“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
It was about twenty years ago this time I made a life-changing decision. That decision was to seriously pursue nature photography as a hobby. I was at a point in my life where I was stressed out and very close to being burned out as a minister. I desperately needed an outlet and after briefly considering pottery as an option I settled on learning how to photograph nature. I realize that choosing a hobby probably doesn’t sound like a life-changing decision to a lot of people but it certainly was for me.
Making nature photography an avocation helped me to manage better the stress that is inherent in pastoral ministry. I really don’t know if I would have been able to continue had I not done so. Eventually photography would become an extension of my ministry, but that is another story. When I get a chance to talk to young ministers today I always make it a point to encourage them to make sure to find a good hobby.
The decision to pursue photography also opened the door to a whole new realm of friends. Many of my dearest friends today are photographers. My life has been tremendously enriched through getting to know Rob Sheppard, Bill Fortney, Ken Jenkins, Pat O’Hara, Stan Burman and many others. I actually have more photography friends than I do friends that are pastors.
Even though I loved nature prior to taking up photography I know that I would not have had the many incredible experiences in God’s Creation that I have had were it not for that choice I made twenty years ago. To pursue nature photography meant I needed to expose myself to more of nature. This led to lots of travel and exploration. A couple of nights ago I had trouble going to sleep so I began reflecting on some of the highlights from my past twenty years of photography. Before I fell asleep I came to the conclusion that I have to be one of the most blessed persons on earth. The variety and awesomeness of the places and things I have seen while photographing is almost unbelievable!
Finally, the decision to pursue nature photography has helped me to see the world in a whole new light. It’s hard to explain but when photography is an important part of your life you just see things differently. You see more and this is perhaps what has been the most life-changing thing of all. It’s also the best thing because in the process I have come to see God more clearly in the world around me and this has drawn me much closer to Him.
Twenty years after the fact I cannot imagine what my life would be like today had I not made the decision I did. At the time I thought I was just choosing a way to help me deal with stress. Upon reflection it is obvious that there was a lot more going on than that. I’m convinced that God was at work in that decision and that He had a plan for my life I knew nothing about. Today I simply want to share with you my gratitude for that plan and for the God who made it possible.
(I’ve included today some samples of my early photography. The top two images were made in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. The bottom image was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
Let me say right off that I believe that there’s no better way to experience God’s Creation than by getting outdoors and enjoying it firsthand. There are, however, some wonderful alternatives. In recent weeks I’ve spent a good bit of time in front of the computer watching a live cam of an eagle’s nest in Norfolk, Virginia. A friend told me about the site about the time the eagle pair had produced their three eggs. About a week and a half ago the first eaglet was born. Since then, its two siblings have also hatched. What an incredible blessing it has been to watch the eagle pair care for their little eaglets. I especially enjoy watching the feeding sessions. If you would like to check out the live cam here is the link: http://www.wvec.com/marketplace/microsite-content/eagle-cam.html. (This has become a very popular site so if you don’t get on at first, keep trying. Also, make sure to open the discussion site to the right; there’s lots of great information on eagles available there.)
Getting to watch what I’ve seen on the live cam would be next to impossible in the wild. In the vast majority of cases it would not be safe for me or the eagles to do so. For that reason I am grateful for modern technology and the opportunities that we are given to observe nature vicariously. In the past I’ve also enjoyed watching live cams of grizzly bears at McNeill River in Alaska and of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. If you can’t be there in person, this is the next best thing.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about bald eagles through books and also lectures I’ve heard given by my friend, Ken Jenkins. A number of years ago I accompanied Ken on a trip to the Chilkat Eagle Preserve near Haines, Alaska. It was an amazing experience. This, combined with the wonderful live cam in Virginia, has vastly increased my knowledge of this majestic bird.
Students of the Bible will recall that the eagle is mentioned several times in Scripture. Often it portrays speed and power. In both the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:10-14) and New Testament (Revelation 4:7) the eagle is included as one of the manifestations of God. In Exodus 19:4 God speaks to the Hebrews and says, “You yourselves have seen…how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” Perhaps the most famous biblical reference to eagles is found in Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I encourage you to check out the live eagle nest cam and to reflect on God’s Word as you do. If you do I suspect you’ll find yourself giving thanks for God’s wonderful Creation and for the opportunity to experience it vicariously from time to time.
(I took the images above at the Chilkat Eagle Preserve in Alaska.)
“Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.” –Clara H. Scott
This weekend I had a chance to do a couple of programs at the 20th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Thursday night Ken Jenkins and I did a program called “The Spiritual Side of Nature.” The presentation was well-attended and warmly received.
During Ken’s portion of the program he used an interesting analogy to describe certain people. He noted how those who sleepwalk move about while asleep but do not really see what’s going on around them. Ken then indicated that many people move about day to day but remain blind to the wonders of God’s Creation all around them. Such people are guilty of a different kind of sleepwalking.
I have known Ken eighteen years and can honestly say that I do not know anyone who is more “awake” when it comes to seeing and experiencing God in Creation. Although his photography business is based in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ken has a ministry that takes him all across the country. In his programs he shows wildlife and landscape images he has taken and draws incredible spiritual truths from them.
Knowing that not all of you will be able to hear Ken speak I want to commend to you his recent publication Nature is the Art of God: A Journey Into the Beauty and Wonder of Creation. It is one of the most beautiful photographic devotional essays I’ve ever seen. You can order copies from Ken’s website: www.kenjenkins.com.
Listening to Ken’s presentation Thursday night, and then looking at his new book, has made me want to do a better job of seeing God in Creation. I think I do a decent job of seeing the obvious but know that there are folks like Ken who see so much more. How can I improve my vision? I suspect I should begin by asking God to “open my eyes” so that I might see more and then, with His help, try to discipline myself to slow down and really pay attention. I plan to do this because I really do not want to be guilty of being a “sleepwalker.” How about you?
(The image above was taken at Morton Overlook a number of years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)