Nov 13 2013

Finding Grace in Nature

AZ-Canyon-de-Chelly-Spider-Rock-(v)There is a scene in the movie, “O God,” where God (played by the cigar smoking George Burns) sends a message to a televangelist and tells him that He’d prefer that he not try to speak for Him anymore.  I have a feeling that the real God would like to send that message to a lot of folks today.  Certainly not everyone who claims to speak for God actually does.  I was reminded of that yesterday when I read a message on Facebook by one of my favorite natural history writers, Craig Childs.  Craig, who has authored numerous award winning books, wrote: I was once in a church where they told me to shun the world of things, the world of decay and physicality. They said to think only of the immortal afterworld, a place I could not see or touch. Even then, I believed they were wrong. I was too in love with wind and rivers and rock.”

CO-Dallas-DivideI wrote a response back to Craig and told him that I was sorry that he had been exposed to such teaching in the church.  I explained to him that I believe the Bible teaches the importance of the earth and that I view it as a source of revelation of God. I mentioned Jesus’ injunction to “consider the lilies” and to “look at the birds.”  He wrote me back and told me that he knew most religions have “a fundamental reverence for nature” and that he believed there were a number of reasons why some people of faith have a sense of “aversion to the corporeal world.”  He then added this line: I imagine the dichotomy reflects the different kinds of people, those who dread this physical world, and those who find divine grace within it.” 

AZ-Glen-Canyon-NM-Horseshoe-Bend-(v)I suspect Craig is right.  Many people do, in fact, dread and/or fear the physical world.  Perhaps they had bad experiences in their childhood or were taught by grownups early on that there is much in nature that is dangerous and to be avoided.  Even worse, they may have been exposed, as was Craig,  to preaching or teaching in some church where the evilness of this physical world was stressed rather than its goodness and holiness.  They may have heard religious leaders declare that our focus should not be on things of this world but on the world to come.  Regardless of the reason for their fear or dread of nature it makes me sad that this is how they approach or see God’s Creation.  I cannot help but believe that their lives would be richer and their experience of God deeper if they could instead “find divine grace within it.” 

Ironically, the three things Childs said he loved—the wind and rivers and rock—were all things Jesus talked about and used to explain spiritual principles.  I get the impression that these were things that Jesus loved as well.  When Craig walked away from that church I suspect he made the better choice and found more grace than had he stayed.


(I took the three images above in the Colorado Plateau area, the region Craig Child writes so eloquently about.  The top one was taken at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, the middle one in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and the bottom one near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.)

Jul 24 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere?

“I was thirsty…”  (Jesus)

One of my favorite naturalist writers is Craig Childs. Recently I completed reading his book The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. One of the points driven home in this work is that “there are two easy ways to die in the desert: thirst or drowning.” The desert is known as the land of little rain but when it does rain there is often the danger of flash floods. In many cases people perish because the floods catch them by surprise.

When it comes to God’s Creation water in general is a fascinating subject to me. The planet we live on is approximately 2/3 water. Interestingly enough, our bodies are also approximately 2/3 water. Water is absolutely essential to our existence. A human being can go without food for about a month but will not survive without water but three to five days. We depend on consistent rainfall or irrigation systems to grow our food. When areas experience droughts, such as the horrible one occurring in Somalia right now, the results can be devastating. Not only are crops lost, so are lives.

Although our planet contains vast amounts of water much of it has become polluted. This is true for both our freshwater and seawater sources. It is all too evident that humans have not been good stewards of this vital resource. At times we have polluted the waters unintentionally. More frequently it has been intentional. In the 2004 U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, “An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century”, we read “Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity, diminishing our ability to fully realize their potential, costing us jobs and revenue, threatening human health, and putting our future at risk.”  The pollution of our inland rivers and lakes has these same ramifications. The effect of water pollution on both humans and wildlife concerns me. It should concern all of us.

I am also concerned about the future availability of clean water. I have read that global consumption of water is doubling every twenty years and that this is more than twice the rate of human population growth. Numerous nations already have water shortage problems. According to the World Health Organization about one billion people presently do not have access to adequate fresh water and nearly 2 ½ billion lack access to adequate sanitation.

In Michael Abbate’s book, Gardening Eden, he writes: “For those of us concerned about the Bible’s admonition to care for the ‘least of these,’ assuring access to reliable, clean water is an undeniable priority.  More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor-quality water.” Abbate is right; if anyone should be concerned about the crisis that has resulted because of water pollution and poor management of resources it is Christians. So much is at stake here. We must do all that we can to conserve our own usage of water, fight to make sure that laws are enacted–or kept enacted—that protect the earth’s water supplies from polluters, and support the work of those organizations that seek to dig wells in Third World countries and provide clean water to those in need. If we do not do our part, we may just hear our Lord say to us one day, “I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.” (Matthew 25:42) I pray that day will never come for me… or you.


(I took the three pictures above on a trip to Olympic National Park last summer.  The top image is of  fireweed along the Sol Duc River.   The middle image is Sol Duc Falls.  The bottom image is of the Elwah River.)