Jan 7 2015

Divine Lessons From a Tree

e_DSC0863Many years ago while in seminary I took a class called The Classics of Christian Devotion.  It turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire graduate school experience.  Over the course of the semester the professor, Glenn Hinson, introduced us to many of the true “classics” of Christian literature.  We read and studied works by people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a’ Kempis, William Law, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly.  One of the books that inspired me the most was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who earnestly desired an intimate relationship with God and developed a method whereby he disciplined himself to “practice” being aware of God’s presence every possible moment.  He said this eventually enabled him to feel God’s presence just as keenly while he was washing dishes in the monastery as when he shared Holy Communion.

e_DSC5134Earlier today I learned something I did not know about Brother Lawrence.  My friend Michael Boone shared on his Facebook page “R120” a passage from the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that tells how a tree played an instrumental role in Brother Lawrence’s spiritual development:  “In the deep of winter, Herman (his name before he was a monk) looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”

I find this to be a fascinating story and also yet one more reminder of how Creation serves as God’s “other Book.”  From the very beginning God has used the world of nature to speak to us.  Creation has many divine lessons to teach us but in order for us to learn these lessons we have to be open to instruction and also careful observers of God’s handiwork.

e_CES0370It is interesting that Brother Lawrence’s experience occurred in “the deep of winter.”  We are in that season now.  As you look around you this time of year what do you see in the natural world that might be offering you divine lessons?  The lesson Brother Lawrence received was a great one indeed but there are many others just as wonderful waiting to be discovered by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  We would all be wise to start paying more attention.

–Chuck

(I took the top image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the bottom image at John James Audubon State Park.)


Aug 25 2013

The Moon and Stars

_CES7969In recent days I’ve had occasion to do some photography of the night sky.  While visiting Michael Boone in Washington State I photographed the Milky Way from his driveway.  It had been a long time since I was able to see that many stars at one time.  A few days ago I saw the beautiful full moon rise as I was walking our dog and quickly ran home to get my camera and telephoto lens so that I could capture an image of it.  It was quite a sight sitting over the neighbor’s house.

_CES1966Both opportunities remind me of something the Psalmist said long ago.  In Psalm 8 David declared, “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, the son of man that you care for him?” (v. 3-4)  There can be no doubt that David felt what so many of us have when viewing the night sky–an incredible sense of smallness.  Had he known what we know today he might have felt even smaller.  There’s no way he could have known then that the moon was 238,900 miles above his Judean home.  Nor would he have have known that there are around 100,000 million stars in the Milky Way alone.  Some recent studies indicate that the total number of stars in the universe might exceed 300 sextillion (that’s 3 followed by 23 zeros).  Still, what David saw and knew was enough for him to feel humbled before the Creator and “the work of your fingers.”

David wondered how the One who put the moon and stars in their place could possibly be mindful of him or care for him.  As he expresses this wonder it is not that he is doubtful that God is mindful of him or lacks concern.  Quite the opposite!  David was very much aware of God’s concern for him; he just found it hard to believe as he gazed into the heavens.  He’s certainly not the only one to have had this problem.  I know that God loves me immensely but when I look up at the heavens at night, or across the Grand Canyon, or at the summit of Mount McKinley I find that knowledge all the more amazing.  I feel so small.  So insignificant.

GC-Imperial-PointIn Psalm 147 it says God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (v. 4)  That is unfathomable to me for it means God knows over 300 sextillion stars by name!  In the spirit of David, what blows my mind in light of this is that he knows my name too.  In John 10:3 Jesus talked about how the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  The God who knows the stars by name also knows your name and mine.  Elsewhere Jesus added that he even knows the number of hairs upon our head. (Luke 12:7)  That’s pretty amazing, is it not?

I have no doubt that the moon and stars will continue to make me feel small and insignificant at times but they also serve as constant reminders that I am not insignificant at all.  The God who made them knows and loves me.  The God who made them knows and loves you too.  That knowledge is enough to drive a person to his or her knees.  It is at the same time enough to make one stand tall.

–Chuck

(I describe the top two images in the text.  I took the bottom image showing the Grand Canyon from Imperial Point several years ago.)


Aug 18 2013

“Singing Skies and Dancing Waters”

_CES0180While being driven around the North Cascades last week my traveling companion, Michael Boone, played for me some of his favorite music.  At one point he played an old John Denver song I don’t remember hearing before.  I immediately fell in love with it.  I liked the melody a lot but it was the words that really affected me.  By all appearances the song seems to be written with God in mind and how Denver at one point in his life came to experience God in singing skies and dancing waters, laughing children growing old, and in the heart and in the spirit, and in the truth when it is told.”

_CES0352In the middle of the song he seems to allude to a time when he did not feel God’s presence and how he came to sense it once again.  Here are the words: “My life became shady, and I grew afraid, and I needed to find my way home.  I just couldn’t see you, I thought that I’d lost you; I never felt so much alone.  Are you still with me?   Somehow in reason, I lost sight of seasons;  I’m growin’ out, growin’ in.  Sometimes in evenings, when daylight was needed I thought I’d never see you again.  Are you still with me?  Are you still with me?”  It is here that God answers him: “I’m with you in singing skies and dancing waters, laughing children growing old; and in the heart and in the spirit, and in the truth when it is told.”

At the end of the song Denver looks to the future and sings, “If my faith should falter and I should forsake you, and find myself turning away, will you still be there?   Will you still be there?”  Once again God answers him, “I’ll be there in singing skies and dancing waters, laughing children growing old.  And in the heart and in the spirit and in the truth when it is told.”

_CES0928I love the way the song is put together.  It is a very honest reminder that things we learn at one point in life may be forgotten and the lesson needs to be repeated.  It also seems to be an admission of the struggle that is universal in the faith journey.  We believe something now but will we believe it tomorrow?  Will we need to learn all over again, and come to accept once more, truths from the past?

Destruction Falls 526I appreciate John Denver’s reminder that among the places God can be found is in “singing skies and dancing waters.”  That has certainly been my experience.   I have felt God’s presence in the beauty of His Creation innumerable times.  There have, however, also been times in my life when God has not seemed near.  I bet that is true for you as well.  When those lonely and painful times come it is nice to be reminded that God is present in very visible and visceral ways through nature.  And if, for some reason, we worry about whether God will be there for us down the road it might not be a bad idea to pull up this song and hear God say once again, “I’ll be there in singing skies and dancing waters, laughing children growing old.  And in the heart and in the spirit and in the truth when it is told.”

Thank you, John Denver!

–Chuck

(I took all of the images above in Washington State’s North Cascades.)


Aug 11 2013

Thankful for “Do Overs”

_CES0428The past few days I have been in North Cascades National Park.  This is my first time here.  I have wanted to photograph this park for quite some time and was certainly hoping that I could capture some beautiful images.  My guide for this adventure has been Michael Boone, founder of R120, an organization committed to helping others see and experience God in Creation. The first morning we made our way up to Cascade Pass.  I immediately began composing images of the mountain peaks and glaciers. I liked what I saw and looked forward to viewing my images that evening when we got to the hotel.

_CES0439Late that evening I downloaded my pictures and when I began looking at them I was very disappointed. I had made several mistakes that I typically don’t make. I felt bad that I had blown a wonderful opportunity. I knew I could go back to the same area the following day but certainly had no guarantee that the conditons would be as good as they had been that day. Past experience had taught me that you don’t always get “do overs” when it comes to nature photography. The following morning we did go back up to Cascade Pass and thankfully the conditions were just as good as the day before. I was able to make up for the mistakes I had made the previous day and ended up quite pleased with my images. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the second chance I was given.

As I offered a prayer of thanks for getting a “do over” I was reminded that the God of Creation is One whose specialty is offering people second chances.  This is something I will forever be grateful for.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes taking pictures over the years but those are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of mistakes I have made in life.  I have blown it more times than I could count.  This could cause me to give up in despair but the good news presented in the Scriptures is that God permits “do overs.”  By his mercy and grace every day is a new beginning.  God forgives the mistakes we make and allows us to start anew.  Each day we receive “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

_CES0393I was able to get better pictures by trying again the second day.  Had I not done so needless to say I wouldn’t have the pictures I do now.  I took advantage of the opportunity I was given.  We have to do the same thing with the gift of each new day.  We need to accept God’s forgiveness and mercy and try again.  Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and do better.  That is certainly God’s intention.  Some of us, of course, are slow learners.  If you’re one of them, don’t despair because come tomorrow you will be granted yet another “do over.”  That is why they call God’s grace “amazing!”

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above were taken the second day at Cascade Pass.)


Aug 7 2013

How Then Shall We Rule?

rainbow and fallsWhile flying across country yesterday for a photo trip I had a chance to do some reading.  One of the books I read from was When Heaven and Nature Sing by Edward R. Brown. In the part I read he addressed a biblical passage I have struggled with a bit, Psalm 8:6-8.  In this passage the Psalmist says concerning humans, “Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.”  In previous entries I have discussed the meaning of the word “dominion” in Genesis 1 and indicated that this implied caring for the earth instead of ruling over it. Does Psalm 8 contradict what I’ve said?

Destruction Falls 526Brown tackles that question in his book. He say that before we conclude that humans have ultimate power over Creation we need to remember how Psalm 8 both begins and ends. Verse 1 says “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.”  The last verse of the psalm echoes verse one: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  Brown calls these the “Divine Bookends.”  He says whatever is said in the middle of the psalm must be bracketed by these words. He believes that they “affirm God’s control and sovereignty over us, his people” and that “our authority over God’s creation begins and ends with God’s authority over us.”  That certainly makes sense.  I believe it was Ernest T. Campbell who once preached a sermon on this subject and concluded that we may be “over nature” but that we always remain “under God.”  We are responsible to Him for how we rule over the rest of Creation.

plants 564Brown explores the ramifications of this.  He says, “The actions, purposes and goals we pursue in our management of God’s creation must reflect God’s purposes for us.  We should be pursuing God’s goals for creation and we can best do that by looking at the goals God has as he cares for us.  It’s like a creation-wide version of the golden rule:  Not just that we should ‘do unto others as we want them to do unto us’ but that we should care for all of creation as God cares for us.”  He goes on to write, “God’s care for us is in every case almost the opposite of how we act toward creation. God gives; we take.  God seeks our best. Those God cares for blossom and flourish under his care.  We, by contrast, seek from creation what is best for ourselves.  Creation withers and dies under our hands.”

elk 327There can be no denying that the Bible teaches that God has given humans a special role to play in His Creation but in the end God must determine how we fulfill that special role, not us.  It should be our goal to rule the earth as God would.  That means that in relating to the earth, as in all of our other relationships and actions, we ought to pause and ask “What would God (or Jesus) do?” before doing something.  Do you think things would be different today if all of God’s children had done that through history?  I do.

–Chuck

(I am blessed to be in western Washington this week with R120’s Michael Boone.  All of the images shown here were taken today.)


Oct 8 2012

Stretched Thin

Editor’s Note: Today we have a special guest writing for Seeing Creation.  Michael Boone is a financial consultant based in Bellevue, Washington, and also creator of R120, an organization with a Facebook page dedicated to sharing information related to nature and spirituality.  Rob and I are grateful for Michael’s willingness to share today’s entry.  Chuck

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” –  Bilbo Baggins, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”.

It seems we are too often stretched so thin these days that we snap at the slightest tap. In our efforts to maximize everything that can be quantitatively measured we have lost many immeasurable qualities, misplaced unseen resilience. Though we know it isn’t sustainable, our nation mirrors our own personal tension as we borrow against endless tomorrows to satisfy today’s needs. Fortunately, God offers us a different model.  “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield,  but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.” – Exodus 23:10-12 (ESV)

All of Creation was made for the rhythm of Sabbath. God tells us that six days work is enough to save up for seven days of living. Six years work with saving is enough for seven years living with the extra fruitfulness left for the poor and beasts to gather what they need. There is a safety margin built in to this model as we pay in advance for our rest rather than borrow it from the future. But instead we have taken what we have saved for our Sabbath and spent it as a down payment attached to 30-years of Sabbath-less interest payments. Foolishly, we have spent not only our future money but, as we will learn if we haven’t discovered it yet, our future time, as well. Our personal and collective financial imprudence is a symptom of our low regard for God’s command of Sabbath and the restorative and resilience-building power of rest.

We have much to learn about rest from watching Creation. Seasons of fruit bearing are followed by seasons of root building. Times of rapid growth are followed by a lull, a time of consolidation.  Our own frenzied activity must be balanced with periods of reflection that allow room not only for rest, but the creative solutions that a rested mind invents. Warren Bennis writes in his book “Why Leaders Can’t Lead”: “The leader should incorporate a reflective arena into his or her structure, so that time out for musing is mandatory. I’m not speaking here of the sort of retreats that organizations have recently become so fond of, because they are usually the same old routine in a new location. If people in authority stopped regularly to think about what they were doing, they would have the kinds of fresh insights they now pay consultants dearly for.” 

If we are to adopt a sustainable rhythm of life and not snap under pressure of our own making, it will be because we learned not only the importance of rest, but also the deep wisdom of Sabbath that God has written into both scripture and Creation.

–Michael Boone

(To illustrate Michael’s blog I chose an image I took in the Alabama Hills of California and two from national parks in Michael’s home state–Mt. Rainier and Olympic. CS)