Jun 1 2016

Still Learning from Thomas Merton

_CES6986I have been a fan of the writings of Thomas Merton for almost forty years. I consider him one of my spiritual mentors even though I never met him.  Merton has been dead close to fifty years but through his many books he continues to speak to me.  Over the past few days I’ve come across two passages from his writings that have moved me deeply.  I am currently rereading Thoughts in Solitude and read this word on gratitude a few nights ago: “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us–and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

_CES6979Although Merton does not speak specifically of nature in this passage it made me think of my experience of God through Creation. Over the years I have come to see “the Love of God” in everything that God has made.  All around us is the evidence of God’s love.  The air we breathe, the clouds that float by overhead, the trees waving their branches, the birds singing their songs…all of these are expressions of God’s love for you and me.  I appreciate Merton’s clarion call to be grateful for God’s overtures of love.  He is right; we should not take anything for granted, never be unresponsive to the divine gifts of love we receive, and live in complete wonder and awe of the goodness of God.  In many ways, but especially in nature, I have experienced the goodness and love of God “not by hearsay but by experience.” And, yes, “that is what makes all the difference.”

_CES6936The other passage by Merton I came across showed up on a Facebook page earlier today that features daily sayings of the late Trappist monk. This one originated in what is perhaps my favorite Merton book, No Man Is An Island.  Merton wrote: “Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. . . . It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all out fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion.”

_CES6956In this passage I was convicted of the inner and outer noise in my life which keeps me from fully experiencing “the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea.” I was convicted of my busyness—usually taking pictures—that frequently robs me of the peace and tranquility that God’s Creation is meant to give us.   I was convicted of my illogical need for speed even when outdoors and how important it is for me to slow down if I want to enjoy the “immense graces” God provides those who will “be still.”  (Psalm 46:10)  I was convicted of the fact that I’m guilty of thinking I know what’s going on around me when in reality that’s an illusion and I have so very much yet to learn.

I don’t know if you are a fan of Thomas Merton’s writings or not, but sometimes I think I’d be lost without them.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used here on a visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani  in central Kentucky where Thomas Merton lived most of his adult life.)


Nov 27 2014

For the Fruit of All Creation

_DSC3980“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”   Psalm 107:1

This past Sunday we sang a song at church I was not familiar with.  It is called For the Fruit of All Creation.  The song was written by Fred Pratt Green almost forty-five years ago but it is new to me.  It is, appropriately enough, a hymn of thanksgiving.  The first verse speaks particularly of the blessings of nature: “For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God; for good gifts to every nation, thanks be to God; for the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping, future needs in earth’s safe-keeping, thanks be to God.”

_DSC3862Thanksgiving is obviously a time for us to pause and give thanks.  Hopefully when we offer our thanks today we will remember to express our gratitude for “the fruit of all creation.”  This will, by necessity, also include acknowledgement that God has graciously provided for us a planet that produces fruit, a good earth that has for eons sustained us and all other life forms.

Most of us will sit down today to a table of plenty.  We will have abundant evidence of God’s provisions and nature’s bounty right in front of us.  On this day and every other day we should indeed give thanks for the “fruit” of the earth that sustains us.  Through Creation God has provided everything necessary to meet our physical needs.

e_DSC3707In recent days I have once again been reminded that “the fruit of all creation” meets more than just my physical needs.  I would have a difficult time surviving both spiritually and emotionally without its abundant fruits.  I found myself a couple of days ago in desperate need of the healing balm of nature.  I told a friend I was visiting with at the hospital that I was going to see my therapist.  I went on to say that by that I meant I was going to drive out to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area to look at the birds.  Being out in the open surrounded by the beauty and wildlife of this area truly is therapeutic for me.  I’m not sure I would be able to maintain my sanity for long without “the fruit of all creation.”

e_DSC3564With that in mind I hope that as you give thanks for God’s blessings today that you will include the many different ways the fruit of all Creation blesses and enriches our lives. Happy Thanksgiving!

–Chuck

(The pictures used in this post are some I’ve taken in recent days at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area in western Kentucky.)


Jul 6 2014

Fresh Encounters With Beauty

_DSC1130“For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” (Psalm 92:4)

_DSC1834Today my heart is filled with gratitude for the beauty of God’s Creation.  Over the past week I had a chance to make numerous visits to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.  During these seven days I discovered a couple of new places that turned out to be truly special.  One was a vast area, mostly dry this week, covered with tens of thousands of lotus plants in bloom.  It was a spectacular sight, to say the least.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.  It was so beautiful I went back three days in a row so I could photograph it in different types of light.

_DSC1622_DSC1622_DSC2181_DSC2181_DSC2176Later in the week I came upon yet another new spot in the Sloughs.  This place was a wetland that also contained numerous lotus flowers.  The difference between this location and the previous one is that the lotus flowers here were surrounded by a sea of purple pickerelweed.  The panoramic view here was stunningly beautiful.  It, too, called for multiple visits to do photography.

_DSC1622_DSC1622_DSC1622_DSC2181Because I have visited so many national parks and other popular scenic areas it is hard to find scenes now that blow me away.  I have seen so much beauty it’s hard for me to be impressed at times.  The two spots I visited this week were definitely exceptions.  Being at both spots filled me with joy, awe and wonder.  I felt blessed just to witness such beauty.  I felt doubly blessed knowing that both places were only about twenty minutes away from where I live.

_DSC1834_DSC2181_DSC2181Before long both places will lose the beauty I beheld this past week.  The lotus flowers and pickerelweed blossoms will fade away and not be seen for another year.  Many of nature’s best shows are short-lived.   How grateful I am that I got to witness the show this year!  Knowing that the show will be repeated next year gives me something to look forward to.  I certainly don’t want to miss it.

One of the sad and ironic things about the two places I’ve described for you is that very few people even know about them.  Neither place is all that difficult to get to but they do require a bit of effort to view.    It doesn’t help that neither can be seen from the road.  I lament that so few people got to view this manifestation of God’s glory but I know that the handful of people who did witness the view were blessed by what they saw.

_DSC2181_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC1834_DSC0969_DSC1834_DSC1857_DSC1857_DSC1857All of this got me to thinking that there are no doubt countless such places across the globe.  Places of immense beauty that few people, if any, ever get to witness.  Does that mean that all this beauty goes to waste?  I think not.  I believe that the beauty we behold in the world around us is not just for our pleasure but for the Creator’s as well.  It is obvious that God delights in beauty.  God finds joy in the beauty of His handiwork whether we or anyone else notices.  I find that thought comforting but am quite certain that God’s desire is to share this beauty with us.  This beauty rejuvenates us, inspires us, and enriches our lives.  This beauty offers us a glimpse into the heart of God and reveals a love that knows no limits.  This beauty, as I said at the beginning, is enough to fill one’s heart with gratitude.  Oh yes, after this past week my heart is full!

–Chuck


May 5 2014

Joyful Gratitude

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

_DSC4257Recently, while reading Joan Chittister’s book The Breath of the Soul, I came across some very insightful words.  In a chapter called “Blessing” Joan claims bounty and beauty and abundance give us a foretaste of wholeness.  She says “These are the palpable manifestations of the goodness of God in our lives” and “they are simply signs that the God of life is a living, loving God.”  She goes on to say, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.  It confirms our trust in God.  It affirms the greatness of creation.  It seals our dependence on God.  It attests to the beauty of the present and asserts our confidence in the beauty of the future.  It recognizes the mercy and love of God.” Finally, she says “When we celebrate the good things in life, we trace them to the Creator who gives without merit, openhandedly, out of the very goodness of community, love, and support that are by nature at the base of the human condition.”

_DSC3818I find in Chittister’s words a needed call to live my life in joyful gratitude.  I know for a fact that I am richly blessed.  When I do take time to count my blessings I am always amazed at just how blessed I am.  It is helpful to remember that the good I see in my life is a sign that “the God of life is a living, loving God.” I must ever keep in mind that God is the Giver of all good gifts. (James 1:17)  I must also bear in mind that such “bounty and beauty and abundance” deserves to be celebrated.  I will confess that many times when I give thanks it is out of a sense of duty or obligation.  Joy does not always characterize my thanksgiving.  I suspect that there is a big difference in simply listing the things I am thankful for and being keenly aware of the things I am thankful for.  The biggest difference may well be the presence of joy.

When I am outdoors in a natural setting I tend to be more aware of my immediate blessings.  I seem to be more joyful.  Part of the reason for this may be that bounty, beauty and abundance are more evident in nature for me than other areas of my life.  In God’s Creation I am often overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.  In my mind I know that there are just as many blessings in the other areas of my life but those blessings might not be as easy to see as the ones I find in the natural world.  At least not presently.

_DSC3747Over the years I have trained myself to see and experience the goodness of God in Creation.  I sense I need to begin to train myself to see better the blessings of God that are found elsewhere.   I need to be more open to experiencing the goodness of God in my family and friends, in literature and the arts, and in the very exercise of living itself.  There are so many other things that bring joy to my life.  These things are also cause for celebration for they, too, are things that can be traced back to God and are, indeed, “palpable manifestations” of God’s goodness and grace.

I encourage you to join me on this journey of not only counting one’s blessings but joyfully celebrating them as well.  Chittister is right, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.” 

–Chuck

(I took the images above this past Friday at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. (KY) and Garden of the Gods (IL).


Apr 13 2014

The Gifts of Gratitude

_CES2860Gratitude is the very heart of the spiritual life.  Meister Eckhart once said “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude connects us both to God and His Creation.  This morning I read a brief passage in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul, that does a nice job of making this same connection.  She writes: “When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good.  We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves.  We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God.  Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

_CES8139Whenever I am out photographing nature or just walking outdoors I find myself regularly saying the words “thank you.”  My gratitude is typically generated by simple things—the sun on my face, the wind blowing through my hair, a bird singing nearby, a squirrel climbing a tree, a flower found in an unexpected spot, a cloud shaped like something familiar.  Simple things like these make me smile and cause me to express thanks.  So do the kindnesses shown me by others—a word of encouragement, a cheerful hello, a telephone call or text message, an invitation to a meal, a handshake or a hug,  a gift or even a funny tale.  Watching children play, listening to good music, and reading an interesting book are still yet other things that illicit words of gratitude from my heart and lips on a regular basis.

_CES0461All of these things I see as blessings that ultimately flow to me from my heavenly Father.  James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  It certainly helps to live one’s life with the recognition that the good things that come our way are gifts of the Creator.  There are, indeed, many benefits to remembering that God is the giver of all good gifts and saying “thank you” often.  Chittister says, “Without doubt, unstinting gratitude saves us from the sense of self-sufficiency that leads to forgetfulness of God.”  I encourage you to pay attention to the many gifts God is providing you each and every day.  Not just the big ones, all of them.  Practice gratitude on an ongoing basis and notice how the giving of thanks only leads to the recognition of even more blessings and the goodness of God.  Make gratitude the “alleluia to existence” and “the praise that thunders through the universe.”  I promise you it will make a difference, all the difference in the world!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Big Spring in Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, the middle image is my great niece Braelyn, and the squirrel at the bottom I photographed here in Henderson, KY.)


Aug 14 2013

A Visit to Living Waters

_CES1078This past weekend I had a chance to spend some time alone at a wilderness cabin in the foothills of the North Cascades. The cabin, built along the lines of the one Thoreau constructed at Walden Pond, is placed in a beautiful setting on an eighty acre piece of property.  Although not totally devoid of outside noise it is a quiet place, a place where elk, bear and cougars roam.  Near the cabin is a lake where beavers maintain a dam and various ducks find a home.  I am a person who enjoys both wilderness settings and being alone but I will admit that even with the animals around the isolation of the cabin was a bit unnerving at first.  Still, I was glad to be there and to have a chance to study, pray, and photograph. It did not take me long at all to begin to sense the presence of God in this place.

_CES1167There are a variety of reasons why I sensed God’s presence at this location.  The primary reason is obvious to regular readers of this blog; the Bible clearly notes that God reveals Himself in nature and beauty.  There is another reason however.  The cabin and land is owned by Michael and Elizabeth Boone.  They call the place Living Waters and have dedicated it to God and His service.  They have prayed extensively over the land and share it periodically with others in the hope that their guests might experience God’s nearness in this special place.  For them, and those who visit it, Living Waters is holy ground.  I find it exciting and inspirational that people like the Boones will set aside a piece of property for a purpose like this.  Church camps have existed for years but it would be great if more individuals could or would do the same.

_CES7389One of the lessons I was reminded of while at Living Waters is how the Scriptures can come alive in a unique way when read in a natural setting.  Sunday morning I read through the Book of John and there were a number of passages that seemed to stand out simply due to where I sat.  One such passage, appropriately enough, was Jesus’ promise of “streams of living water” to those who believe in him. (7:37)  I also happened to read Psalm 50 while there.  This psalm begins with the words, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”  The idea of God summoning the earth seemed something very special in that particular setting.  Later in the psalm God says “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle of a thousand hills.  I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine…  For the world is Mine, and all it contains.” It was a powerful reminder that the various animals I had seen (including the rabbit shown here) and heard there all belonged to God.  I didn’t know the names of the birds I was seeing on the lake but God did.  I have no doubt that the words I read that day would not have meant quite the same to me had I been sitting at home.  Reading the Bible outdoors is something we should all attempt to do more often.

CES_1062Toward the end of Psalm 50 you’ll find the words, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the most high.”  In that wilderness setting I could not help but offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  I was literally surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation and felt His presence near; my heart swelled with gratitude.  It seemed that I could hardly walk around outside without offering a word of thanks to God for the beauty and wonders of His Creation. Something tells me that this is what God intended from the beginning of time.  The Creation is there constantly beckoning us to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who brought it all into existence.  I hope we’ll learn to pay attention to Creation’s call and give God the gratitude He is due.

–Chuck

(All of the images shown here were taken this past weekend at Living Waters. A huge thanks goes to the Boones and R120 for making my visit possible!)