Happy Independence Day! This is a day when most Americans pause to celebrate and offer thanks for our country’s freedoms and blessings. We truly do have much to be thankful for. On this particular day I’d like to express my gratitude for our national parks. I think anyone who enjoys “seeing Creation” would have to acknowledge that some of God’s most beautiful and awesome handiwork is found in these parks that have been preserved for us. Wallace Stegner once said “National Parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best…”
There are currently 58 national parks. I have visited 38 of them so far. In addition to these national parks, the National Park Service maintains numerous other types of units. Some of these include national monuments, national preserves, national rivers, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national scenic trails. There are hundreds of such units and I have had the privilege of visiting and photographing many of these.
I am so thankful that we have so many beautiful places preserved and protected. What a rich treasure they are! John Muir, who was instrumental in developing the idea of national parks in America, once said we all “need places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” The national parks have been such places for me. In them I have been able to read God’s “other book” and been moved to worship the Creator who is “the Giver of all good gifts.” (James 1:17)
I cannot imagine our country without its national parks. I’m glad that over the years people have fought long and hard to make sure that special places are protected from destruction and development. I’m thankful that our parks are “absolutely democratic” so that all are welcome. I’m thankful that those who will follow us will also have a chance to see the Grand Canyon, marvel at Yellowstone’s amazing geysers, look up at America’s highest mountain in Denali and down into its deepest cleft at Death Valley, view Yosemite Valley, and enjoy all the other wonderful sights, sounds and smells that await them in our national parks.
On this day we will likely hear many people say “God bless America.” I’m convinced God already has. I cannot think of any other nation that has been so blessed. Our national parks are part of that blessing. But with all these blessings comes responsibility. We must be good stewards of God’s blessings and that applies to our parks too. Our national parks deserve our support. We would not be the same without them.
(The top image shows a picture I took of the Grand Canyon from its south rim. The middle image is of ”Old Faithful” at Yellowstone National Park. I took the bottom image of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.)
Being the Fourth of July I suspect that in many churches today and at various Independence Day celebrations the song “God Bless America” has been sung. This hymn by Irving Berlin is certainly a popular one. Before its familiar chorus the song says, “Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Today we should, indeed, be grateful for the beauty of this country. I have had the privilege of traveling to many foreign nations but I have seen none that excel this one for its natural beauty. When God created the land we call America He truly did bless it.
The hymn “God Bless America” is considered a patriotic anthem but it might just as well be an environmental one. Here we sing “From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.” In this “solemn prayer” we seek God’s blessings for that which He has made—the mountains, the prairies, the oceans.
I suppose it is fine to continue to ask God’s blessings on His Creation but just as much Creation needs our blessing. It needs our care. Many of the mountains in this country have been ravaged. Our prairies have vastly shrunk due to urban development. The oceans surrounding our country were terribly polluted even before the BP oil spill. God blessed this “land that I love.” We seem to have cursed it.
The way that we have treated our land makes me wonder if we even have the right to sing “God Bless America.” How can we ask God to bless this land when we have misused it in so many ways? I have written before that one of my fundamental beliefs is that with blessing comes responsibility. How many of us have truly been responsible as stewards of God’s good earth? Of America, “my home, sweet home”?
We seem to have forgotten—or never understood—that God blessed this land with natural resources not just so that we could prosper, but so that we might see and know Him in that which He has made. My prayer today is that God will bless America with a love for its land and for its Creator. Both deserve a greater love than we have given thus far.
(I took the image above of Lower Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park was taken a few years ago in early July.)
Happy Independence Day! This is a special day for Americans. First and foremost we remember with gratitude today the price that those who went before us paid so that we might enjoy the freedoms we have. There are, however, other things to be thankful for as well. I, for one, am thankful for the incredible natural beauty God has blessed this nation with. Of course, others have been grateful for this too.
In the song “America the Beautiful” the writer, Katherine Lee Bates, speaks of spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains. After mentioning these she cannot help but declare, “God shed His grace on thee.” Samuel Francis Smith, the writer of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” likewise spoke with gratitude about the beauty of our land when he wrote, “I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills…”
I have been blessed to visit and photograph many of our country’s natural wonders and on this Fourth of July I find myself giving thanks for what we have. I also find myself concerned that we not take these natural treasures for granted and that they be preserved for future generations to enjoy. I believe it is our patriotic duty to make sure that places like the Everglades (one of the most endangered places in the world) and the Smokies (pictured above) are protected.
Katherine Lee Bates was right, God did, in fact, shed His grace on this country by giving us so much natural beauty and resources. One of my seminary professors used to say “with blessing comes responsibility.” Yes, we have been blessed. The question remains, will we also be responsible?