Sep 9 2016

“Watchin’ and Listenin'”

wy-yellowstone-np-grand-prismatic-springLast night I decided it was time for me to reread C. S. Lewis’ classic series The Chronicles of Narnia.  I began with the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.  It is in this volume that Lewis tells the story of the founding of Narnia.  It will be obvious to most people that Lewis’ tale parallels to a certain degree the Creation story found in Genesis 1.

wy-yellowstone-np-lower-falls-vThe beginnings of Narnia are witnessed by a handful of humans from earth and a wicked witch that have travelled through time and space by using some magic rings. They all witness the arrival of the lion Aslan and his singing the new world into creation.  They do not, however, all witness this in the same way.  The two children are in awe of what they see.  The witch ends up running off in fear.  Another character immediately begins to see the potential for making a fortune from what was being created before his very eyes.  After this same character offers a complaint while so many wonderful things were happening all around him a different character says to him, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present, not talking.”

I think these words are some a lot of us need to pay heed to when we stand before God and God’s Creation. Even now God’s Creation continues to unfold all around us.  Like the characters in the book, we too are witnesses of God’s ongoing Creation.  The Bible makes it clear that God is not finished with the work He started long ago.  God is creating still.  As we witness this ongoing work we would be wise to do more watching and listening than talking.  We’ll see, hear, and learn a lot more that way.

wy-yellowstone-np-giant-geyserA couple of weeks ago Rob Sheppard came to visit me and I was reminded how lax I had become in listening to Creation. Living near Los Angeles, California, Rob does not get to hear the sounds he was hearing where I live.  He opened the window in our guest room so he could hear the crickets and cicadas.  When we walked through John James Audubon State Park he commented on the sounds of the forest.  All of the sounds he pointed out were common ones that I no longer really pay attention to.  I guess I’ve come to take them for granted.  That is not good.  In order to get the most out of God’s “Other Book” I need to do more “watchin’ and listenin’.”  I suspect a lot of people do.  Perhaps recognizing that is a first step in moving toward a greater experience of God through Creation.  I hope so anyway.


(I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.  This is one spot where God’s ongoing work of Creation seems pretty obvious.)

Oct 28 2015

Beyond Seeing

SC 10-15 5Nature is a place rich with beauty and experiences. Recently, I traveled and photographed with Chuck taking a cross section of California on a course from east to west from the Eastern Sierras to the Pacific Ocean. We saw desert, mountain tops, brilliant fall color, snow, heat, small but ancient trees, giant trees, flat farmland, rolling grassland, and ocean. This showed us an amazing sampler of God’s creation.

Eastern Sierras and Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CaliforniaBefore the trip, I had been reading a book by Patrice Vecchione, Step Into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life. I have quite enjoyed reading this book. In the book, the author encourages us to connect deeply with nature in many ways, including through all of our senses.

So I decided to deliberately do this as I photographed. I felt the wood of the ancient bristlecone pine and smelled their needles. I listened to the silence of the mountain where the bristlecone lived. I felt the lichens growing there (I had no idea that they were so rough!).

SC 10-15 2 SC 10-15 4I knelt in snow and felt it’s cold and wet. I sat on a volcanic rock in the desert and felt the huge difference in temperature from sun to shade. I heard the silence of the desert. I knocked on a giant sequoia tree and understood the thick insulation of the bark. I heard the gentle sounds of a morning forest.

SC 10-15 3I felt, smelled, and heard my way across the state while also seeing scenes and subjects to capture with my camera. Connecting with nature in this way may or may not have affected what I photographed, but it definitely affected how and what I saw. Plus it slowed me down and really made me feel part of each location.

God has given us an amazing world to celebrate and connect with. By going beyond the obvious that we see with our eyes, by touching, feeling, smelling, listening, we can encounter a richer experience with God through His Creation.

– Rob

Jan 29 2014

Listening from the Heart

SC jan 2014-3The poet Mark Nepo asks, “Can you refresh your ethic of wonder by listening to the earth?” (From his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen.) That thought has some very interesting ideas in it.

Nepo uses listening in a broader, deeper sense than merely hearing things with our ears. He also intends this to mean listening, connecting with the heart. For me, connecting with the heart in nature is enhanced by my photography, and not simply by the photographs. As I photograph, I shut out other things. I try to open my heart and listen to what the nature in front of me is telling me it needs. I think good photography is always about the photographer and the subject and how they connect. Photography becomes superficial and trite when it becomes merely surface where the photographer imposes some sort of arbitrary technique on the scene rather than hearing what the scene wants to tell him or her.

SC jan 2014-4Still, sometimes I forget to listen and get all excited about my way of photographing what is in front of me. The photograph starts then to be about me and not about the subject. It is then ego and not connection. Wayne Dwyer says that EGO means Edging God Out and I think that can be true.

I think Nepo’s idea of refreshing our ethic of wonder is pretty remarkable. That is a very spiritual point of view. ‘Refresh” and ethic are core to a spiritual life and to religion. Jesus himself says in John 3:3 – “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” There is not much that is more about “refresh” than being born again or about the “spirit” than the kingdom of God. Last year Chuck talked about how important our world is as it is connected to the kingdom of God, again noted by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer, “… Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”

SC jan 2014-5Being born again spiritually to the wonder of nature on earth – that seems like a pretty good idea. Photography helps me do that. I believe nature is an amazing expression of God’s art and it is worth paying attention to it, deeply paying attention from the heart. That means shedding off the ego and being open to what nature has to say to us about the world, about us, about God.

SC jan 2014-1

The photos here are all from a recent trip to Florida.

— Rob

Feb 21 2010

Listening With Your Eyes

Jenny-Wiley-SP-last-light-“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him…?” Psalm 8:3-4

This past week I read Mitch Albom’s new book, Have a Little Faith.  This book is similar in many ways to his earlier bestseller, Tuesday’s With Morrie.  One of the main characters in the new book is Mitch’s childhood rabbi and scattered throughout are brief passages from his rabbi’s sermons.  The following one caught my attention.

“A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class.  She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner. ‘Mom, guess what?’ she squealed, waving the drawing.  Her mother never looked up.  ‘What?’ she said, tending to the pots.  ‘Guess what?’ the child repeated, waving the drawing.  ‘What?’ said the mother, tending to the plates.  ‘Mom, you’re not listening.’  ‘Sweetie, yes I am.’  ‘Mom,’ the child said, ‘you’re not listening with your eyes.’”

I love the idea of listening with your eyes.  There is so much God has to say to us in His Creation but a lot of us are not listening, not with our eyes anyway.  We tend to think we can only hear with our ears but that is not true.  In many instances we will have to use our eyes to hear what God is saying to us.

In viewing the beauty of his handiwork we might hear Him say how much He loves us.  In observing some of the devastation caused by our own hands we might hear Him say that we have work to do to restore His Creation.  In noticing the incredible detail in tiny flowers or lichens on rocks we may hear God say that He cares about every little detail in our lives.  Watching the moon rise we may hear His challenge to let our “lights shine before men.”

Like the little girl’s mother, some of us think we are listening to God when we’re really not.  The problem is we’re not listening with our eyes.


(The image above was taken at nearby Jenny Wiley State Park.)