Jan 25 2019

Whichever Way We Turn

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Psalm 27:8

There are a number of places in the Scriptures where we are encouraged to seek God’s face.  To seek God’s face is to seek God.  But just where are we supposed to look.  In his beautiful book, Praying with the Earth, John Philip Newell encourages us to look for God’s face in the world around us.  He writes: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, there is your face among us.”

Whereas some would say God’s face cannot be seen, others would posit that God’s face is everywhere for those with eyes to see.  One of those persons who was able to see God everywhere was the recently deceased poet, Mary Oliver.  I would love to have eyes like Mary Oliver had.  I believe she saw God’s face in trees, flowers, birds, her beloved dogs, snakes, otters, deer, and children.  I believe she saw God’s face whichever way she turned.

I want to share with you a poem from my favorite Mary Oliver book, Thirst.  It’s called “Making the House Ready for the Lord.”  “Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but still nothing is as shining as it should be for you.  Under the sink, for example, is an uproar of mice—it is the season of their many children.  What shall I do?  And under the eaves and through the walls the squirrels have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season when they need shelter, so what shall I do?  And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow; what shall I do?  Beautiful is the snow falling in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly up the path, to the door.  And still I believe you will come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.”

Mary Oliver’s poems, along with John Philip Newell’s prayers, John Muir’s writings, and the Scriptures themselves, have taught me that God’s face can be seen in the world of nature and in the faces of those closest to me.  I am very grateful to have had such good teachers.  They have affected how I look at things and how I photograph.  They have enabled me to see far more than I would have otherwise. Admittedly, I still do not see all I could or all I hope to, but I have seen enough to conclude that the face of God is indeed everywhere and that it is beautiful—more beautiful than the tongue can tell.

–Chuck


Aug 31 2018

Seeking God’s Face

In Psalm 27:8 David says “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  The idea of seeking God’s face has always intrigued me.  What exactly does this mean?  In biblical thought, to seek someone’s face is to seek to enter that person’s presence.  Therefore, to seek God’s face is to seek God’s presence.  Needless to say, there are lots of ways one can seek God’s presence.  One may attempt to do so through reading the Scriptures, prayer, meditation, worship, and service.  One may also seek God’s face through the Creation.  I was reminded of this fact recently while reading John Philip Newell’s beautiful book, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace.

In Newell’s book one will find this prayer: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep. Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face; there is your face among us.”

The Scriptures declare that God does, in fact, make Himself known through His Creation. It only makes sense, then, that we can seek God’s face in the world around us.  In nature we experience something of the glory of God.  In the created order we can feel God’s presence.  For the one with eyes to see, “whichever way we turn” we can see the face of God.

If what Newell says is true, why, then, do we not see God’s face or experience God’s presence more often? I suspect there are a couple of answers.  First, we may forget that God’s face is revealed in the world around us.  This is not something that gets stressed very often in churches.  Second, we tend to be in a rush as we move through the world these days.  Rushing to and fro we are not likely to see much of anything.  We would all be wise to slow down and pay more attention.  Doing so will put us in a better position to seek God’s face and experience the wonder, mystery and awe of God’s presence.

–Chuck


Nov 4 2015

Starting the Day Off Right

_DSC2359I have the privilege of teaching a Sunday School class each week. For the past few months we’ve been studying John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.  In our session this past Sunday we were challenged by Ortberg to take seriously the apostle Paul’s injunction, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)  He makes a big deal about Paul saying “whatever you do” and included a number of everyday instances where we ought to consider how we might do things “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  One of those things was waking up.  How might we begin a new day as Jesus would?  We had a good discussion on this and there are certainly a lot of different things we might do. I happen to believe, however, that the best way we can start a new day is by praying.  I suspect Jesus would concur.  We might begin a new day by simply offering thanks for the gift of another day to live.  We might also offer our gratitude for mercies made new with the rising of the sun. (See Lamentations 3:22-23)  It would also be wise to ask for wisdom and guidance for the tasks ahead of us that day.

_DSC2590Over the years I have also found it helpful to read prayers or devotional thoughts at the beginning of a new day. There are lots of great resources available.  One of my favorite authors is John Philip Newell.  He has written a number of books that provide prayers for both morning and evening.  One of those is Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter.  Here are a couple of morning prayers from this volume: “As daylight breaks the darkness of night, as the first movements of morning pierce the night’s stillness, so a new waking to life dawns with us, so a fresh beginning opens. In the early light of this day, in the first actions of this morning, let us be awake to life.  In our soul and in our seeing let us be alive to the gift of this new day, let us be fully alive.” 

Another one of Newell’s prayers reads: “Early in the morning we seek your presence, O God, not because you are ever absent from us but because often we are absent from you at the heart of each moment where you forever dwell.  In the rising of the sun, in the unfolding color and shape of the morning open our eyes to the mystery of this moment that in every moment we may know your life-giving presence.  Open our eyes to this moment that in every moment we may know you as the One who is always now.”

_DSC2545In many of Newell’s prayers he incorporates elements of Creation and uses them to lead us into prayer. This is something each of us can do as well.  I encourage you to pay attention each morning to what is going on in the natural world about you and allow what you see and hear to direct your prayers to the Maker of heaven and earth.  I really can’t think of a better way to start one’s day.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above are some I’ve taken early in the morning this past week.  The top one was taken in southern Indian’s Hoosier National Forest and the bottom two were taken not far from my home in Henderson, KY.)


May 15 2015

Ponderings From Denver

CO Rocky Mountain high country 046This week I have been in Denver, Colorado, for the Festival of Homiletics. It’s been a great week and I’ve had the chance to hear many wonderful speakers. It has been interesting to hear how many of them made mention of Christianity’s need to reconnect with the earth and to be better stewards of the environment.   It was wonderful to hear John Philip Newell speak once again at the event.  His writings and prayers have helped deepen my spirituality and connected it more to the earth. Other speakers, like Brian McClaren, indicated that the future health of the church will be determined, in part, by our willingness to take the sacredness of the earth more seriously. Speaker after speaker called us to honor God’s Creation.

CO Rocky Mountain NP tundra 003Wednesday I attended John Philip Newell’s workshop on “The Rebirthing of God.” It was held in a Lutheran Church and I was impressed with the way the pulpit area was decorated with rocks and plants.  At the end of the session Philip asked us to meditate on the Psalmist’s words, “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” (Ps. 96:6)  The stones gathered around the altar aided the meditation. Yesterday morning I attended a worship service held in a Methodist Church that gave careful attention to nature. We were invited to spend some time in silence at the beginning of the service. While we all remained quiet the recorded sounds of a bird singing were played. We then sang a song I had never heard before that deeply moved me.

The song we sang is called “Touch the Earth Lightly” and was written by Shirley Erena Murray. Here are the words to three of the verses: “Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care; gifts of great wonder, ours to surrender, trust for the children tomorrow will bear.  Let there be greening, birth from the burning, water that blesses, and air that is sweet.  Health in God’s garden, hope in God’s children, regeneration that peace will complete. God of all living, God of all loving, God of the seedling, the snow, and the sun, teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us, using us gently, and making us one.”

CO Aspen aspens v 065At still yet another session in the festival there was an inter-faith dialogue between John Philip Newell, a rabbi and a Muslim.  All three mentioned how their faith tradition honored and valued Creation. It was clear that recognizing the sacredness of the earth and caring for it is something that could draw groups which are quite different together. Considering the conflict we see in the world it would seem that this would be a good area for us to focus on. I truly believe that we must find ways to move beyond our differences and find common ground that will unite us. The earth can literally be that common ground.

More than ever I am convinced of the value of “seeing Creation” as an important link to God.  It can help enhance our worship of the “Maker of heaven and earth,” draw us closer to other Christians as well as those of other faith traditions, and it can also serve as a needed incentive to take better care of this good earth. By focusing on God’s “other Book,” as well as the Scriptures, perhaps we can all experience a “rebirthing of God,” as well as a closer connection with both nature and those around us.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here on previous trips to Colorado.)


Mar 4 2015

Reading Scripture Visually

Psalm 1A few months ago my pictures began to be used to illustrate prayers by John Philip Newell on his Facebook page.  The person who puts the images and prayers together does a fantastic job.  There is always something about the image that corresponds to the prayer.  I always look forward to seeing which image is chosen.

Psalm 21Getting to see my photographic work appear with Newell’s prayers inspired me to begin working on a new project.  In January I was invited to participate in a peer group of ministers from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.  We began by spending three days together at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.  We will continue to meet together once a month for the next year to year and a half.  Prior to leaving St. Meinrad we committed ourselves to reading through the Book of Psalms together.  We then established a Facebook page for our group and everyone was invited to share reflections on the various psalms we read each day.

Psalm 31On the first day we read Psalm 1.  Verse 3  of this psalm says the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on that law “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”  When I read this I immediately thought of an image I took several years ago of a tree situated right next to a stream of water.  I located the file of the image and posted it on our Facebook page, along with the verse.  When we moved to Psalm 2 the next day I had another image come to mind so I did the same thing.  A number of weeks later I’m still doing the same thing each day.  I decided it would be a good discipline to examine each day’s psalm and try to connect it to one of the images of Creation I have captured over the years.  Some of the psalms are easy to find images for, others not so much.

I have found that reading the Psalms while searching for pictures to illustrate a verse or two is both challenging and helpful.  It forces me to look at the scriptures in a new way—visually.  I am convinced that reading the scriptures this way can help one find new meaning in the Bible.  It is something anyone can do; you certainly don’t have to be a photographer to approach the Bible this way.  Just use your imagination when you read the scriptures and see where it takes you.  Try to visualize what you are reading.  Perhaps ask yourself what type of image you would use to illustrate what you are reading.

Psalm 11The Book of Psalms is probably the easiest book in the Bible to take this approach but it will work with any book or passage from scripture.  I encourage you to give reading the Bible visually a try.  See if it doesn’t help you and open new doors of understanding for you.  “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

–Chuck

(I used the first image to illustrate Psalm 1:3, the second image for Psalm 21:13, the third image for Psalm 31:3, and the fourth image for Psalm 11:1.)


Nov 19 2014

The Roofless Church

_DSC2921This past weekend my wife and I went over to New Harmony, Indiana, to spend the night.  I had visited this historic community once before but was glad for the chance to go back.  New Harmony was the site for two utopian experiments in the nineteenth century.  Although those experiments failed today New Harmony is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited.  I would use the Celtic phrase “thin place” to describe it as the veil separating earth and heaven seems especially thin there.

_CES2121One of the reasons I was looking forward to going back was the fact that I had learned a good bit more about New Harmony, and especially the Roofless Church, in John Philip Newell’s latest book, The Rebirthing of God.  In an early chapter of that book Newell deals at length with the spiritual significance of the Roofless Church and also a particular sculpture found there by the sculptor Jacob Lipchitz called “The Virgin” or “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.”  The Roofless Church, as the name implies, is a church without a roof. It was built by the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust and was dedicated in 1960.  A brochure on the site says the building was created “for an interdenominational church with the concept of one roof, the sky, to embrace all worshipping humanity.” As far as I know no regular services are held in the Roofless Church but it certainly provides a worshipful experience for those who choose to visit it.  It also offers a needed reminder that not all churches or places of worship can be found under a roof.

_CES2074In many ways Creation itself serves as a “roofless church,” or at least it does for me.  I often sense God’s presence when out in the open watching the clouds float by or gazing up into the starry heavens.  Viewing Creation as The Roofless Church reminds us that God cannot be put in a box.  It, better than any building, points to the transcendence of God.

_CES2050Over the years I have been blessed to visit many of the most beautiful churches ever constructed.  I’ve been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s in Vienna and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  All are majestic and awe-inspiring structures but none compare to the majesty and beauty of Creation.  No ecclesiastical building I have visited or worshiped in draws me into God’s presence the way nature does.  I am certainly grateful for nice roofed churches to worship in but it is the “roofless church” of Creation that I find most conducive for worship.

I wish more people would begin to look at Creation as The Roofless Church.  It might just lead them to worship more often.  It might also motivate them to take better care of this “church.”  In most churches I’ve served the members take great pride in their buildings and go to great length to keep them clean and operable.  If we viewed the earth as The Roofless Church I’d like to think we would offer it more respect and do all we can to keep it clean and healthy.

If you’ve never visited the Roofless Church in New Harmony I hope you get the chance to do so someday.  Even more so, I hope you will begin to view the world around you as The Roofless Church and take advantage of the opportunities it affords you to offer the Creator your worship and praise.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at New Harmony last weekend.)