Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)


Jul 29 2016

Experiencing God in Our National Parks

Yellowstone Lower FallsAmerican’s National Park Service will be turning one hundred years old in just a few weeks. Because I love our national parks so much I cannot let this occasion pass without offering the NPS my congratulations and best wishes.  Since taking up nature photography twenty-four years ago I’ve been blessed to visit most of our national parks.  I’ve also visited scores of other national park units such as national recreation areas, national monuments, national rivers and seashores, etc.  Each of them has had an impact on my life one way or another.  I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for our national parks.

I was introduced to our national parks as a small child when my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today I visit them as often as I can.  Just two days ago I was able to pay a return visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I keep going back because I benefit so much from them.  Our national parks are incredible repositories of natural beauty that move my soul.  They are places where I often connect to God.  In fact, when I think of some of the parks I’ve visited I think not just of the scenery or wildlife but of the spiritual connections I made there.  Let me give you some examples.

TN Great Smoky Mountains Spruce Flat FallsWhen I think of Denali National Park I remember “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” I have felt a peace there I’ve not quite experienced elsewhere.  When I think of Grand Teton National Park I recall how important humility is in the spiritual life.  Standing before that giant mountain wall I always feel small and humbled.  When I think of Yosemite National Park I think of worship.  John Muir referred to those majestic Sierra mountains as his “temples” and “cathedrals” and they became that for me as well.  I can hardly imagine walking through Yosemite Valley and not singing the “Doxology” or “How Great Thou Art.”  When I think of Yellowstone National Park I find myself reflecting on the mystery of God.  Yellowstone is such a mysterious and magical place.  As with God, there is no comprehending all its wonders.  And when I think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I associate it with love. There is a wonderful and abundant diversity of life in this park that is so dear to my heart.  That diversity symbolizes for me the generosity and goodness of God and it serves as yet one more reminder of the divine love that is the source of all that is good.

Yosemite ValleyI could go on making spiritual connections with the many different parks I have visited and photographed. They are all special and they are all important.  We are incredibly blessed to have these national parks and we should, by no means, take them for granted.  I would encourage you in this centennial year of the National Park Service to give them all the support you can.  Visit them as often.  Work to preserve and protect them.  Our national parks are far more than just beautiful and ecologically diverse places, they are special places where God resides and where God can be experienced in some marvelous ways.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Yellowstone NP, the middle one at Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the bottom one at Yosemite National Park.)


Oct 22 2015

“The Right Place”

f_DSC0464If you’re a longtime reader of this blog you know I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Whenever she publishes a new book I find cause for celebration.  Last week I celebrated the release of her newest collection of poems, Felicity.  You can easily read through this book in one sitting but I wouldn’t suggest that.  Oliver’s poems are to be savored and contemplated.  I especially like the ones where her love for nature and God merge.

f_DSC0415One of the poems in this new collection is called “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way.” It begins, “If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among. If you’re Emily, a garden will do.  Try to find the right place for yourself.  If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.”  I like the idea of trying to find “the right place” for you.  Muir did, Emily Dickenson did, and so can you and I.  It’s interesting how different people are drawn to various landscapes or things.  We do not all connect to the same thing but it seems as though we all connect to something in the natural world.  How could we not?  I connect to a lot of things.  I no longer live near mountains but I will always love them.  I will visit them when I can.  And when I can’t, I can always dream.  Thankfully, I also find a connection with trees and there are lots of wonderful trees in my area, some right outside my door.  These trees offer me a special connection with God’s Creation.  What is your right place?

f_DSC9745Later in this poem Oliver writes “God, or the gods, are invisible, quite understandable. But holiness is visible, entirely.”  Here the poet makes a wise observation.  We are not able to see God with our eyes; for many reasons that is just not possible.  Still, we are able to see a reflection of the divine, God’s holiness, in a variety of places.  Certainly it can be seen in some special people from time to time but God’s holiness is always evident in the Creation. “In the beginning” a holy God spoke the world into existence and declared it good (Genesis 1).  That world, the parts not marred by humankind, is still good and bears witness daily to the holiness of its Maker.  For me, holiness is most readily seen in God’s handiwork.  It is through God’s Creation that I can visibly see the invisible God’s holiness on a regular basis.

In many parts of the country this is the peak season for fall foliage. I hope you will make a special effort to take a close look at and enjoy the delightful colors of autumn.  As you do so, make sure to offer a word of thanks to the Creator for this annual display of divine holiness.  Wherever you happen to be, make it the “right place” to commune with God.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on my recent trip to central California.)


Jul 18 2015

Thank God for Parks!

_DSC6560I have had the chance the past couple of days to spend time wandering around and photographing Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This amazing park is located just south of Cleveland, Ohio. I visited here a couple of years ago and jumped at the opportunity to come back when I had to come up this way for our denominational meeting. This national park started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974.  It was made a national park in 2000. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural area. It has a river that runs through it, marshlands, forests, waterfalls, lakes and lots of wildlife. The area also has a rich cultural history.

_DSC6674One of the things that I’ve been impressed with on this trip is the many ways people make use of the park. Lots of people make use of the Towpath Trail. This wide path follows the historic Ohio and Erie Canal route. On it you’ll find people of all ages running, riding a bike, or just taking a leisurely stroll. There is also a train you can ride through the park. In some of the park’s lakes I saw people fishing. I’ve also noticed a number of horse trails. And then, of course, there are folks like me who find the park a great place to capture images of God’s beautiful and awesome Creation.

_DSC6695As I’ve traveled around the park the last couple of days I have found myself giving thanks that we have places like this in our country. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of our national park system. I have spent the last twenty-three years visiting and photographing as many of them as I can. A lot of our national parks are located in isolated areas and people have to travel a good bit to get to them. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it is located in an urban area. This park is easily accessible to a large number of people. From what I can see, lots of people from this part of the country take advantage of this treasure. Good for them!

On the official park map/brochure there is a quote by James Snowden Jackson that says, “I have admired the rugged fiords of Norway and the bald peaks of Yosemite. But I gain strength each day at home from the beauty of our own Cuyahoga Valley.”  For some reason this reminds me of my favorite John Muir passage: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  I’m sure there are some that would have preferred to see the Cuyahoga Valley developed instead of preserved as a national park but this area and our country is richer because it has been set aside and protected.

_DSC6838Obviously not every community can have a national park nearby but thankfully most cities and towns do have local parks, or perhaps even a state park close by. I feel very blessed to have John James Audubon State Park just a mile from my home. The city of Henderson, Kentucky, where I live has a number of delightful parks and Henderson County does as well. These parks are not just places for recreational activities, they are as Muir indicated, places where we can spend time with God and experience nature’s healing powers.  More and more studies are revealing the health benefits of just being outdoors. I believe there are spiritual benefits as well.

If you have a park close to where you live I hope that you will take advantage of it and visit it frequently. If you don’t I hope you get one someday. Wherever we live, regardless of whether there is a park nearby, we can all find ways to enjoy the outdoors. We can even create our own mini-parks right at home. The important thing is to find a way to reconnect with nature and with the One who has so graciously provided it for us.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are ones I’ve taken the past few days at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


May 28 2015

Carrie Newcomer and the Titmouse

_DSC9779In last week’s post I talked about the sanctity of all life and reflected on some wonderful quotations from the writings of John Muir.  Having done so I want to say that it is one thing to affirm the sanctity of all life; it is another thing to put this affirmation into practice.

Recently I was introduced to the music of folk singer Carrie Newcomer.  I was given one of her CDs for my birthday in April and really liked what I heard.  A couple of weeks ago it just so happened that Carrie was present at a conference I was attending in Denver and did a concert for the group.  I thoroughly enjoyed her performance and was impressed not only with Carrie’s beautiful voice but with the way she crafted the words in the lyrics of her songs.  When I discovered she had also published a book of her poetry and essays I knew that I had to get it.

_DSC5430The title of Carrie’s book is A Permeable Life.  One of the poems included in this volume is called Titmouse and in my estimation puts flesh on what it means to affirm the sanctity of all life.  “On the bitter winter ground I found a small grey titmouse with a broken wing.  As I stopped to consider how I might help her, it became apparent that something else was also broken inside her, and that she was dying.  It is the way of the world, one animal will eat another animal, and all animals, (including the human kind), eventually go back into the earth.  And yet I could not leave her there, to die alone in the snow.  I cradled her in my mittened hands and warmed her with my breath, trying to make her as comfortable as possible.  I hummed to her and breathed a silent prayer to the god of snow and spring and small birds.  After a while, her eyes drifted closed.  She did not struggle or appear afraid.  She was beyond that now, she was just infinitely tired and wise, in the way that things approaching a great mystery are often wise.”

I am deeply touched by the way Carrie was moved with such compassion that she felt compelled to “not leave her there, to die alone in the snow” and how she went on to seek to warm the little creature, to hum to her and pray for her as well.  Carrie’s actions make me recall Jesus’ words found in Matthew 10:29—“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

_DSC0353There is plenty of evidence in the Scriptures to reveal that God does, in fact, care for all of His creatures.  If God cares for them all then so should we.  How might we actually care for them?  I can think of a lot of ways but I do believe that when I hear that question raised in the future I will think of a certain poem by Carrie Newcomer.

–Chuck

(I photographed the titmouse, goldfinch and killdeer chick all in Henderson, Kentucky.)


May 21 2015

John Muir and the Sanctity of All Life

_DSC1296Last week when I was flying to Denver I spent some time reading a wonderful book called The Contemplative John Muir.  It is a collection of quotations from the great conservationist that reveal the spiritual side of Muir.  One of the things I quickly noticed was that long before there was an animal rights movement John Muir was affirming the importance and value of all creatures as part of God’s Creation.  At one point he wrote: “Godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.”  Muir believed that all creatures had worth, and thereby rights, simply because they were made by the Creator and I fully agree with him.

_DSC0799Muir, however, did not believe that it was just animals that had worth.  In his view all of Creation had great value because, once again, it was created by God.  It bothered him that things like lichen were considered “a low form of life.”  He said all forms, “high and low, are simply portions of God radiated from Him as a sun, and made terrestrial by the clothes they wear, and by the modifications of a corresponding kind in the God essence itself.”  Muir went on to say, “Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are people.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love.  God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating and fountainising all.  The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.”

_DSC7992Muir says concerning the typical human way of seeing things, “How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies!  How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!  With what dismal irreverence we speak of our fellow mortals!  Though alligators, snakes, etc., naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils.  They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC1958I realize that not everyone will concur with Muir’s sentiments but I do believe that his way of thinking is theologically sound and that if followed would lead to a much more respectful approach to all that God has made.  Such an approach is desperately needed at this particular time.   The world needs a more life-affirming view of the Creation.  In many ways the preservation of the world is dependent on our developing a greater respect for all forms of life.  The preservation of humankind may also be dependent on this.  Albert Schweitzer once said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” 

I hope that we can begin to move toward a view of the sanctity of all life on earth and that this view will lead us to be better stewards of God’s Creation and a kinder species as well.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Colorado National Monument, the second one at Rifle Falls in Colorado, the third one at Everglades NP, and the final one at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP in Colorado.)