Feb 20 2011

“This Is The Day…”

Clingmans-Dome-sunrise-379Throughout the years I have heard many ministers begin a worship service by quoting Psalm 118:24, which reads “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  As a result I had pretty much associated this verse with Sundays.  Upon further thought,  however, I see that it is instead a reminder that every day is a gift from God.  In my last post I talked about God’s continuing work of Creation; this passage acknowledges that each day is evidence of this ongoing work.

Last night I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner.  At one point he made a very insightful observation about Creation.  He wrote: “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new from them.  If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy.  Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again.  And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again either.”

TN-&-NC-GSM-Clingman-Dome-sunset-(h)In light of what Beuchner says, I’m afraid there are a lot of crazy people out there.  Far too many of us do, in fact, assume we’re “seeing the same show all over again” every day.  But we’re not.  No two sunrises are the same; nor are any two sunsets identical.  If we will awaken each day with the awareness that “this is the day the Lord has made”, and that God is always up to something new, we may begin to notice more of the wonders of His ongoing Creation.  I truly think that we miss a lot because we simply fail to look.

Every day is another gift from the Creator’s hand and, as the Psalmist reminds us, a cause for rejoicing.  If we will make the effort and take the time to notice the newness of each day I suspect we will be far more likely to “rejoice and be glad in it.”  I hope there will be much joy and gladness for you in these days to come.


(The top image is a sunrise from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The bottom image is a sunset taken just a few feet away from the same location.)

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.)

Nov 28 2010

Nature’s Chrismons

GSM-trees-and-fog-004Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  We had a Chrismon service at our church this morning.  For those who may not know, Chrismons are symbols that speak of our Lord and God.  The word Chrismon is a combination of the words “Christ” and “monogram.”  Chrismons are used to decorate Christmas trees.  Their purpose is to help congregations and individuals keep their focus on Christ.  The beautiful Chrismons we use were made by members of our church.  We had approximately fifty different Chrismons.  The majority of these were crosses and symbols of the Trinity.  Other symbols included angels, crowns, Chi Rhos, and Iota Chis.  The last two use Greek letters to speak of Christ and Jesus Christ.  There were also symbols from the world of nature—stars, fish, and butterflies.  I really like our Chrismon tree and the way it keeps us focused on the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Christmas is extremely commercialized these days so anything that helps keep our focus on Christ is good.

Yosemite-streamI think that there are plenty of things in the natural world that can serve as Chrismons for us now and throughout the year.  Rocks can serve as a reminder that Jesus is the “rock of our salvation.”  Rivers, ponds and streams can call to mind Jesus’ baptism and the “living water” he came to give.  The sun and stars can remind us of the truth that Jesus is the “light of the world.”  Trees can remind us of the cross on which Jesus died for the sins of the world.   Butterflies can remind us of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life he makes available to all who turn to him.  I could go on and on. 

There truly is much in nature that can lead us to remember our Creator.  The earth proclaims his glory and bears witness to his love and might.  The apostle Paul would even go so far as to say, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) 

The Chrismons we placed on the tree at church today will only be there through the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Nature’s Chrismons, however, are there year round beckoning us to remember and to worship the King of kings and Lord of Lords.  To him be the glory now and forevermore!


(I took the top image at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The bottom picture was taken near Tuoloumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.)

Apr 28 2010

The Seasons of the Great Smoky Mountains

GSM-stream-with-trilliums-2In a couple of days I’m flying out to California to spend some time photographing with Rob.  I look forward to being with my friend and to seeing some new places.  I really do enjoy visiting new sites.  I find more meaning, however, in returning to familiar places over and over again.

From my childhood the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a very special place to me.  I have wonderful memories of family vacations there.  By the time I got into photography eighteen years ago I lived in a location not far from the Smokies.  As often as I could I made my way over there to photograph.  I now live further away than I did so I don’t get there quite as often but I still try to go when I can.  For some reason, the Smokies feel like home to me.

Recently I had the privilege of producing a DVD on the Smokies with the wonderful musician David Arkenstone.  It features my images and David’s original music.   As I have watched the DVD it has brought back so many memories of times I spent in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  With each viewing I have to thank God for creating such a beautiful place and also for giving me the privilege to experience it all these years.

DVD cover 936I like to think of this new DVD as a visual testimony to God’s marvelous Creation.  There is nothing overtly “Christian” about the DVD but I still hope it will prove to be a blessing to others.  Bach wrote his music for the glory of God and I sincerely hope my photography can be used for His glory as well.

If you, or someone you know, would be interested in purchasing a copy of the DVD, they can be ordered at  David’s website: www.davidarkenstone.com. The DVD also comes with a CD of the music featured in the DVD. 


Jan 17 2010


Morton-Overlook-winter-1-(v)-“Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.” –Clara H. Scott

This weekend I had a chance to do a couple of programs at the 20th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Thursday night Ken Jenkins and I did a program called “The Spiritual Side of Nature.”  The presentation was well-attended and warmly received.

During Ken’s portion of the program he used an interesting analogy to describe certain people.  He noted how those who sleepwalk move about while asleep but do not really see what’s going on around them. Ken then indicated that many people move about day to day but remain blind to the wonders of God’s Creation all around them.  Such people are guilty of a different kind of sleepwalking.

I have known Ken eighteen years and can honestly say that I do not know anyone who is more “awake” when it comes to seeing and experiencing God in Creation.  Although his photography business is based in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ken has a ministry that takes him all across the country.  In his programs he shows wildlife and landscape images he has taken and draws incredible spiritual truths from them.

Knowing that not all of you will be able to hear Ken speak I want to commend to you his recent publication Nature is the Art of God: A Journey Into the Beauty and Wonder of Creation.  It is one of the most beautiful photographic devotional essays I’ve ever seen.  You can order copies from Ken’s website: www.kenjenkins.com.

Listening to Ken’s presentation Thursday night, and then looking at his new book, has made me want to do a better job of seeing God in Creation.  I think I do a decent job of seeing the obvious but know that there are folks like Ken who see so much more.  How can I improve my vision?  I suspect I should begin by asking God to “open my eyes” so that I might see more and then, with His help, try to discipline myself to slow down and really pay attention.  I plan to do this because I really do not want to be guilty of being a “sleepwalker.”  How about you?


(The image above was taken at Morton Overlook a number of years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

Oct 25 2009

Remaining Flexible

Smokies-Abstract-2-crPrior to his death, John Netherton was one of America’s most popular nature photographers.  Shortly before he died I ran into him on a photo trip to the Smokies.  I was driving down from Newfound Gap when I saw John shooting off the side of the road.  I pulled over to talk to him.  That year the fall colors were not particularly good and I made a comment to him about there not being much to shoot.  He looked at me kind of funny and then with his hand motioned to the whole forest in front of him.  For John there was plenty to shoot. 

This encounter was a teaching moment for me.  When you get out in nature as a photographer there is always plenty to photograph.  It may not be what you hoped for or planned on shooting but there are still countless wonders in God’s Creation waiting to be viewed and photographed.  Since that time I’ve discovered it pays to not be so focused on one or two subjects when I go out into nature.  It helps to be more flexible and open minded to the possibilities around me.  Doing so adds to my enjoyment of the experience outdoors and has led to a number of wonderful photographs I would not have captured had I remained focused on just one image or scene. 

If we’re not careful we can make the same mistake when it comes to finding God in nature.  For example, we may conclude that God is to be found only in places of outstanding beauty.  That is not true.  John Muir once wrote in his journal, “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.” 

We’re acting foolishly when we think we know where God can be found.  He truly is a God who delights in surprising us.  For that reason we must remain alert at all times and in all places.  We never know just when or where He will make Himself known to us.  Be prepared. 


I discovered the reflections photographed above in the Smokies as I was making my way to photograph something totally different.