Aug 10 2016

Glints of the Divine

AZ Antelope Canyon 1 near PageIn recent days I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s book, In Search of Belief.  The book is a careful and thoughtful look at the Apostles’ Creed.  When it comes time for Chittister to discuss God as “Father” it is apparent she has a problem with this appellation.   It’s not that she is opposed to referring to God as Father; instead, she finds it too limiting.  She feels the Church has made a mistake in focusing on just one of the Bible’s many images of God.  She notes that a number of the biblical images come from Creation and feels that these, as well as others, should also be used to give us a fuller and more complete understanding of God.

_CES2470Chittister argues for expanding our metaphors and images of God. She says, “By naming God everything that makes God God, we come daily to see God differently, to see God wholly. More than that, by naming God the sum total of created goodness, we come to see the rest of life differently as well.  In the first place, we see God present to every distinct moment, every separate segment of life.  In the second place, we come to see every distinct moment of life, every gracious mortal being around us charged with that presence.  We come to see every facet of life—all of them, each of them—as glints of the Divine. We get a fuller picture of God.  At the same time, we get a deeper understanding of the sacredness of a creation that shares in this diversity.”

Joan goes on to say, “When we name God fully, all of life becomes an exercise in contemplation. We touch the divine dimensions of ourselves.  We see God everywhere.  We feel divinity everywhere.  We recognize God everywhere.  And, eventually, we become what we think about.  We become what we see, make holy what we touch, make sacred what we are.”

AZ Monument Valley mittens (v) crI appreciate what Chittister says here. Perhaps we have focused too much on just a few images of God when including several more would broaden both our understanding and experience of God and Jesus.  I am especially drawn to the biblical images found in Creation.  Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world”  and spoke of the “living waters” that came from him.  I remember other nature images appearing in a hymn I sang often as a child: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star…” Another song referred to God as “the sweetest rose of Sharon.” The Psalmist used nature images to refer to God.  He spoke of God as “a sun and shield” (84:11)  and “the Rock of our salvation.” (95:1)

There are lots of images of God related to nature and if we will regularly reflect on these, especially as we view them in nature itself, we should be able to connect with God in a fuller and richer way.  There truly are “glints of the Divine” all around us!  I encourage you to take Chittister’s lead and begin looking for other metaphors and images that will augment the few the Church has historically chosen to highlight so that you might come to know God in fresh and new ways.  As Joan reminds us, “Clearly, if God is really God, no one name can possibly hold all the allusions, say all the concepts, breathe in one breath all the qualities that are God.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Antelope Canyon near Page, Az.; the middle image in Missouri’s Ozark mountains; and the bottom image at Monument Valley in Az.)


Feb 11 2015

Co-Creators With God

_DSC5336One of my goals for writing posts on Seeing Creation is to share with you from time to time wisdom I come across in my reading.  Recently I have been reading a book by Joan Chittister called The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life.  Within its pages I have found much wisdom and would like for you to consider some of Joan’s words found in a chapter called “Co-Creation.”  She writes, “In our twenty-first century view of life—through the lens of the Rule of Benedict—we know now in new ways that the earth and all its fruits are not for our exploitation, they are for our care.  We are co-creators with God of what creation has left unfinished.  What has been left in embryo is left for us to develop.  What can be developed God trusts us to bring to full potential.  But not for ourselves alone.  Co-creation, the human commitment to continue the work of God on earth, requires us to tend the land and conserve the waters, to till the garden and protect the animals, to use the things of the earth in ways that enhance all life now—and preserve them for later generations as well.”

Chittister goes on to say, “The human-centered view of creation is a stunted one.  It fails to recognize the oneness of creation, the symphony of life forms that depend on one another to bring the universe, pulsing and throbbing with life, to a wholeness that is mutual, that reflects the full face of God rather than simply our own.”  This last line I find particularly insightful.  How we choose to care for the earth and look at it will, in the end, determine what others see.  Obviously Creation is meant to be a reflection of God’s face or glory, not ours.  By failing to take seriously our role as co-creators with God we have marred or dimmed the reflection that is meant to be seen.

e_DSC3707Too many people have looked at the earth and its resources as something to be exploited.  The earth is not viewed as sacred or understood to be God’s other book of revelation; instead, it is basically seen as something to be consumed or used for financial gain.  I remember once being at Camp Denali in Denali National Park with a group.  After a day or two we were asked what we thought of the park.  Most people spoke of the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness and how blessed we are to have such a place to visit.  One person indicated that what he saw was a whole lot of land that could be developed.  Apparently some people just don’t get it.

We desperately need more people today who will accept their God-given role as co-creator.  For people willing to do so Chittister offers this advice: “We are called to listen to nature as well as to one another, to hear its groans and till its gardens, to nurture its young and maintain the purity of its air, until we ourselves become the voices for life in everything everywhere.  To do that we must become part of the liturgy of life, treating as holy everything we touch, regarding as sacred every being alive, intent on preserving the best of what is—while we use our science and technology to protect, defend, and enhance them all. “

e_DSC3755It seems obvious to me that so many of the decisions being made by Congress in this country, and by government officials in other nations,  do not take into consideration the sacredness of the earth.  They either do not know or do not care that the Scriptures say “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)  The earth is not ours to do with as we please.  We do not own it; it belongs to God.  Our task, as beautifully noted by Joan Chittister, is to be co-creators with God and stewards of the world we live in.  Until more people come to understand this and act upon it I fear that the face many people will see reflected in the world will continue to be not God’s but our own.

–Chuck Summers

(I took the image above at the nearby Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)


Jun 15 2014

Removing the Blinders

_DSC5760A few days ago I came across this story in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul.  Once upon a time a Sufi made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It was a long walk for him and the sun was high.  He had come miles without stopping.  Finally, in the sight of the mosque at Mecca, sure of the goal now, the old man lay down in the road to rest.  Suddenly, one of the other pilgrims shook him awake, rough and harsh in the doing of it.  “Wake up,” he commanded.  “You blaspheme.  You lie in such a way that your feet are pointed toward God in the holy mosque!  What kind of Sufi are you?!”  The old Sufi opened one eye, smiled a bit, and said, “I thank you, holy sir.  Now if you would be kind enough to turn my feet in some direction where they are not pointed toward God.”

_DSC8304It would seem to me that it was the second man, not the first, who was guilty of  blasphemy.  He was the one who failed to recognize that God cannot be contained in a building.  As the Maker of heaven and earth God’s presence can be found everywhere and that makes all of the world sacred.  There is something wrong with any theology that limits God’s presence to a church, synagogue or mosque.  Unfortunately, there have been many over the years who have made that mistake.  They have sought to limit the God who cannot be limited.

_DSC8035For years I have been quoting this passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning—“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  Each of us would be wise to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing heaven (or God) on earth.  So many factors have helped to place and keep these blinders on our eyes but they do not have to be worn.  Ask God to give you fresh eyes to see in “every common bush,” every tree or stream, every bird and flower the glory of His presence.  This will no doubt help lead you to worship God more often and with greater joy.  Whether you keep your shoes on is up to you…

–Chuck

(The pictures used here are some I’ve taken in recent days near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Jun 1 2014

Don’t Limit Yourself

e_CES0443A few days ago Seth Godin posted a blog where he wrote about how many people let others choose things for them.  He noted that when we listen to Top 40 radio stations we are letting someone else decide what we will hear.  Likewise, if we only read best-selling books we are allowing others to determine what we will read.  Godin noted that if we always do this we will miss out on much that is good.  Not all the good music makes it to Top 40 radio; there are great books that do not show up on anyone’s best-seller list.  He suggested that we be careful about always letting others make our choices.

e_CES0241I thought about that as Rob Sheppard and I photographed at Great Basin National Park in Nevada this past week.  I doubt that many lists of top national parks would include Great Basin.  Usually you find on such lists parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, Grand Teton and Acadia.  These are the “popular” ones that you hear a lot about and that the masses flock to. I’ve been to each of these places more than once and they are indeed beautiful and spectacular locations, but there are many lesser known parks that are just as beautiful and spectacular in their own way.  Great Basin National Park is a good example.  It has mountains rising 13,000 feet above sea level. Within its borders you will find an abundance of wildlife and awe-inspiring vistas.  The park’s lower elevation is desert covered with sagebrush while its higher elevations contain beautiful aspen groves.  The park has a cave with stunning formations, while above ground there are a number of lovely streams.  Still, relatively few people know about this park.  It receives far fewer visitors than the more popular parks noted above.  If you only visited national parks that were popular you would likely never see Great Basin National Park.  You would miss getting to experience what is genuinely a national treasure.

e_DSC6872This is a good reminder that we must all be careful about letting others choose for us what we will see, listen to, read or visit. Popular opinion need not rule.  We have the freedom to choose ourselves and we should exercise that freedom carefully and frequently.  We need to be careful that we don’t limit ourselves.  This is true even when it comes to the spiritual life.  I fear that many people allow others to choose for them how to live the spiritual life.  There are many popular paths and it would seem that most people are content to follow one of these paths.  There are, however, countless paths that can be taken as we seek to heed Christ’s call to “follow me.”  In reality, there are as many paths available as there are followers.  We can choose to take the popular paths because…well, they’re popular or, with the Spirit’s guidance, we can elect to follow our own unique path.  The other paths are perhaps easier to follow but will likely not be nearly as meaningful or adventuresome.

At the conclusion of Joan Chittister’s book, Called to Question, she writes “Once we have come to the point that we can allow God to be for us always new, always beckoning—beyond any single way of worship, any one set of devotions, any need to be less than alive and full of the joy of it, any desire to close off people and life, any idea that the daily is dull and empty of real spiritual experience, we have begun to grow into the spiritual life.  Then we are finally ready to find God in the very lives we are leading right now.”

e_CES0060Chittister believes there are a number of paths one can take when it comes to following Christ and that we should strive to follow the one intended for us.  I would agree.  We will likely suffer if we choose to take some path simply because it is the popular one.  We will flourish and thrive best when we follow the path that God intended to be uniquely our own.  Thoreau talked about walking to the beat of a different drummer.  As Christians we have the same drummer, it just so happens that drummer has a different beat for each of our lives.  Let’s not limit ourselves to whatever beat happens to be popular today.  Instead, may we each listen for the beat intended for us and then move confidently and joyfully forward. This is where true spiritual growth takes place.  This is where we will find our greatest joy.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures above this past week at Great Basin National Park.)


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.)