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.)


Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “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?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)


Jul 20 2014

The Rebirthing of God

_CES4997The Rebirthing of God is the title of John Philip Newell’s new book.  Its subtitle is Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings.  This week I will be at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico  taking a workshop with Newell that focuses on this book.  I am certainly looking forward to that.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading the book itself.

In this brand new book Newell speaks of the death of Christianity as we know it and of the need for “the rebirthing of God.”  He believes that this rebirthing is a good thing “pointing to a radical reemergence of the Divine from deep with us.”  In each of the book’s eight chapters Newell discusses something the church needs to reconnect with. Having read a number of his other books I was not surprised to discover that the first thing he believes we need to reconnect to is the earth.  Newell concurs with eco-theologian Thomas Berry that “we need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world.”

_DSC2209Reflecting on both the Book of Genesis and the writings of Julian of Norwich Newell notes that we are not only made by God but are also “of God.”  He says “We are made of the Light that was in the beginning.  We are made of the Wisdom that fashioned the universe in its glory and interrelatedness.   We are made of the Love that longs for oneness.”  He sees one of our great needs “the desire to move back into relationship with everything else that is of God.”  This means “choosing to move in harmony with the universe again, knowing the rising of the sun and the whiteness of the moon as part of us, seeing the beauty and wildness of the creatures as expressions of what is also within us, the unnameable and untameable presence of the Divine in all things.  It means growing in awareness of earth’s sacredness, knowing that its moist greenness issues forth directly from the ever-fresh fecundity of God.”

If you are a regular reader of Seeing Creation you know that I write often about the sacredness of the earth.  I, too, feel that Christianity has suffered greatly by setting up a false dichotomy between the spiritual and material world.  This false dichotomy has kept many from being open to experiencing God in the natural world.   This is most strange considering the Biblical insistence that God is certainly to be found in the Creation.

_DSC1465I appreciate the fact that Newell utilizes the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  He refers to de Chardin as  “the first modern Christian prophet of the sacredness of the universe.”  De Chardin once wrote “at the heart of matter is the heart of God” and “the deeper we move into the mystery of any created thing, the closer we come to the Divine Presence.”  These are things I believe too. De Chardin believed that the Incarnation of Christ “points to the oneness of heaven and earth, the Divine and the human, spirit and matter” and also “reveals the essential sacredness of every person and everything that has been created.”

_CES1384In case you’re wondering, in the remaining chapters of his book Newell goes on to talk about how reconnecting with compassion, the Light, the journey, spiritual practice, nonviolence, the unconscious and love will also be important facets of the rebirthing of God.  I’ve not read the whole book yet but already I have found much encouragement about the future of Christianity in it.  If we would just take seriously this first part, reconnecting to the earth, it would make a world of difference.  I plan to keep pointing others in this direction and ask you to do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above near my home in Henderson, KY.)