May 29 2018

Let Beauty Sink In Deep

_CES5077Earlier this month I took a photography trip to Arizona and Utah. For reading material while there I carried along Reflections From The North Country by Sigurd F. Olson.  It proved to be a wise choice.  In this book Olson has chapters on solitude, harmony, awareness, beauty, simplicity, wholeness, contemplation, and a number of other interesting topics.  Since I was getting to witness some extraordinary scenery on the trip, the chapter on beauty especially appealed to me.   Olson begins by saying “In nature all things are beautiful.” A bit later he adds, “There is beauty everywhere if one can see and understand its meaning.” When I read these words I could not help but think of Ecclesiastes 3:11 where it says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Truly, for those with eyes to see there is beauty to be found everywhere.

_CES5101While I was in Arizona I was blessed to stay with a dear friend who took me to some remote locations where I experienced beautiful sites I had not visited before. At places like White Pockets in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and a special place called “The Rock Factory” I stood in awe of God’s magnificent handiwork.  In addition to photographing the stupendous scenery and rock formations I also sought to let the beauty before me sink in.  There was a reason for this extra step.  At the end of his chapter on beauty Olson wrote these words: “In a lifetime of seeing beauty in the wilderness, I always feel a lift of spirit and an afterglow of serenity and content. I also know one must take time and wait for the glimpses of beauty that always come, and one must see each as though it were his last chance.”

_CES4875That final phrase struck a chord with me. We must see each expression of beauty as though it could be the last chance we had to do so.  Due to environmental degradation and governmental deregulation some examples of God’s beauty are disappearing.  There are places and things we must enjoy now while we can.  The other truth is none of us know how long we will live and when we witness the presence of beauty we must acknowledge that we may or may not get another chance to behold what we are seeing.  Doing so will cause us to experience beauty in a deeper way.


A recent example from my personal life has made me even more aware of this. My mother, a beautiful person, passed away a few days ago.  I got to visit with her just a few days before she died.  I didn’t realize that this would be the last time I would get to see her.  Had I known, perhaps I would have stayed a bit longer, asked a few more questions, or been more effusive with my affection.  But I didn’t know. Of course the truth is none of us know how long we have got to live, nor those that we love, but realizing this fact should cause us to live in the present more, to take advantage of the opportunities we have to show love and gratitude, and to make memories that will last.

_CES5184Trying to do this will make our lives richer. The same principles can and should be applied to our experiences with beauty in God’s Creation.  Let us learn to live in the present more.  Take nothing for granted. Let us learn to enjoy fully our time in special places.  Give thanks for expressions of beauty wherever they appear.  Let us make memories that will sustain us a lifetime.  There may come a time when memories are all we have.  Let beauty sink in deep…


Jun 21 2014

Loving the Ordinary

sassafras“God has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Recently I saw a saying posted on Facebook that went along with my last blog, “Removing the Blinders.”  The saying was “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a lot to love a leaf.  It’s ordinary to love the beautiful, but it’s beautiful to love the ordinary.”  The source of these words is unknown but they certainly convey a truth that is worthy of our consideration.  We do, in fact, often overlook the ordinary for the beautiful.  That does not mean, however, that there is not much to love and appreciate in the ordinary.

baby-turtleThe saying quoted above spoke to me because I am one who tends to focus on the beautiful, especially when it comes to my nature photography.  I have a propensity to take pictures of those things that are beautiful and extraordinary.  These are the things that thrill and move my soul.  They also tend to be the things that editors buy.  For both reasons I rarely photograph that which is not widely considered beautiful.

mono lake hdr 4My close friend and co-writer, Rob Sheppard, takes a different approach.  When we are out photographing together it seems we seldom take pictures of the same things.  He is quite content to photograph what most people would consider ordinary things.  I remember once being with him at Mono Lake in California.  Neither of us had been there before.  I spent the biggest part of my time photographing the lovely tufa that emerge from the lake.  The scenery at this location is spectacular!  I’m not sure Rob, on the other hand, ever photographed the lake or tufa.  He spent the biggest part of his time photographing a tiny wildflower that he found nearby.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone could choose a small wildflower to photograph over the vast beauty of the lake, tufa and surrounding mountains.

You’d have to check with Rob to get the final answer on why he did this but I do believe that it is related to the saying quoted above.  Anyone can love a rose or Mono Lake but it takes a lot, someone special, to love a leaf or tiny flower.  There are countless photographers like me who love the beautiful; to do so is quite ordinary.  There is a scarcity of those like Rob who have learned to love the ordinary and that makes such people extraordinary.  There is something truly beautiful about people like that.  Perhaps one day I can become one of their tribe.

Rob at Mono Lake not shooting Mono LakeMy personal theology leads me to believe that God loves ordinary people as much as God loves those the world deems “beautiful” people.  It also leads me to affirm the goodness of all of Creation, not just the beautiful parts.  I am convinced that the ordinary—both people and the various aspects of Creation—deserve more of our attention.  In fact, I suspect if we were more spiritually mature we would realize, to quote a well-known Ray Stevens song, that “everything is beautiful in its own way.”  To see the beautiful in the ordinary is to see with the eyes of God and that is a beautiful thing indeed.  It is my hope that more of us can come to view the world and others with the eyes of God.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?


The top two images I took in my yard while living in Middlesboro, KY–a sassafras tree and a common box turtle.  I took the bottom two images at Mono Lake.  I call the last image “Rob at Mono Lake not photographing Mono Lake.”

Jan 5 2014

Give Beauty a Chance

_CES2968eSomeone recently paid me a compliment that meant a lot to me.  After posting some pictures from an area I had not been to before this person said, “You find beauty wherever you go.”  I’m not sure this is totally true but I do confess that it is something I strive for.  I choose to look for beauty.  Now I realize that what one views as beautiful is highly subjective.  Rob Sheppard and I were photographing in the eastern Sierras a few years ago and we both had a chance to take close up images of a rattlesnake.  Using a telephoto lens I focused tightly on the snakes scales and was amazed at just how beautiful they were.  When I showed the image to others later on some were repulsed; they saw no beauty at all because all they could see was a poisonous reptile that they happened to detest and be afraid of.   Interestingly, I’ve had similar responses when I have shown or posted images taken in winter.  If there is ice or snow in the picture some automatically dismiss the beauty that might be found there simply because they strongly dislike the cold that is associated with snow and ice.

_DSC5241Once again I understand that not everyone will agree on what is beautiful but I do feel that most people can and should strive to expand their perimeters of beauty.  Years ago John Lennon famously sang “Give Peace a Chance.”  Today I feel like uttering the cry “Give Beauty a Chance.”  We all need beauty; it is one of the things that makes life worth living.  Beauty makes us feel better.  It  is also good for the soul since in most cases beauty promotes a sense of gratitude or thanksgiving.

Another reason I think beauty is important is we tend to not only admire but be willing to work for the protection or preservation of that which we find beautiful.  This is true in numerous areas but I am most familiar with the realm of nature.  If people had not found certain species of birds, animals, trees or flowers beautiful many of these would have become extinct by now. Whole areas have been set aside as state or national parks primarily because large groups of people considered them beautiful.  Perhaps other species or places will be preserved and protected in the future if more people will only expand their vision and give beauty a chance.

_CES2599In the end I find beauty to be something spiritual and closely connected to God.  God is the Creator of beauty and is beautiful in and of Himself.  A number of contemporary praise songs have recognized this and include words like “You are beautiful beyond description.”  Long ago the Psalmist prayed, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4)  The Psalmist found God to be beautiful, especially when he visited the temple.  I, too, find God to be beautiful, especially when I visit the larger temple of Creation.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  I believe this to be true and that is one of the main reasons why I look for beauty wherever I go.  I believe that I can experience God in beauty.  I believe you can as well.  For that reason I ask everyone, “give beauty a chance.”


(I took the top image on Friday at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at the Buttermilk Mountains in California, and the bottom image yesterday evening during my first visit to Bluegrass FWA in southern Indiana.)

Mar 14 2012

Radical Amazement

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi who influenced many through his writings and lectures.  In one of his works he wrote: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.  Everything is phenomenal, everything is incredible, to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed.” I think we can all learn from Heschel’s words.  The goal he proposes is certainly a worthy one.  It is also a goal achievable, considering the remarkable world we are blessed to live in.  For me, God’s Creation is a constant source of amazement.  This is true in a number of different way but here I’ll simply identify three.

To begin with, I am constantly amazed at the beauty we find in nature.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes was on target when he said God has made everything beautiful in its time (3:11).  For those with eyes to see there is beauty everywhere.  There is beauty in the flowers, the trees, the rocks, the clouds, the mountains, the deserts, and the oceans, lakes and rivers of the world.  There is beauty is the sun, moon and stars.  There is beauty in the people I encounter each and every day.  I am constantly amazed at the beauty God has placed before (and within) us.

Second, I am amazed at the power of nature.  Many examples come to mind.  I think of the majestic valleys carved by glaciers in the Sierra Nevada.  I think of some of the great waterfalls I’ve viewed.  I think of Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee that was created by an earthquake in the early 1800s, an earthquake so large it caused the Mississippi River flow backwards!  I think also of the destruction I saw earlier this week caused by a tornado that came through eastern Kentucky a couple of weeks ago.  I was amazed to see not only the damage done to homes and places of business, but to the trees and hillsides in the area as well.  On a regular basis I am amazed by the power of nature.

The third thing about God’s Creation that constantly amazes me is its variety.  I know I’ve written about this before but it is mindboggling to think of the many different varieties of plant and animal species that exists in our world.  This has been one of the great blessings of all the traveling I’ve gotten to do over the years.  I have been introduced to so many things I would never have seen had I not visited other parts of our country and the world.  Even so, there is plenty of variety right where I live to keep me amazed for years to come.  I truly am amazed at the infinite variety found in God’s Creation.

If, as Heschel suggests, “to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed,” then God did us all a great service when He created the world like He did.  In the beauty, power and variety we find plenty to make and keep us spiritual.  In these there is plenty to keep us constantly moving in God’s direction.  For all of this I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.”


(I took the top picture at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The flower image I took here at my home.  I took the image showing tornado damage near Salyersville two days ago.  I photographed the prairie dog in Wyoming.)

Feb 22 2012

God’s Amazing Artwork

Over six hundred years ago the Italian author and poet, Dante Alighieri, said “nature is the art of God.”  I would be the first to affirm Dante’s sentiment but recently I have been reminded of just how outstanding God’s art revealed in nature is.   The last few days I have been working on scanning slides I took during my first fifteen years of photography.  Last night I worked on some images I captured at Arizona’s famous Coyote Buttes.  Looking at these pictures I found myself once again in awe of the Master Artist’s work.  The sandstone formations and patterns found at Coyote Buttes are mindboggling! 

Looking at the images made me stop and think about all the wonderful “art work” I’ve seen in nature.  I thought about the beauty and symmetry found on a dewy spider web.  I remembered being overwhelmed by the colors and patterns in petrified logs I saw at Petrified Forest National Park.  I thought about the intricate detail and beauty I’ve seen when I’ve looked closely at seashells, flowers and insects.   I remembered with great delight the first time I saw the dancing patterns of the northern lights in Alaska.  All of this led me to think about God’s artwork that few people ever get to see.  Through the lens of a microscope one can find incredible beauty.  At the same time, the Hubble Telescope is constantly sending back images of galaxies and nebula that look like great works of art.  The universe is filled with beauty that few, if any, will ever see!

When I was quite a bit younger Ray Stevens had a hit song that declared “Everything is beautiful in its own way.”  That the world is filled with much beauty simply cannot be denied.  I know some say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but for each beholder there is plenty of beauty to see and acknowledge.   As we recognize and enjoy the beauty we see we should offer thanks to the Artist who created it.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes wrote concerning God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (3:11)  There is certainly nothing wrong with pointing to the beauty we see around us but let us not fail to give credit where credit is due.  God deserves to be worshiped and praised for sharing His art with us. 

When I was in New Mexico a couple of months ago I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe  Museum.  I enjoyed looking at her wonderful work but was amazed at how many security personnel were on hand.  It was obvious that the museum recognizes the value of O’Keeffe’s work and is determined to protect it.  I concur that her work is valuable but nowhere nearly as valuable as that produced by our heavenly Father.  For that reason we need to do everything we can to preserve and protect the works of the greatest Artist there is.  Wouldn’t you agree?


(I took the top two pictures at Coyote Buttes in Arizona.  The spider web was photographed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The petrified log was photgraphed at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.)

Aug 7 2011

Spirituality and Beauty

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

This morning in the Sunday School class I teach we had an interesting discussion on spirituality.  One of the points I made during class was that perhaps the best indicator we have that we are growing spiritually is love.  If we are not loving God and others more we are not growing—our spirituality is lacking.

Last night while I was looking at Michael Abbate’s book, Gardening Eden, I noticed that he offers another indicator—one I find very fascinating.  Abbate writes: “Here is a barometer for us to monitor in ourselves: the extent to which we can recognize and appreciate beauty in our lives may indicate the condition of our spiritual walk with the Creator.  The closer we are walking with the Creator, the more beauty we will see in life.”  He notes that many people fail to see the beauty around them.  The beauty gets overlooked.  He says “It’s as if we have to be forced to remove the scales of materialism and entertainment from our eyes so that we can see the beauty in God’s universe, the beauty intended to fill us with joy, rest, and inspiration.”

I’m not sure that I’ve thought of the ability to see beauty as an indicator of spirituality before but it does make sense.  If God is the author of beauty, as I believe He is, then it would stand to reason that those who are closest to Him would be most aware of the beauty He has created.  They would have “eyes to see and ears to hear” that others of us might not.

I find myself wondering whether the awareness of beauty draws one closer to God or is it that those who are close to God are drawn to the beauty?  I know from  personal experience that when I behold the beauty of God’s Creation that I do feel or sense His presence in a powerful way.  So maybe it is the beauty of Creation that draws us closer to God and helps us to grow spiritually.  But then again, perhaps it is because my heart is already attuned to God that I am able to recognize in the beauty around me the presence of God.  Here, too, I know from experience that some people are not affected by beauty in the same way I am.  Some see the same sunsets, rainbows or flowers I do and are not moved at all.

In the end I can’t decide which is more accurate but I do think Abbate is on to something here.  There is, indeed, a connection between one’s ability to see and enjoy beauty and his or her nearness to God.  And since I don’t know which one comes first (kind of like I’m still unsure whether it is the chicken or the egg) I think I’ll just pursue both.  I will spend as much time as I can in the presence of beauty, for it draws me closer to God, and I will at the same time do all I can to walk closer to God so that I might be able to see even more beauty.  That sounds like a win-win approach to me.


(The images above were taken on my trip to Hawaii in April.)