing.  Lighten my understanding of your presence all around, O Christ.  Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

The second prayer reads: “You are above me O God; You are beneath; You are in air; You are in earth; You are beside me; You are within.  O God of heaven, you have made your home on earth in the broken body of Creation.  Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”

_dsc1477Both of these prayers remind us that God may be found in the world around us. This is an important reminder.  Often I pray the Lord’s Prayer when I am walking or hiking.  I always make an effort to remember that God is with me when I pray.  One way I do this is by pausing after the words “who art in heaven” and adding “and also in [wherever I happen to be].”  I believe God is both transcendent and immanent.  God is both far beyond me and also all around and within me.  Recognizing God’s nearness is important.  The exciting Advent/Christmas message that Christ came as Immanuel—God with us—is important to hold on to at all times.

The other truth Newell’s prayers convey is that God’s Creation is to be loved and cared for. If Creation truly is “God’s Other Book” and reveals to us the glory of God, how can we not love the Creation?  If Creation tells of God’s beauty, proclaims God’s goodness, and is a source of God’s blessing, how can we not long to care for it?  I would encourage you to pray with Newell, “Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”  Likewise, pray “Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

_dsc1516I truly believe that working to preserve and protect the Creation is both a religious obligation and an act of worship. I am also convinced that people of faith must now, more than ever, be willing to take a stand for Creation Care.  If we fail to care for the earth we not only fail God, we fail ourselves.  God forbid that should happen.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on a recent trip to southern Georgia.)


Nov 4 2015

Starting the Day Off Right

_DSC2359I have the privilege of teaching a Sunday School class each week. For the past few months we’ve been studying John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.  In our session this past Sunday we were challenged by Ortberg to take seriously the apostle Paul’s injunction, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)  He makes a big deal about Paul saying “whatever you do” and included a number of everyday instances where we ought to consider how we might do things “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  One of those things was waking up.  How might we begin a new day as Jesus would?  We had a good discussion on this and there are certainly a lot of different things we might do. I happen to believe, however, that the best way we can start a new day is by praying.  I suspect Jesus would concur.  We might begin a new day by simply offering thanks for the gift of another day to live.  We might also offer our gratitude for mercies made new with the rising of the sun. (See Lamentations 3:22-23)  It would also be wise to ask for wisdom and guidance for the tasks ahead of us that day.

_DSC2590Over the years I have also found it helpful to read prayers or devotional thoughts at the beginning of a new day. There are lots of great resources available.  One of my favorite authors is John Philip Newell.  He has written a number of books that provide prayers for both morning and evening.  One of those is Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter.  Here are a couple of morning prayers from this volume: “As daylight breaks the darkness of night, as the first movements of morning pierce the night’s stillness, so a new waking to life dawns with us, so a fresh beginning opens. In the early light of this day, in the first actions of this morning, let us be awake to life.  In our soul and in our seeing let us be alive to the gift of this new day, let us be fully alive.” 

Another one of Newell’s prayers reads: “Early in the morning we seek your presence, O God, not because you are ever absent from us but because often we are absent from you at the heart of each moment where you forever dwell.  In the rising of the sun, in the unfolding color and shape of the morning open our eyes to the mystery of this moment that in every moment we may know your life-giving presence.  Open our eyes to this moment that in every moment we may know you as the One who is always now.”

_DSC2545In many of Newell’s prayers he incorporates elements of Creation and uses them to lead us into prayer. This is something each of us can do as well.  I encourage you to pay attention each morning to what is going on in the natural world about you and allow what you see and hear to direct your prayers to the Maker of heaven and earth.  I really can’t think of a better way to start one’s day.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above are some I’ve taken early in the morning this past week.  The top one was taken in southern Indian’s Hoosier National Forest and the bottom two were taken not far from my home in Henderson, KY.)


Sep 28 2014

Praying With Nature in View

20101015_Red River Gorge_081Over the years there have been a number of people who have significantly helped me learn to see and experience God in Creation.  One such individual is John Philip Newell.  Newell has written numerous books on Celtic Spirituality that have been quite influential in my journey.  A couple of months ago I had the privilege of going to the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to participate in a workshop Newell led based on his newest book, The Rebirthing of God.  It was a delightful experience!  I especially enjoyed the morning and evening prayer times that were led by John Philip Newell and his wife, Ali.  They did a wonderful job of combining God’s two books–the Scriptures and Creation–during these times of prayer. This is something that I think that needs to be done more often.

In 2000 Newell published a beautiful little book called Celtic Benediction.  It is a collection of morning and evening prayers that Newell composed.  I highly encourage you to consider purchasing a copy.  After reading a couple of sample prayers below, I suspect you will want to do just that.

Raven Rock fallA Morning Prayer: “I watch this morning for the light that the darkness has not overcome.  I watch for the fire that was in the beginning and that burns still in the brilliance of the rising sun.  I watch for the glow of life that gleams in the growing earth and glistens in sea and sky.  I watch for your light, O God, in the eyes of every living creature and in the ever-living flame of my own soul.  If the grace of seeing were mine this day I would glimpse you in all that lives.  Grant me the grace of seeing this day.  Grant me the grace of seeing.”

An Evening Prayer: “In the infinity of night skies, in the free flashing of lightning, in whirling elemental winds you are God.  In the impenetrable mists of dark clouds, in the wild gusts of lashing rain, in the ageless rocks of the sea you are God and I bless you.  You are in all things and contained by no thing.  You are the Life of all life and beyond every name.  You are God and in the eternal mystery I praise you.”

e_DSC6673Prayers such as these, as well as the ones we offer from our own heart, can often be enhanced by praying outside or looking outdoors.  There is so much in nature that can help us better connect with the Creator.  If you are not accustomed to doing so, I encourage you to pray from time to time with God’s Creation in view.  It has made a difference in my life.  I can’t help but believe that it will in yours as well.

–Chuck 

p.s. Recently John Philip Newell has begun using some of my images to complement his prayers on his Facebook page.  I consider this a great honor and have enjoyed seeing how well the images enhance the beautiful prayers Newell has penned.  If you are on Facebook I encourage you to “like” his page, as well as that of his non-profit organization, Heartbeat: A Journey Toward Earth’s Wellbeing.

(I took the top image at Red River Gorge Geological Area and the middle one at Kingdom Come State Park.  Both of these are in eastern Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken near Great Basin National Park.)


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.”

–Chuck

(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 25 2012

Creation as a House of Worship

“Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him all the earth.” Psalm 96:9

Where do you worship?  Most Christians, when asked this question, would likely answer “At church.”  That response makes sense since we often call churches “houses of worship.”  It’s where we go on Sundays or some other day of the week to worship God.  I have been going to church my entire life and have spent the last thirty-six years serving in churches.  Needless to say, I spend a lot of time “at church.”  Still, I would be the first to admit that church is not the only place where one can or should worship.  Worship ought to be a part of our everyday lives and by no means should it be limited to one set place.

As I have continued my studies of Celtic Spirituality I have been reminded over and over again that Creation itself is a “house of worship.”  In his excellent work, The Book of Creation, Philip Newell says “The Celtic tradition has a strong sense of the wildness of God.  Like nature it is unrestrainable.  A true worship of God, therefore, can neither be contained within the four walls of a sacred building nor restricted to the boundaries of religious tradition.”

Newell points out how the early Celtic Church “was characterized by patterns of worship and prayer under the open skies.”  He adds, “Earth, sea and sky, rather than enclosed sanctuaries, were the temple of God.”  Eventually the Celtic Christians would, indeed, build actual structures to worship in but they always held on to their conviction that “the holy mystery of God is unbounded.” Because God is everywhere we may worship Him anywhere.  That certainly does not mean that joining with other Christians in a church to worship is not necessary.  There will always be a need for corporate worship.  But hopefully we can learn to see Creation as a house of worship too.

In his first letter to Timothy Paul says he wants people “everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” (1 Timothy 2:8)  Perhaps this is just his way of saying everybody should worship God but it would seem it might also mean, “wherever you are, worship God.”  Since God deserves far more worship and praise than we can give Him in the limited time we are at church any given week, it would help us to realize that we are always in a house of worship and that wherever we are it is an appropriate place to give God our praise.

–Chuck

(I photographed the three “houses of worship” shown above at Garden of the Gods in Colorado, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Portage Glacier in Alaska.)