Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “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?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)


Apr 29 2012

“The Good Life”

In a few hours I will begin a journey that will take me out west to the Chihuahuan desert.  This desert region is found mostly in Mexico but does extend into southern New Mexico and Texas.  The only section of this desert that I’ve visited before was at White Sands National Monument.  I am looking forward to getting to explore other portions of it as I photograph Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park.

While doing some preparatory reading for this adventure I picked up John A. Murray’s book, Cactus Country.  Here I found these words: “Like any desert, the Chihuahuan has much to teach us about nature and life, especially the good life.  It is a place to get outside of time for awhile, to listen to the song of oriole and the breeze in cottonwood leaves, to watch the sun rise and the sun set, to look up at the distant stars in renewed wonder.”

I agree with Murray that the desert, along with other ecosystems, has much to teach us about nature and life, “especially the good life.”  I don’t know for sure what Murray meant by “good life” but for me it is the life God meant for us when He created the world.  I believe that the Creator put the world together in such a way that we can, if we pay attention, learn much about life and how it is meant to be lived.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading from the Book of Proverbs before going to bed at night.  Numerous times in this wonderful collection of wisdom the writer discerns lessons from the natural world.  In Proverbs 30 alone the biblical writer makes references to the earth’s winds and waters, its land and fire.  Further references are made in this chapter to ravens and vultures, eagles, snakes, badgers, locusts, lizards, lions, roosters, and goats.  Even the lowly ant is mentioned as an example of something small, but wise, since ants “store up their food in the summer.” (v. 25)

I encourage you to learn about nature and life, especially the good life, from your surroundings.  People have been doing so since the beginning of time.  I know school will soon be getting out for a lot of folks but maybe it’s time for some of us to just begin.  May we all be open to learning what we can about the “good life” through the Scriptures and God’s “other book.”

–Chuck

(I took the two images above at White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico.)


Dec 7 2011

Losing Touch

Today I’ll be flying back to Kentucky. I’ve had a wonderful trip to New Mexico. Much of the trip was dedicated to photographing ancient Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) ruins in the northwestern part of the state. I have been reading a lot about the Anasazi Indians over the past year or two. I am fascinated by both their architecture and culture. We should give thanks that many of their ruins have been preserved and are now protected by the National Park Service.

 

As I’ve walked in the various locations this past week I’ve thought a lot about how close the connection was between the Anasazi and the land they inhabited. In both a literal and symbolic way they lived very close to the earth. Due to necessity they had to; their survival depended on it. Their close connection with nature appears, however, to have gone far beyond just using it to survive. They saw a spiritual element in nature as well. This is reflected in the petroglyphs and pictographs they left behind, as well as in the way they constructed many of their kivas or places of worship.

I’m afraid that in modern times most people have lost touch with nature. We live and work in buildings that do not depend on the sun for light. Our homes are climate controlled and we do not have to worry about where or how we will get our food. The Anasazi paid very close attention to the cycles of both the sun and moon. They were quite conscious of the changing seasons and how the varying temperatures would affect them. They struggled to grow their own food. The differences between their connection with nature and ours is immense.

When I was growing up both homes I lived in had woods nearby that I could play in and explore. I have a feeling that my time spent in the woods early on has made an impact on my love for God’s Creation today. My family would occasionally make camping trips when I was young and some of my earliest childhood memories include a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I believe this early exposure to nature was pivotal for me. I would even include these memories as part of my spiritual formation.

Having said all this, here is my concern. Most of the children I know today have little exposure to nature and the outdoors. Instead of being out enjoying and learning about God’s Creation they’re mostly indoors playing video games, watching t.v. and chatting on Facebook. Many kids today haven’t got a clue where their food comes from, how the tilt of the earth affects the seasons, or the names of the birds that fly by their windows. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s not much different with their parents.

We truly are losing touch with nature and we are definitely not better off for it. This loss of connection cannot help but hinder us spiritually. If God makes Himself known through His Creation, as the Bible says, then we are missing out on much when we fail to connect with the world around us. I hope and pray more  people will recognize this and begin to reconnect with the natural world. Perhaps you could help someone do just that…

–Chuck

 (The top image was taken at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  The middle image was taken at Salmon Ruins National Monument.  The bottom image was taken at Bandelier National Monument.)


Sep 18 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

“First of all, we must be present to ourselves.” –Thomas Merton

I have a trip coming up in a couple of weeks to Maine.  I love New England in the fall and am really looking forward to returning to that beautiful part of our country.  I’ve pulled out all my travel books for the areas I plan to photograph and even ordered a few more.  This is all well and good.  It’s what I should be doing prior to a photo trip.  But while all this is going on I’ve already started planning a trip to New Mexico later in the year.  Now I have not only books on Maine lying around the house, I’ve got books and maps of New Mexico scattered about as well. 

This may sound crazy but I’m having trouble focusing on the Maine trip because I’ve been thinking more about the New Mexico adventure.  Part of the reason may be that I will be revisiting sites in Maine I have already photographed, whereas in New Mexico I plan to visit several areas I’ve never visited.  Still, you would think I’d be able to focus on the trip that comes first.

What is even crazier is due to all of my planning and looking forward to the trips which are yet to come I have hardly paid notice to what’s going on in the natural world around me here and now.  Midweek I received a book in the mail from my blogging partner, Rob.  Interestingly enough, the subtitle of the book is “Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.”  I had already started thinking about the madness of my always looking ahead and not living in the moment so when I got this book I felt compelled on Friday to go outside and see what was happening in my own yard.  The pictures you see here were all taken in my yard that day over about a twenty minute time frame.  When I made the effort to look there was plenty of beauty all around me.  It didn’t require any research or maps, no plane tickets or rental cars.  All it took was a deliberate act of living in the moment right where I was.

So, yes, I’m still crazy after all these years, but hopefully I’m learning.  And what I have written about here today goes far beyond just photography or viewing nature.  I fear that many of us miss out on much that God wants to show or tell us  day by day because we are too focused on either the past or the future.  The Psalmist declared, This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalm 118:24)  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.  This day, today, is a gift from God.  My primary job is to make the most of it.  I should strive to use all of my senses today to enjoy God’s Creation.  I should strive with all I have this day to love God and those around me.  Today, I should strive to live in the moment and be fully present.  And unless you’re crazy, so should you.

–Chuck