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.)


Feb 13 2013

Yahweh Yireh

KY-Lake-Cumberland-scenicFor the past few weeks we have been studying the names of God at church on Wednesday nights.  Taking the time to look at the various names and their meaning can be an enlightening adventure.  One of the names for God mentioned in Genesis 22 is Yahweh Yireh, which means “God Will Provide.”  It appears at the end of the story where Abraham almost offers his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.  Not understanding God’s call to sacrifice his son, Abraham nevertheless was intent on being faithful to whatever God asked.  As he prepared to do the unthinkable God told him not to harm Isaac.  We are then told that Abraham looked up and saw a ram nearby caught by its horns in a thicket.  Abraham offered the ram as a sacrifice instead of Isaac.  Verse 14 says, “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide.  And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.’” 

Although there is much about this story that I do not understand, I feel that the revelation of God’s name as Yahweh Yireh is most significant.  Abraham learned that day that God is the God who provides.  The rest of the Scriptures go on to validate this name.  In a most ironic twist, many years later God would do precisely what He asked Abraham to do, sacrifice His only Son.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God provided for all the possibility of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.

Tremont-Cascade-640I have experienced God as Yahweh Yireh in many ways throughout my life.  He truly has provided for my needs.  God’s provision is sometimes specific and sometimes general.  As we look at Creation we cannot help but acknowledge that over and over God reveals Himself as Yahweh Yireh.  He has provided everything we need to live and enjoy life.  We live on a planet that provides the air we need to breathe and trees to purify the air.  He has created a world with vast resources for water, food and shelter.  God has provided us, unlike other planets, with a climate that sustains life.  Things like the sun, moon and rain, which we pretty much take for granted, are actually examples of God’s provision for us.

God truly is the “Giver of all good gifts” (James 1:17) and as such deserves our worship and praise, as well as our thanksgiving.  Hopefully we will learn not to take God’s many provisions for granted but will, instead, receive them each day with gratitude and a recognition of the need to be good stewards of all of His gifts.  If you haven’t paused to thank God (Yahweh Yireh) lately for providing for your needs, now would be a great time to do so.

–Chuck

(I took the top picture at Lake Cumberland State Park in Kentucky.  I photographed the bottom scene in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Nov 18 2012

Giving Truly Is Divine!

Today I want to give thanks for those who recognize the importance of giving and who actually make a practice of it.  I have just come home from a meeting where members of my church made a decision to give away a significant amount of money for church and mission causes.   I am thrilled by what they did and am also very proud of them.  I believe with all my heart that we are all supposed to be givers.  As individuals who were created in the image of God, and who receive countless blessings from Him every single day, we are meant to give.

There can be no denying that God is a giving God.  As Christians we affirm that God is “the Giver of all good gifts.”  (James 1:17) We also acknowledge that God is responsible for all that exists and that everything we have should be viewed as a gift from His generous hands.  The Bible not only speaks of God’s generosity, it also explains why He is so giving.  God is love.  It is as simple and as profound as that.  In one of the New Testament’s most familiar verses we are told “For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son…” (John 3:16)  God is such a wonderful giver because God’s very nature is love.

We see evidence of God’s love and propensity to give throughout His Creation.  In fact, the world itself should be viewed as a gift.  And what a priceless gift it is!  In a universe that contains countless galaxies God prepared a planet in our own that had just the right conditions so that life might exist in a magnificent manner.  He gave us a planet that has just the right temperatures and atmospheric conditions for life to thrive.  God created a world with the water, soil and air needed so that humans and a vast host of other creatures and species might be able to live together.  But not only did God create an inhabitable planet, He also made one that is absolutely beautiful.  I doubt that many people regularly stop to give thanks for this awesome planet we live on but we all should.   This planet, like the Son of God who would show up on it later, was presented to us as a gift of God’s love.

The testimony of Scripture and God’s “Other Book” make it clear that God is a giving God.  We can also learn from these that we, too, are meant to be givers.  Humans have the distinction of being the only living things on earth that were created in God’s image.  This is certainly an exalted status but God has made it clear that with such blessing comes responsibility.  Adam and Eve learned this right away.  God had work for them to do.  They were to tend to and care for the world God had made.  In other words, they were to be caregivers. (Genesis 2:15)  God would later reveal that we are also called to share His love, as well as our own love, with one another.  He likewise made it clear that those who were blessed with material wealth are supposed to give to those who are less fortunate.  Interestingly enough, when the Son of God did come to earth he talked more about giving and the proper use of our possessions than anything else.  He wanted to make sure we all understood just how important giving is, wanted us to recognize that giving is divine.

My life has been so richly blessed by people who understood the importance of giving.  I suspect yours has as well.  We should all remember to give thanks for and to those who give, but also bear in mind that we, too, must give.  It is through giving we show ourselves to be the sons and daughters of God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Cheyenne River in South Dakota.  I photographed the whitetail deer and ferns were photographed in Tennessee.)

 


Jul 4 2012

Our National Parks

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.

–Chuck

(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.)


May 16 2012

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Some of the most famous words attributed to Francis of Assisi are the following: “All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, and first my Lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.  How beautiful he is, how radiant in all his splendor!  Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.  All praise be yours, my Lord through Sister Moon and stars; in the heavens you made them bright and precious and fair…”

I suspect many would view St. Francis’ words as whimsical or strange.  Who goes around calling the sun her “brother” or the moon his “sister”?  Not many, I suppose, but I’ve come to appreciate the way Francis and others over the centuries have viewed various elements of God’s Creation as family members.  In fact, I wonder at times if some of our environmental woes may have been averted if we had not lost grasp of our familial connection to the rest of the earth.  Everything that exists—the sun, moon, earth, plants, animals, humans—has the same source, God.  We all come from God and we all belong to God.  That makes us family, does it not?

Two key ingredients in any healthy family are love and respect.  I am very thankful to be a part of a family where these two virtues are abundant.  Where these virtues are absent trouble is inevitable.  This is true not just for our immediate family but also for our extended family that includes all of Creation.   Every person and every thing that God has made deserves our love and respect.  If we do not extend them this there will be trouble.  You can count on it.

The rest of Creation is due our love and respect, if for no other reason, because God made it and it manifests His glory.  St. Francis’ words cited above reveal his belief that praise comes to God through all that He has made.  Note carefully his words “through all.”   Recognizing that all of God’s Creation should be viewed as family helped Francis see the beauty inherent in God’s handiwork.  This beauty, in turn, led him to offer his worship and praise to the Maker of heaven and earth.

Each day and each night we have visual reminders in the sky of God’s goodness and love.  Let us give thanks for “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” for the light—both physical and spiritual—they shine upon us.  Let us also join with them in offering our praise to “the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).  It’s a wonderful thing, after all, when families can do things together…

–Chuck

(I photographed the sunrise and moonset shown above a couple of weeks ago in Big Bend National Park.)