Feb 9 2018

Wonder and Humility

f_DSC9563I came across a passage from Rachel Carson a few days ago I do not recall reading before. With her usual insight she said “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”  Although written several years ago, these words seem especially poignant today.  Unfortunately, in many ways what lots of people are contemplating in nature is not its beauties but what financial profit can be made from it.  For our government this appears to be its overriding concern at the present moment.  How sad!

_CES0652I have no doubt that God created the world in such a way that we could benefit from its resources, but I sincerely doubt this was all God had in mind. Carson points to nature’s other benefits when she writes “Those who dwell…among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living.  Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life exists.  There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”

_CES0203Just as there are financial rewards to be found in nature, there are spiritual, mental and physical rewards to be found as well. We desperately need to be good stewards of God’s Creation so that we do not lose these other benefits.  In the long run, they are more important than the short-term financial profits.  I would also concur with Carson that it is through contemplation of God’s Creation that we “know the sense of wonder and humility.” How do you put a price tag on things like this?  If humans lose their sense of wonder they lose an invaluable asset.  If we lose our humility, we are doomed.


Jan 27 2013

Through the Eyes of a Child

Rose-breasted-GrosbeakIn a journal I keep in my study I have recorded the following words by an unknown writer: “God, are you real?” the child whispered. “God speak to me.”  And a meadowlark sang.  But the child did not hear.  So the child yelled, “God, speak to me!”  And the thunder rolled across the sky, but the child did not listen.  The child looked around and said, “God let me see you.”  And a star shone brightly, but the child did not notice.  And the child shouted, “God show me a miracle!”  And a life was born, but the child did not know.  So the child cried out in despair, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!”  Whereupon God reached down and touched the child.  But the child brushed the butterfly away and walked away unknowingly.

I like this piece because it serves as a reminder that God often speaks to us and reveals Himself through nature.  I’m not sure, however, why the person who wrote it used a child as the primary subject.  I suspect that children are more likely to recognize God’s presence in Creation than most adults.  Children have not yet lost their sense of wonder; they typically maintain a simple trust that we adults struggle to keep as we grow older.   Perhaps that is why Jesus once spoke these words: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2)

Paducah-storm-cloudsI do believe that God can speak through a meadowlark and loud claps of thunder.  I believe God can be seen in the stars shining above, as well as in the birth of a child.  I likewise believe that God’s touch can be felt when a butterfly alights on one’s face.  But in order to experience these things we must have the faith of a child.  Our grown up rational minds will likely fail to make the connection.

butterfly-on-milkweedYes, if we want to see and hear God more often, whether in nature or anywhere else, we should ask God to help us see through the eyes of a child.  Then, and only then, will we be able to look with eyes full of wonder and humility—the eyes that will enable us to recognize the face of God and to feel His gentle touch.


I photographed the rose-breasted grosbeak (sorry, I didn’t have a meadowlark image) and storm clouds in Kentucky.  The butterfly image was taken in Virginia.

Sep 2 2012

Nature’s Humbling Power

Nature certainly has a way of keeping us humble.  I suspect God meant for it to be this way knowing that we humans have a tendency to be cocky and think that we are in control.  He also knows that such an attitude can get us into all kinds of trouble.  The Scriptures warn of the dangers of pride for good reason.  When we are prideful we tend not to give God His proper place in our lives.  Perhaps this is why many have suggested that pride is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is such a danger that God uses nature, and a number of other means, to keep us humble.


God uses nature in a lot of different ways to humble us.  In Sunday School this morning we looked at some of the writings of Martin Luther on prayer.  Luther was moved to become a monk when a bolt of lightning barely missed him.  This close call with nature’s fury definitely got his attention and humbled him.

Sometimes we are humbled by nature in less dramatic ways.  Perhaps we start to feel small after looking at the Milky Way on a clear cold night.  At other times we may be humbled by looking up at majestic mountains or beholding a beautiful sunset.   Both the vastness and beauty of Creation have a way of challenging our pride and humbling us.

On other occasions it can be the risks or dangers inherent in nature that humble us.  When hiking in grizzly bear country or while standing next to a raging torrent I rarely feel prideful.  Last night my wife found another copperhead on our driveway.  Just knowing that there are poisonous snakes living nearby humbles me and makes me think differently of myself.

No doubt those who have recently experienced the power of hurricanes, tornados, floods, drought and fires could, likewise, speak of nature’s ability to humble us.  As painful and frightening as nature’s humbling power can be it is also most beneficial.  The wise writer of Proverbs declared, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (16:18)  By reminding us from time to time that we are not in control and that there are forces far more powerful than us nature can keep us humble and perhaps even help prevent “a fall.”  Nature has a way of reminding us to stay close to the God of Creation and to put our trust in Him.  If nature did nothing more than this, it would be an awesome thing!


(I photographed the coastal brown bear at Katmai National Park, the sunset in Glacier National Park, and the lightning strike at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.)


Jul 29 2012

The Value of Wilderness

This morning Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite writers, shared a link on Facebook to a delightful article in today’s New York Times.  The article is called “Blissfully Lost in the Woods” and was written by Nicholas D. Kristof.  In it Kristof tells the story of a recent two hundred mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail he took with his fourteen year old daughter.

After detailing some of the exciting events of their adventure, Kristof says “This trip, even more than most backpacking slogs, was a reminder that we humans are mere bricks in a vast natural cathedral. As we tumbled in snow pits, as rain fell on us, we mused that we’re not landlords of our planet, or even its prime tenants. We’re just guests.  In short, the wilderness humbled us, and that’s why it is indispensable.”

Kristof makes a number of valid points here.  He is right in affirming that we humans are just guests on this planet.  For centuries Christians have been making the same claim by affirming that this earth is not our home, that we are simply pilgrims “passing through.”  Pausing to realize this helps us keep things in perspective.  It also serves as a reminder that we ought to be good houseguests during our time here on earth.

Kristof is also right about how nature or wilderness has a way of humbling us.  I’ve experienced this many times.  I have felt very small in the presence of giant mountains.  I have been reminded of my mortality by nature’s powerful forces quite often.  I have also been forced in wilderness settings to acknowledge my limitations and shortcomings.  All of this is good.  God knows most of us could use more humility in our lives.  In fact, I cannot help but think that the beauty, grandeur, vastness and complexity of nature are all part of God’s plan to help us stay humble.  This makes wilderness “indispensable” indeed!

Kristof goes on to say, “Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote. It’s an Olympiad for all of us.”  He bemoans the fact that fewer and fewer people are being exposed to wilderness and suggests that this must change if we have any hope of preserving wilderness.  He writes, “To guarantee wilderness in the long run, we first need to ensure a constituency for it. Environmentalists focus on preserving wilderness, because that’s the immediate priority, but they perhaps should be as energetic at getting young people to interact with it.”

Here, too, I think Kristof makes a valid point.  Those of us who love God’s Creation and recognize it to be His “other book” need to do all we can to help people connect with nature.  Doing so will be good for their body and mind alike.  Even more importantly, doing so will be good for their soul.


(I chose to illustrate today’s post with images I’ve taken in the Pacific Northwest.  The top image shows Mount Rainier, the middle one was taken on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and the bottom picture features Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.)

Here’s the link to the article cited above: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/kristof-blissfully-lost-in-the-woods.html?_

Feb 24 2010

Humility and Worship

WA-Mt-Rainier-NP-winter-sunriseIn the course of writing this blog I have indicated numerous times that the world we live in should be viewed as a marvelous gift from God.  Today I thought of a couple more reasons why Creation is such a wonderful gift.  First, it helps move us to worship.  I often share with my congregation that worshipping God is the most important thing we can do as humans.  Looking at and studying the natural world helps us realize the greatness of God.  This, ideally, will lead us to worship Him.

Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, it helps to keep us humble. When we look at God’s gift of Creation and contemplate the wisdom, power and love that are revealed in it we recognize our true position before God.  All of a sudden we don’t seem so big or in control of things.

In most of the Book of Job we find Job pretty confident that he understands how everything works (or should work) and that he has control over his own life, but in chapter 38 God finally speaks and asks “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”  God goes on to ask Job a lot of questions that reveal to Job that his understanding is lacking and that he is definitely not in control of things.

If you’ll take time to read Job 38-41 you’ll discover that most of God’s questions to Job pertain to the natural world.  Here are a few examples.  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”  “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?”  “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or seen the storehouses of the hail…?”   “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?  Can you loose the cords of Orion?”

By the time Job responds in chapter 42 he is a humbled man and is ready to offer God worship.  He says “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Like Job, in nature I find “things too wonderful for me to know” and this both humbles me and leads me to want to worship the Creator more.


(The image above was taken at Mt. Rainier National Park a number of years ago. Before this great mountain I definitely felt humbled!)

Jul 19 2009

Moved By The Moon

moon 179Long before I ever realized my calling to be a minister or pursued an avocation as a nature photographer I wanted to be an astronaut.  I was a child during the 60s and closely followed NASA’s space program.  I dreamed of one day being able to go to the moon.  Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the first journey to the moon.  I was thirteen when Apollo 11 landed on Tranquility Base but still vividly remember watching the events unfold on a black and white television.  It was a truly inspiring moment.

For many people simply looking at the moon and the stars on a clear night is a moving experience.  It can also be a religious one.   In Psalm 8 David wrote, “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 care for him?”  He both begins and ends this psalm with the words, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I suspect most Christians can relate to the Psalmist’s reflection.  Observing a full moon, looking at the planet Saturn through a telescope, or marveling at the vast expanse of the Milky Way on a cold winter night can be a very humbling experience.   Actually, there is much in nature that creates in me a sense of humility.  I have felt humbled by the majestic Grand Teton mountains, the roar of calving glaciers, and viewing the northern lights.  In those moments I have felt quite small and wanted to say with the Psalmist “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I have no doubt that one reason God made the world so beautiful and amazing is that He wanted us to remain humble and in awe of Him.  It sure works for me!

–Chuck Summers