Sep 12 2012

Keep Looking

Every Sunday I have the privilege of doing a “children’s sermon” before the kids go to “children’s church.”  I love this part of the service because I absolutely love the children in our church.  Right now the children are learning about the life of Moses.  This past Sunday it was my responsibility to tell them about God speaking to Moses at the burning bush and how God called him to go rescue the Hebrews from Egypt. (See Exodus 3)  I used my brief time with the kids to tell them that Moses had failed miserably earlier in his life—actually killing an Egyptian—but God did not hold his past against him and still wanted to use him in His service.  This is certainly an important lesson; it is crucial that we all understand that our pasts do not have to limit our service of God now or in the future.

Another lesson I could have just as well emphasized is how the story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush is a reminder that God is not limited in the least in how or where He can speak to us.  A few days ago I came across the following tale in Ken Gire’s book, Windows of the Soul“The story is told of a pagan who asked a rabbi, ‘Why did God speak to Moses from the thornbush?’ For the pagan thought God should have spoken instead in a peal of thunder or on the peak of some majestic mountain.  The rabbi answered, ‘To teach you that there is no place on earth where God’s glory is not, not even in a humble thornbush.’”   Actually it is quite interesting to remember how many different ways God spoke in the Scriptures.  One of my favorites is through Balaam’s donkey.  (See Numbers 22:30) When we recall these, why would we conclude that God does not still have an endless supply of ways He can speak or reach out to us?

Gire encourages us not only to remember that God has a variety of ways to speak to us but also to be on the lookout for these.  He says, “If we are to see the divine artist’s soul mediated through the lesser things of flesh and blood, field and stream, flute and drum, we must look for windows in places we are unaccustomed to looking.”  He indicates that we must pay more attention to our surroundings and “go on looking until we see something sacred…”

You already know that I believe that one of the places that God consistently makes Himself known to us is through His Creation.  The “divine artist’s soul” is undoubtedly manifested there.  Seeing God in Creation, however, does not always come easy.  It takes time, patience, and diligence.  I would add that a humble and prayerful spirit is also necessary.  Not all of God’s revelations are as noticeable or dramatic as a burning bush, so be on the lookout and keep looking until you “see something sacred.”


(I photographed the trees in the top image on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain.  I took the bottom image at Breaks Interstate Park not far from my home in Pikeville, KY.)

Jun 24 2012

Ansel Adams’ Problem & Ours

Like countless other photographers, one of my early sources of inspiration was the work of Ansel Adams.  Even when I knew nothing about photography it was obvious that this man’s work was phenomenal.  I continue to this very day to be inspired by his photographs.

A couple of days ago a friend sent me a link to a website that focuses on Ansel Adams work in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I have most of Adams’ books and there are very few images from this park in them.  The website I went to indicated why.  Ansel Adams found it difficult to photograph in the Smokies.  In a letter he wrote from these mountains he told a friend, “they are going to be devilish hard to photograph…”  Considering the fact that I have spent more time photographing in this park than any other I found his comment to be quite amusing.  The Smokies are filled with extraordinary beauty; how could the great Ansel Adams find them so difficult to photograph?

I forwarded the link to my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard.  I pointed out to him how I was intrigued by Adams’ comment about photographing the Smokies.  Rob responded to my message by saying,I think Adams definitely was attuned to the West because he grew up there and spent most of his time there.”   If you are familiar with Ansel Adams’ work you know that most of his famous images were, indeed, made in the West.  Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevadas are featured prominently in his work.  That was the landscape he knew best and his familiarity with it helped enable him to capture the spirit or essence of that region.

In my note from Rob he went on to talk about how familiarity with a landscape affected his own work.  He wrote, “I think I am only beginning to really ‘see’ the chaparral because I have been photographing it for a few years now.  Georgia O’Keeffe once said “seeing takes time.”  She was no doubt right.  I remember how frustrating it was when I first started traveling out West to photograph.  I was rarely satisfied with the results.  Now, after dozens of trips out West I feel more comfortable and familiar with the environment and it shows in the photographs I take.  The more time you spend in a location truly does make a difference.

I suspect that what is true in photography is also true when it comes to seeing God in Creation.  Here, too, it takes time.  There are not a lot of “burning bushes” out there (see Exodus 3); God seems to make Himself known in much more subtle ways.  This means that we will likely have to spend a good bit of time becoming familiar with our surroundings to see and hear all that God longs to reveal to us.  Certainly God can speak to us anywhere, and we should always be open to that possibility, but it is likely that we will see and hear Him best in our home environment or the places we are most familiar with.  Has that been your experience?


*The link to the website on Ansel Adams and the Smokies can be found at  You’ll find several rare and unpublished images here.

(I took the top image at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image of Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park, and the bottom image  of Mesquite Dunes at Death Valley National Park.)