Nov 20 2012

Created to be Creative

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1

In my posting this past Sunday I gave thanks for people who give and noted that giving connects us to God.  Since humans are created in the image of God we are meant to give.  Today I want to give thanks for those who are creative and share their gifts of creativity with others.  And here, too, I would suggest that our creativity connects us with God, the ultimate Creator.  Inherent in our status as those created in the image of God is our capacity to be creative.

Last night a friend of mine, whom I happen to believe is one of the best photographers there is, sent me a link to a new project he is working on.  When I saw the work he has produced using his photographic and computer skills I was blown away.  The images I viewed were some of the most creative and beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen.  My soul was moved by viewing my friend’s creative genius and I found myself giving thanks that God has given to us mortals the capacity for creativity.

I just so happen to be reading a book by Matthew Fox entitled Creativity right now.  In this work Fox says “Creativity, when all is said and done, may be the best thing our species has going for it.”  Later he goes on to add, “We are creators at our very core.  Only creating can make us happy, for in creating we tap into the deepest powers of self and universe and the Divine Self.  We become co-creators, that is, we create with other forces of society, universe, and the Godself when we commit to creativity.” 

The first thing we learn about God in the Scriptures is that He created the heavens and the earth.  As we look at the heavens and the earth we quickly learn that God is not only the Creator but that He is also unbelievably creative.  All of Creation bears witness to God’s creativity.  To those made in His image God chose to bestow the capacity to likewise be creative.  Fox notes that humankind’s capacity for creativity has a dark side; it can be used for evil as well as for good.  Needless to say, God’s intention is that we use this gift, along with all His other gifts, for good.  After God completed His work on each day of Creation He declared “It is good.”  Hopefully we can do the same concerning own own creative efforts.

It is my desire to use my own capacity for creativity for good.  I certainly don’t have the same creative genius my photographer friend has but that will not keep me from trying to do the best I can.  I think that’s all God expects of us anyway—to take what gifts He has given us and use them to the best of our ability.  I know my life has been incredibly blessed by a lot of photographers, poets, painters, sculptors, musicians and writers who have done just that.  This Thanksgiving I will pause to offer thanks for their good stewardship of God’s wonderful gift of creativity.  You might want to do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at a creek near Frankfort, KY; the middle image at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico; and the bottom image at Muir Woods in California.)


Nov 14 2012

“The Root of Religious Experience”

A couple of nights ago I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Dr. Matthew Fox at the University of Pikeville.  Since the subject of Fox’s presentation was  “Creation Spirituality” I was asked to do a multimedia program featuring images of nature I have taken over the years.  Considering all that Matthew Fox has done to help people connect Christianity and Creation I felt it was quite an honor to be part of the program.

More than once during the course of his lecture Matthew mentioned how awe, wonder, mystery and gratitude are the root of religious experience.  When he said this it helped me realize why I feel so close to God when I am outdoors enjoying nature.  All four things he mentioned are common occurrences when I go out to hike or photograph.

I could not begin to count the times I have experienced awe in God’s Creation.  I felt it as I viewed the northern lights for the first time in Alaska.  I felt it when I first gazed down into Bryce Canyon.   Every time I have watched a glacier calve or a humpback whale breach I have known awe.  I could say the same thing about my first glimpses of the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.  Time after time my jaw hasdropped as I stood in awe before the handiwork of God.

I have likewise experienced the kindred feeling of wonder.   Seeing things like the majestic formations in Carlsbad Caverns, the great sand dunes of Death Valley and the lava flows from volcanoes in Hawaii have left me feeling wonderful or, more accurately, full of wonder.    I have likewise felt full of wonder as I’ve watched a newborn fawn take its first steps, seen thousands of snow geese rise simultaneously at Bosque del Apache or caught a glimpse of the moonbow at Cumberland Falls.

There is much in God’s Creation that I find mysterious.   Simply looking at the Milky Way on a clear winter’s night I sense the mystery of both life and Creation.  Even the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is full of mystery to me.   The same can be said about the way many plants and animals adapt to and thrive in conditions that would not seem conducive to life.  I often find myself scratching my head in amazement at the mystery that surrounds us every day.

Finally, all the experiences of awe, wonder and mystery that I’ve enjoyed have led me to a profound sense of gratitude.  I feel so incredibly blessed just to be alive and to be able to see and hear and smell and taste and touch all the wonders of God’s Creation.  Such experiences cause people everywhere to feel grateful and to express thanksgiving.  Those who are wise know Who to thank.

In God’s “Other Book,” Creation, we are introduced to the Creator.  In His written Word we come to understand even more fully just how awesome, wonderful, and mysterious God is and why it is so imperative that we move on to the practice of gratitude and worship.  The Psalmist said, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,  for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”  (Ps. 95:6-7) Once you’ve encountered awe, wonder and mystery how can you not do just that?   Fox is right.  These things truly are the root of religious experience.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Bosque del Apache NWR, the middle image in Carlsbad Caverns, and the bottom image at Bryce Canyon National Park.)

 


Nov 7 2012

God Is In Control!

Next week Dr. Matthew Fox will be speaking here in Pikeville.  I’m really excited about that for he is one of the persons most associated with “Creation Spirituality.”  He has written extensively on the subject and has also done much to show how what many consider to be a new movement in Christianity is actually quite ancient.  I’ve been reading a couple of Dr. Fox’s books in recent days.  In one of them, Creation Spirituality, I came across a passage that seemed most timely.  On the day after our national election a lot of people are feeling very discouraged, others are experiencing elation.  Perhaps something both groups should do is go for a walk.

In a chapter called “Gifts of Awe” Fox writes: “All who embark on a spiritual path need to be willing to learn to let go; to know that none of us has all the answers, and yet that none of us is apart from divinity; to be able to let go of bitterness or prolonged anger.  We can drive down a freeway and be full of anger, but we cannot walk down a pathway when filled with anger or bitterness.  We must be emptied to be able to walk the pathway of spirituality, and of course the walking itself will accomplish its own surprising emptying.”

Christians often use the language of walking to speak of the Christian life.  We talk about “walking the straight and narrow path.”   We use words like “journey” and “pilgrimage” to describe the calling to follow Jesus. This past Sunday in my sermon I even used one of my favorites sayings from my teenage years—“Don’t talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk.”  Perhaps this language might lead us to incorporate walking as a spiritual discipline.  I know that when I am stressed out or feeling down going for a walk in the woods always seems to help.  Walking has a way of helping me gain perspective, a way of enabling me to see the bigger picture.

Walking on a treadmill is an excellent way to exercise but I would suggest that when possible walking outdoors is far more beneficial for in addition to the physical exercise one gets on a treadmill there is also the calming and restoring powers of Creation.  There’s just something about being in nature that causes us to “let go” and to help us to realize that the world is bigger than us or any of our problems.  Even more important, time in Creation helps us remember that God is even bigger than that and “has the whole world in His hands.” 

Whether your candidate/party won or lost yesterday Creation reminds us today that God is still in control.  God brought this world into being, maintains it even now, and will one day bring it to an end—God and God alone.  In Matthew 6 Jesus went to great length to tell us that there is no need to worry.  He challenged us to “look at the birds” and to “consider the lilies.”  Jesus said God takes care of these and went on to add that we can rest assured that He will also take care of us.  We should all be putting our trust in our Creator, not any politician.  So go take a walk.  There may not be many lilies to consider this time of year but there is still plenty in nature shouting the good news, “Don’t worry, God is in control!”

–Chuck

(I took the trail image in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, the coneflower in Tennessee, and the sandhill cranes in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache.)


Jun 17 2012

Nature and Grace

Writing several centuries ago, the Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote “Nature and Grace are in harmony with each other.  For Grace is God and Nature is God.  Neither Nature nor Grace works without the other.  They may never be separated…  That Goodness that is Nature is God.  God is the Ground, the substance, the same that is Naturehood.  God is the true Father and Mother of Nature.”  I read these words a few days ago and have been giving them some thought.  They are certainly deep words.

I cannot help but wonder if someone during her time was making the claim that nature and grace are not in harmony with each other.  I assume that is possible.  If so, I like how Julian addressed this claim.  I think she is correct in seeing the source of both grace and nature in God.  The Bible is clear in noting that we would have neither apart from Him.   Since they have the same source it makes sense that nature and grace would be “in harmony with each other” and that neither “works without the other.”

What all this seems to be saying to me is that we can expect to experience God’s grace in Creation.  Certainly we experience that grace first and foremost in Jesus Christ but it is also to be found in the world Christ has made.  And just as we must open ourselves up to Christ in order to know and feel his grace, we must likewise open ourselves up to nature if we are to know and feel the grace that is to be found there.  Matthew Fox once said, “When we can no longer feel the grace of nature we need to pause and allow grace to bless us again.”  That is good advice.

Have you paused lately to allow the grace of God that is found in Creation to bless you?  Last week my wife and I went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate our anniversary.  We spent a good bit of time in those wonderful mountains and beside the streams that flow from them.  I must say that in those misty mountains I felt God’s grace.  And like Julian, I realized “that goodness that is nature is God.”  That is not to say that I see God and nature as one and the same, just that the One who is “the true Father and Mother of nature” has a wonderful way of bestowing grace upon us through Creation when we realize that the two truly are in harmony with each other.  I encourage you to live in this realization so that you might experience even more of God’s amazing grace in the days to come.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above last week on our anniversary trip to the Smokies.)