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.)

Aug 11 2013

Thankful for “Do Overs”

_CES0428The past few days I have been in North Cascades National Park.  This is my first time here.  I have wanted to photograph this park for quite some time and was certainly hoping that I could capture some beautiful images.  My guide for this adventure has been Michael Boone, founder of R120, an organization committed to helping others see and experience God in Creation. The first morning we made our way up to Cascade Pass.  I immediately began composing images of the mountain peaks and glaciers. I liked what I saw and looked forward to viewing my images that evening when we got to the hotel.

_CES0439Late that evening I downloaded my pictures and when I began looking at them I was very disappointed. I had made several mistakes that I typically don’t make. I felt bad that I had blown a wonderful opportunity. I knew I could go back to the same area the following day but certainly had no guarantee that the conditons would be as good as they had been that day. Past experience had taught me that you don’t always get “do overs” when it comes to nature photography. The following morning we did go back up to Cascade Pass and thankfully the conditions were just as good as the day before. I was able to make up for the mistakes I had made the previous day and ended up quite pleased with my images. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the second chance I was given.

As I offered a prayer of thanks for getting a “do over” I was reminded that the God of Creation is One whose specialty is offering people second chances.  This is something I will forever be grateful for.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes taking pictures over the years but those are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of mistakes I have made in life.  I have blown it more times than I could count.  This could cause me to give up in despair but the good news presented in the Scriptures is that God permits “do overs.”  By his mercy and grace every day is a new beginning.  God forgives the mistakes we make and allows us to start anew.  Each day we receive “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

_CES0393I was able to get better pictures by trying again the second day.  Had I not done so needless to say I wouldn’t have the pictures I do now.  I took advantage of the opportunity I was given.  We have to do the same thing with the gift of each new day.  We need to accept God’s forgiveness and mercy and try again.  Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and do better.  That is certainly God’s intention.  Some of us, of course, are slow learners.  If you’re one of them, don’t despair because come tomorrow you will be granted yet another “do over.”  That is why they call God’s grace “amazing!”


(The pictures shown above were taken the second day at Cascade Pass.)

Feb 27 2013

The Grace of Wonder

MR-428Over the years I have benefitted greatly from the writings of Brennan Manning.  My favorite book of his is called The Ragamuffin Gospel.  Brennan has experienced the grace of God in a powerful way and bears eloquent witness to its power in this book. In a chapter called “Cormorants and Kittiwakes” he also shares some words that I think readers of this blog will find insightful.  I encourage you to give them some thought:

Jenny Wiley SP sunset“We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive that we become immune to the glory of creation.  We barely notice the cloud passing over the moon or the dewdrops clinging to the rose leaves.  The ice on the pond comes and goes.  The wild blackberries ripen and wither.  The blackbird nests outside our bedroom window.  We don’t see her.  We avoid the cold and the heat.  We refrigerate ourselves in the summer and entomb ourselves in plastic in winter.  We rake up every leaf as fast as it falls.  We are so accustomed to buying prepackaged meats and fish and fowl in supermarkets we never think and blink about the bounty of God’s creation.  We grow complacent and lead practical lives.  We miss the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.”  Manning goes on to say, “for the eyes of faith, every created thing manifests the grace and providence of Abba.”

Can people really “become immune to the glory of Creation?”  Sad to say, the answer is yes.  It is a danger we all face in our fast-paced and busy lives.  If we are not careful we will miss not just the glory of Creation but the presence of the Creator found in it.  We will miss, as Manning notes, “the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.”  That truly is a high price to pay!

raven-380Manning concludes the chapter mentioned above by inviting us to pray the following prayer: “Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.  Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of Your universe.  Delight me to see how Your Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His, to the Father through features of men’s faces.  Each day enrapture me with Your marvelous things without number.  I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all.”  I conclude this entry asking you to do the same.  Offer this prayer and see if you do not once again begin to see and experience more of the glory of Creation.


(I took the top image at Mount Rainier National Park, the middle image at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky, and the bottom image at Yellowstone National Park.)

Oct 3 2012

Grace in Creation

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Hebrews 12:15

Last night I started reading Max Lucado’s newest book, Grace.  On the very first page Lucado writes: “Grace is God’s best idea.  His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly—what rivals it?  Of all his wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus.  Friendship is next.  Friends become couriers of grace, conduits of heaven’s grace.”   I concur with what Max says; grace truly is “God’s best idea.”  God’s grace is amazing!   I would also have to agree that friendship is another one of God’s best ideas.  I cannot imagine living my life without the friends God has blessed me with.

As I read the first few chapters of the book last evening I found myself thinking about how God’s grace is revealed in Creation.  In fact, I pondered how the creation of the world was an act of grace.  Grace is often defined as “God’s unmerited favor” and surely we can see God’s favor written all over Creation.  The fact that we did not merit or deserve what God has provided goes without saying.

I believe that beauty itself is an act of divine grace.  Everything that God created has a purpose; it is there for a reason.  But why did God throw in so much beauty into the mix?  Grace.  As a God of grace and love God chose to make many things not just useful but beautiful.   While the various aspects of nature fulfill their purpose we get to find pleasure and enjoyment from them.  Trees and flowers are good examples.  So are clouds and rivers and birds.    You could go on and on.  Everywhere we look we find God’s grace made manifest.

The air we breathe is a gift of God.  The sun that gives us light and warmth is a gift of God.  The rain that falls to the earth is a gift of God.  The moon and stars that brighten the night are a gift from God.  Every plant (even those some call “weeds”) and every animal (large or small) is a gift from God.  God did not have to create any of these.  So why did He?  Grace.

Yes, I know that the clearest revelation of God’s love and grace is found in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, but we will miss so many examples of God’s amazing grace if we fail to see and recognize that same grace revealed in the world His Son created.  Feeling the need for a little more grace today?  Just look around you.


(Having been inspired by my friend Stan Burman’s pictures from Colorado this past week I decided to illustrate today’s blog with some images I took with him in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado a few years ago.  I took the top image at Kebler Pass and the bottom two at Owl Creek Pass.)


Jun 17 2012

Nature and Grace

Writing several centuries ago, the Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote “Nature and Grace are in harmony with each other.  For Grace is God and Nature is God.  Neither Nature nor Grace works without the other.  They may never be separated…  That Goodness that is Nature is God.  God is the Ground, the substance, the same that is Naturehood.  God is the true Father and Mother of Nature.”  I read these words a few days ago and have been giving them some thought.  They are certainly deep words.

I cannot help but wonder if someone during her time was making the claim that nature and grace are not in harmony with each other.  I assume that is possible.  If so, I like how Julian addressed this claim.  I think she is correct in seeing the source of both grace and nature in God.  The Bible is clear in noting that we would have neither apart from Him.   Since they have the same source it makes sense that nature and grace would be “in harmony with each other” and that neither “works without the other.”

What all this seems to be saying to me is that we can expect to experience God’s grace in Creation.  Certainly we experience that grace first and foremost in Jesus Christ but it is also to be found in the world Christ has made.  And just as we must open ourselves up to Christ in order to know and feel his grace, we must likewise open ourselves up to nature if we are to know and feel the grace that is to be found there.  Matthew Fox once said, “When we can no longer feel the grace of nature we need to pause and allow grace to bless us again.”  That is good advice.

Have you paused lately to allow the grace of God that is found in Creation to bless you?  Last week my wife and I went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate our anniversary.  We spent a good bit of time in those wonderful mountains and beside the streams that flow from them.  I must say that in those misty mountains I felt God’s grace.  And like Julian, I realized “that goodness that is nature is God.”  That is not to say that I see God and nature as one and the same, just that the One who is “the true Father and Mother of nature” has a wonderful way of bestowing grace upon us through Creation when we realize that the two truly are in harmony with each other.  I encourage you to live in this realization so that you might experience even more of God’s amazing grace in the days to come.


(I took the pictures shown above last week on our anniversary trip to the Smokies.)

Jan 16 2011

Reflections on Snow and Grace

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott

Elkmont 177This past weekend I had the privilege of going to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to speak once again at the annual Wilderness Wildlife Week.  This is an outstanding event held each January and if you are not familiar with it I’d encourage you to check it out sometime.  While I was in Pigeon Forge I was able to drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a couple of times to photograph.  The fact that the park had received several inches of snow prior to my arrival made this an extra special adventure.

I love being able to get out in the woods after it has snowed, especially before a lot of other people get there and create a bunch of tracks.  A snowy landscape is so beautiful and pristine.  It is absolutely amazing how a heavy snow can transform a scene.  Things that might have looked ugly or unattractive before become stunning in appearance.  I thought about this yesterday as I was photographing in the Elkmont region of the park.  I remembered, as I usually do when it snows, the Bible’s wonderful promise, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)  This led me to think further on God’s grace.  There are so many things about snow that remind me of His grace.

Elkmont 180On U2’s album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” there is a song called “Grace.”  In the final line of this song Bono sings, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”  God’s grace, like snow, makes beauty out of ugly things.  I know that for a fact.  I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in the lives of countless others.  Like gently falling snow God’s grace covers all those who are open to receiving it.  As it blankets us we find ourselves changed.  We look different.  We feel different.  We are different.  Through God’s grace our sins are “covered.”  What was dirty is made clean.  What was ugly is made beautiful. 


Today I find myself very grateful for snow and for God’s amazing grace.  I hope you do too.


(I took both of these pictures yesterday in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains N.P.)