May 6 2012

A Fishy Story

“I don’t understand what all the excitement is about minners.” Chuck and I were at the Salt Creek boardwalk in Death Valley, watching the Salt Creek desert pupfish when Chuck overheard this comment from another visitor.

“Minners”, indeed! The desert pupfish were clearly visible and they are about minnow size. There is nothing particularly unique about them on first glance. And while Jesus had a lot to do with fishermen, no fisherman would be interested in these little critters except perhaps for bait (though that would be totally illegal!). But first glances can be deceiving.

These small fish are descendants of freshwater pupfish that were common throughout Death Valley a long time ago before it was desert. And they are amazing survivors. As the climate of Death Valley changed, the water dried up and isolated these fish into small groups associated with springs. The Salt Creek group is in a short stream that starts from a spring, then before long, fades to nothing in the desert. But in the meantime, the stream is home to these active fish. They get their name from an early settler who thought they “played” like puppies, but all that activity was really about finding mates and defending territories. The fish are easy to see since the water is barely inches deep at its deepest.

But this is not the important part of this story. As years passed, the water gradually became saltier. These little fish, being the survivors that they are, adapted and evolved to handle the water. This spring can have salt concentrations 2-5 times that of seawater, yet these pupfish thrive here. Their bodies now have ways of getting rid of the excess salt. They actually have to drink the water and remove the salt in order to stay hydrated!

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” So says Jesus in Matthew 6:26. And in Genesis, it says, “So God created … every living and moving thing with which the water teams … and God saw that it was good. God blessed them.” (Genesis 1:21-22) Obviously, God takes care of His creatures and believes they are good and worthwhile. I believe he helped these pupfish find their way in a land that was changing to desert by influencing their evolution to adapt to the change in salt water. He could have simply let them die from the change, but He didn’t.

Maybe one reason these “minners” are worth considering is simply that God cares about them. Sometimes I feel we start becoming rather uppity human beings and want to know what good something is. That is a human centered way of thinking, not a God-centered way of thinking. The good of any part of nature has nothing to do with what we think its purpose is, but simply is good because “God saw that it was good.”

— Rob


Apr 4 2012

Can Death Valley Be Simply Defined?

Chuck and I enjoyed our visit to Death Valley last week. This is a huge park. It is the largest national park in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Because Death Valley is so open, you can see long distances. You can drive for a while and not see much of a change because of these distances. Chuck gave me a hard time because I kept talking about how big it seemed. I had to wonder what it had been like when early prospectors and settlers came through here with horses and wagons. Those distances must have seemed immense.

But what exactly is Death Valley? Is it just a place of vast space? No. As we spent time in the park, we visited many places. Is Death Valley the mountains around it? Certainly they help define the place, but they are not the place. Is Death Valley the dried lake beds with mud patterns? Part of the place, but not the place. Is Death Valley the strange salt deposits and the patterns they make? Definitely something of the place, but not the place. Is Death Valley the Salt Creek  pupfish who have remarkably adapted to the heat and salt of limited water? Amazing creatures that add to the place, but they are not the place.

Death Valley is all of this and more. It is a place that is far greater than its parts.

This made me think a bit about how we see God. Over the years, God has meant many things to me: Christ the Savior, creator of our world, a moral guide, a God of comfort, a God of compassion, a God of guidance, a God who affects my life, and this list could go on and on. All of these things are of God, but none are God. Like Death Valley, God is difficult to comprehend and fully understand.

David says in Psalm 145:3, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. And in Isaiah 55:8-9, it is written, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I think that we often try to contain God in small, understandable bits. I know that I have done that over the years. Yet God cannot be contained in any human-based thoughts. Just as Death Valley is not contained in any one thing, so God is not contained in any one thing, too. I enjoyed Death Valley even though my mind wanted to define it and contain it. When I let go of that idea, the place became bigger in a better way. I was still awed by the space, but I was not as overwhelmed and intimidated by it. I accepted that it was truly beyond my full understanding.

For me, that is also important about how I see God. My scientifically trained mind wants to define and contain God, but when I let go of doing that and simply accept that God is awesome and much more than anything I will ever be able to conceive, I actually find my relationship to God is stronger and more peaceful. My prayer is to simply accept God as God, something far beyond my understanding, but still a key part of my life.

— Rob


Mar 25 2012

Extremes

Yesterday I had a chance to photograph the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.  Later today I will be photographing at the lowest point in the United States, Death Valley.  I find it fascinating that these two extreme points are not very far apart. Sometimes life’s extremes are not that far apart either.  In a single day we may find ourselves moving from deep despair to jubliation or the other way around. We may also find ourselves several places in between.

I noted in my last entry how we have the assurance that God is with us even in the deepest valleys of our lives.  We also have the confidence that He is present with us when we are standing on the proverbial “mountain top” as well.  Thankfully we can likewise affirm that God is with us at all points in between.  In Psalm 139 David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (vs. 7-10)

It is interesting that David ties God’s continuous presence to the fact that He is also his Creator.  In verse 13, after he has made it clear that there is nowhere he can go to escape from God’s presence, he says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  Recognizing God as his Maker, and also as his constant Companion, David could not help but worship God.  He said, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (v. 14)

If we can come to comprehend that God is our Creator, too, and that He is there for us in the extremes of life as well as all points in between, then we will likewise find ourselves offering God our worship and praise.  How could we not? Today you can rest assured that God is with you wherever you are and whatever your circumstances.  If you’re high as Mt. Whitney, rejoice knowing that God is with you and that He shares your joy.  If you’re as low as Death Valley, I hope you’ll find both peace and comfort knowing that you are not alone and that the Maker of heaven and earth both cares for you and is there to help you.

–Chuck

(I took the picture of Mount Whitney yesterday morning.  I took the image of Death Valley several years ago.)