Mar 29 2019

“A Caress of God”

This year for Lent I gave up desserts once again.  I don’t know why I keep doing that.  I also decided to add some extra reading into my Lenten journey.  One book I chose to read is Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr.  The other book is Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home.  I am enjoying Pope Francis’ optimistic outlook on things.  I must confess I’ve been pretty discouraged in recent months.  Perhaps that has something to do with living in America where environmental issues have largely been dismissed or ignored in recent years.  So it was good to hear Francis say “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us.  Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

In his book, Pope Francis offers a solid theological basis for Creation Care.  I want to share with you a few gems I have found thus far.  Francis writes, “Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose.  None is superfluous.  The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”  I love that phrase—“a caress of God.”  If we could view the world around us as a caress of God perhaps we would value and honor it more.

In another section Francis writes: “The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that multiplicity and variety ‘come from the intention of the first agent’ who willed that ‘what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another,’ inasmuch as God’s goodness ‘could not be represented fittingly by any one creature.’  Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships.  We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan.  As the Catechism teaches: ‘God wills the interdependence of creatures.  The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow; the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient.  Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.’”

Surely we would take better care of the earth if we realized that each part of it is a manifestation of God’s goodness and love.  Likewise, if we better understood the interdependence of life on earth it would lead us to be better stewards of Creation.  I’m not sure things will get much better unless we come to grasp the sacredness of the earth and our divine calling to tend to it.


Feb 10 2016

Using Creation to Help Us on Our Lenten Journey

VA SNP dawn and crescent moonToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. This is a special time of the year when Christians begin a 40 day journey, excluding Sundays, that leads them to Easter. One of my dear friends, Lon Oliver, put together a Lenten devotional guide for his congregation where he urged them to reflect on God’s two books of revelation–Creation and the Scriptures. Concerning Lent Lon writes: “This special time in the church year always comes when the days are lengthening with the arrival of spring. During Lent not only will the hours of daylight become longer, we will also witness the renewal of the earth as flowers blossom, trees bud, and the wildlife absent during the winter months make a reappearance.” He goes on to say, “During the season of Lent we believe God desires that each of us experience a renewal not unlike that we observe in nature. Lent calls for a spring or rebirth to awaken our souls.”

KY Bernheim Forest spring hYesterday I saw a posting on Facebook from Green Chalice, a group that gives attention to environmental issues in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), that offered a list of things a person might do each day during the season of Lent that will help them connect with the Creation and the Creator. I want to share a similar list of items with you and hope you will consider using it in the days to come. If you do, it may well help you to experience the “renewal” Lon wrote about in his devotional guide.

Feb. 10 — Listen for a bird’s song

Feb. 11 — Read Psalm 104

Feb. 12 — Recycle something

Feb. 13 — Notice where you see life resting or hibernating

Feb. 14 — Read Genesis 1:1-2:3

Feb. 15 — Take a shorter shower

Feb. 16 — Watch a sunset

Feb. 17 — Look at the sky

Feb. 18 — Sweeten something with honey

Feb. 19 — Make a donation to an environmental organization

Feb. 20 — Hug a tree

Feb. 21 — Read Job 38-41

Feb. 22 — Watch a sunrise

Feb. 23 — Ask someone what their favorite part of nature is

Feb. 24 — Notice five birds/animals/plants

Feb. 25 — Light a candle and give thanks for the elements

Feb. 26 — Take a picture of a tree with your camera or smart phone

Feb. 27 — Draw in the dirt

Feb. 28 — Read Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7

Feb. 29 — Take a walk

Mar. 1 — Feel the breeze

Mar. 2 — Read a poem about nature

Mar. 3 — Visit and marvel at the universe

Mar. 4 — Purchase an organic food product

Mar. 5 — Go stargazing

Mar. 6 — Read Proverbs 8:22-31

Mar. 7 — Visit a local park

Mar. 8 — Sit still outside for five minutes

Mar. 9 — Visit

Mar. 10 — Pay special attention to the “smells” of nature

Mar. 11 — Plant something

Mar. 12 — Meditate on the words to “Morning Has Broken”

Mar. 13 — Read Genesis 2:4-3:24 while sitting outside

Mar. 14 — Google “endangered species”

Mar. 15 — Notice how the days are “getting longer”

Mar. 16 — Take a picture of a flower with your camera or smart phone

Mar. 17 — Read Psalm 23 outdoors

Mar. 18 — Contemplate the many uses of water

Mar. 19 — Do something to learn more about renewable energy

Mar. 20 — Read Colossians 1:15-20

Mar. 21 — Eat lunch outside

Mar. 22 — Water a flower

Mar. 23 — Savor the taste of something fresh

Mar. 24 — Visit and learn more about our national parks

Mar. 25 — Meditate on the words to “How Great Thou Art”

_CES1624I pray God will bless your journey through the season of Lent and that you will be drawn ever closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.




Mar 5 2014

Beauty From Ashes

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

dutchmen's-britchesToday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent.  It is a season that traditionally has carried a somber mood.  People use the days of Lent for penitence and as a preparation for the celebration of Easter.  The black ashes that are placed on the foreheads of believers is representative of Lent’s dark mood.  This year, however, I have noticed that a lot of people are challenging the idea that Lent must be so somber and dark.  Yes, it is meant to be a time to look inward but it should also include the idea of darkness being overcome by light.  Appropriately enough, the word Lent means “lengthening.”  This special time in the liturgical year always comes when the days are lengthening with the arrival of Spring.

On a couple of blogs I have even seen suggestions that Lent is a great time for people to get outdoors and to contemplate what is happening in the natural world.  During the Lenten season not only will the hours of daylight become longer and longer, we will also witness the renewal of the earth as flowers blossom, trees bud, and the wildlife absent during the winter months make a reappearance.  Spring is a glorious time in the world of nature.  The greening of the earth in locations like where I live remind us that the gloom of winter does not have the final word.  Darkness gives way to light; what appears dead is revealed to be full of life.

wild-geraniumsNeedless to say, I concur with those who say Lent is a wonderful time to get outdoors.  That does not mean I believe that the somber spirit of Lent should be totally eliminated or that acts of penitence are not appropriate.  I just happen to believe we need the balance that nature can provide to the season.  By all means I need to take notice of the darkness that still yet resides in my soul.  It would be foolish of me to deny or ignore those areas where I am not what my Creator desires for me.  But if I focus on only the darkness and sin in my life I could easily succumb to despair.  I hardly think that is what God desires.

What I do believe God desires is that each of us experience a renewal not unlike that which we observe in the realm of nature.  Our goal is hardly to linger in the darkness but to move more and more into the light.  Lent calls for Spring in our souls.  And just as the lengthening of the hours of daylight takes time, so does the lengthening of the light within us.  Lent reminds us that the spiritual journey is not a short one.  It also serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of the spiritual life.  Spring will follow Winter, but Summer and Autumn will also come.  Behind these Winter will reappear and then, of course, once again Spring and so forth.

Kingdom-Come-SP-Raven-Rock-springRight now people around here are eager for winter to transition to spring.  It has been a long cold winter.  Hopefully we are just as eager to experience the renewal of our souls.  Lent gives us a chance to help make this happen if we will let God’s two books, the Scriptures and the Creation, guide our steps.  It is indeed my hope and prayer that beauty will rise forth from the ashes of this day in your life and mine.


Feb 20 2013

“Sheddin’ Time” Part 2

_CES0539In my last post I talked about “sheddin’ time.”  I made some comparisons between deer shedding their antlers this time of year and the season of Lent when we, too, are beckoned to shed some things.  In Sunday’s entry I suggested that Lent is a great time to look inward and discover what bad habits or sins there may be that need to be shed.  The day after I wrote that blog I talked to my co-writer, Rob Sheppard, on the phone and he mentioned that for many of us there is also a need to shed some of our possessions.  I realize that this is not likely to be a popular topic but it does deserve some attention.

_CES6082I suspect that the vast majority of us have far more possessions than we really need.   Some people, like me, cannot park in their garages because they are filled with so much junk.  Others have to build sheds or rent storage bins to store all their extra possessions.  The clutter can be overwhelming and at times even sinful.  Do I really need ten jackets?  Certainly not when there are people in the community who have none.  Do I really need 17,000 books?  I say “yes” but Rob says “no” and as much as I hate to admit it, Rob is probably right.  In fact, I actually do have so many books that I’ve been known to purchase books I have, forgetting I already own them.  Not good!

Henry David Thoreau once gave this wonderful advice: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”   If we could follow this advice each of our lives would be richer and less complicated.  Jesus, knowing all too well our tendency to collect more than we need, once said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-20)  I shudder to think just exactly what he would say today to those of us who have invested ourselves so heavily into the material world.

bison-and-calfOur unbridled consumerism has taken a toll not only on our souls but also upon the environment.  Natural resources have been used up unnecessarily.  It is becoming harder and harder to find space for landfills to deposit all the extra stuff we discard.  Excessive consumerism likewise contributes to the pollution of the air and our waterways.  In the end there is a far greater cost to our purchases than most of us imagine.

So, yes, once again, perhaps we ought to view the season of Lent as “sheddin’ time.”  In these weeks leading up to Easter maybe we could all take a closer look at what we have and see if there are some things we can shed and give away.  This form of recycling could actually benefit many who are in need, while at the same time giving us more freedom from “stuff.”

If you are interested in exploring a number of different ways you can simplify your life, I’d encourage you to check out Nancy Sleeth’s newest book, Almost Amish.  I think you would find it helpful.  Good luck in the adventure and please wish me the same!


(I took the top image at Acadia National Park in Maine; the middle image at my home in Pikeville, KY; and the bottom image in South Dakota.)

Feb 17 2013

“Sheddin’ Time”

whitetail-buckThis past Wednesday I was walking our dog, Sierra, in the back yard, when I came across something very interesting.  There on the ground before us was a beautiful antler left behind by a whitetail buck.   Just two days earlier I was telling a friend of mine that I had never seen a deer in our yard.  I still haven’t seen any deer there but I certainly have proof that they have been there.   When I posted a picture of the antler on Facebook another friend told me that this is “sheddin’ time” for deer, meaning that this is the season when deer typically drop or shed their antlers.  I had not heard that phrase before.

As I noted above, I found the antler on Wednesday.  That just so happened to be Ash Wednesday this year, the beginning of the season of Lent.  Lent is a forty day journey leading up to Easter.  It is a time when Christians are encouraged to do some self-examination and repent of their sins.  In some ways Lent might also be called “sheddin’ time.”  As we focus on the sacrifice of Christ we, too, may need to shed or drop a few things.

Whitetail-buck-in-frostAt the beginning of Hebrews 12 the biblical writer says “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked for us.” (v. 1)  The image painted here is that of a runner who throws off his robe, or anything else that might slow him down, in the race he is running.  There can be no denying that we all have sins and bad habits that slow us down in our Christian journey.  These need to be shed.  Lent is a good time to do so.

antler 531In Colossians 3 the apostle Paul writes: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (vs. 9-10)  The picture painted here is a bit different than the previous one.  Here Paul depicts dirty clothes being cast aside and fresh, clean clothes being put on instead.  He says a couple of verses later: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (v. 12)  Once again, there can be no denying that we all have dirty laundry–harmful attitudes and actions–that need to be shed.  Lent is a good time to do so.

It is currently “sheddin’ time” in the world of nature.  Hopefully it will also be “sheddin’ time” for many of us in our spiritual lives as well.


(I photographed the two whitetail bucks at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The bottom image shows the antler as I found it this past Wednesday.)

Feb 17 2010

Solitude and Lent

bison 154In a number of instances we are told that Jesus went off by himself to pray.  The one who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” realized that he could not do what he was supposed to without time alone with God.  This is something we should all recognize.

In observing wildlife over the years I’ve noticed that frequently you will find animals that are typically found in groups or packs all alone.  I’m sure there is some pragmatic reason for them doing so.  We have a pragmatic reason as well; our souls need solitude.  We may have been created social creatures but we still need time away from others and time alone with our Maker.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  We start today a 40 day (not counting Sundays) journey to Easter.  For centuries Christians have been encouraged to use this time for introspection.  We are called to remember our sins and our need for a Savior.  Most of us would prefer to forget our sins, and  many don’t like to be reminded that they can’t save themselves, but the season of Lent demands that we do so.  

Someone once said, “We must come apart or we will come apart.”  The season of Lent is a good time for us to make time for solitude.  It’s a  lonesome pine 852good time for us to slow down and look within.  The discipline of examining one’s sins is not meant to be a demoralizing experience; it is meant to bring us closer to the One who died for our sins and rose again the first Easter.

I would suggest you consider using the Psalmist’s prayer in the coming weeks: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)  Find some time alone each day to offer this prayer and to enjoy being in the presence of the One who made you (and the rest of Creation) and loves you most.


  (The images above were made on my recent trip to Yellowstone.)