Dec 28 2015

Learning From the Lovely Chickadee

chickadee  532For Christmas I received a beautiful little book from a friend called Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide. I had not heard of this book and was excited to find another book that focuses on spiritual lessons that can be learned from birds. Last night I picked the book up and started reading it. I read the back cover first and was a bit surprised to discover that the author is “a third-degree Wiccan High Priestess in the Black Forest Clan.”  When I saw that my first response was “I bet my friend (one of my church members) didn’t realize that when she purchased this book for me.”  My second thought was “what in the world am I going to do with this book?”  I thought momentarily that this book might best be placed on a shelf and forgotten. Then I decided to at least give it a chance and started reading it. What I soon discovered is that although there are parts of the book that are strange and unappealing to me, other parts are filled with good information and insight.  I was once again reminded of one of the maxims I try to live my life by, “gold is gold wherever you find it.”

chickadee 039One nugget of gold I discovered was something the author wrote about chickadees. I learned that “the chickadee’s brain allows neurons and the associated old information to die each fall, in order to free up space to absorb new information and adapt anew to its environment.”  This made me think of my constant need to clear space on the hard drive of my computer so that I can store more images. The author of the book, however, spoke of a different analogy.  She raised the questions, “Are you holding on to old patterns, habits, opinions, and beliefs?  Is it time to shed them so that you can reexamine current information and situations, and form new opinions and plans? ” These are questions that definitely deserve our consideration, especially as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another.

chickadee 475Earlier today I came across an article on the internet that listed seven habits practiced by unhappy people. I was embarrassed to see how many of them I am guilty of. I found myself thinking that perhaps I needed to emulate the chickadee and let certain patterns of thinking die. In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Paul recognized that from time to time our minds need to be transformed. I suspect this includes, among other things, freeing up space in our minds by getting rid of those thoughts and thought patterns that are detrimental to us. It also includes letting God’s Spirit direct our thinking in more positive directions.

chickadee 955As we close out 2015 do you, like me, find yourself in need of freeing up some space in your thinking?   Like the lovely chickadee, we too have the ability to do precisely that. It would do us all a world of good if we would pray these words found at the end of Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”  If we actually let God lead us (and our thinking) we have much to look forward to in the coming year.

–Chuck

(I took the images of chickadees shown above when I lived in Pikeville, KY.)


Jan 1 2014

Consistency and Change

_CES8101Happy New Year!  2014 arrived just after midnight last night.  From what I have seen and heard many are excited about the arrival of a new year.  Others, it would seem, face the coming twelve months with a bit of fear and trepidation.  Some expect great things to come in 2014 while others expect the worse.  A million people gathered on the streets of New York City last night to party and bring in the new year, while untold millions did the same elsewhere.  Not an insignificant number, myself included, were already nestled in bed and sound asleep before the ball dropped, the horns sounded and everyone kissed.

_CES2906I will confess that the coming of a new year is not a big deal for me.  I think one reason a lot of people do get excited about the dawn of another year is that it represents a new beginning or a second chance.  For me, these are gifts of grace that God offers us each and every day.  This makes a new year less significant for me.  I guess I also lean heavily on the realist side, I know that a new year will no doubt bring some new changes but for the most part it will be more of the same.  Am I wrong about that?

e_CES0395Not just every year but every day we find a mixture of consistency and change.  Nature itself teaches us that.  Every morning the sun rises and each evening the sun sets.  Here we find a perfect example of consistency.  Not all sunrises and sunsets, however, are the same.  Some you do not actually witness due to clouds; others are pretty but not dramatic; while still others are incredibly dramatic.   Another good example from nature is the seasons.  Every year we have winter, spring, summer and autumn.  The sun will mark these by the solstices and equinoxes.  Here we find consistency.  How we experience those seasons each year, however, is not the same.  There will be some degree of variability in rain, snow, wind and/or temperature. This is the change that comes with the seasons.

Just by observing nature I can go out on a limb and make this bold prediction—2014 will be a year filled with consistency and change.  (Just kidding, there’s definitely nothing bold about that prediction but I am still sticking with it.)  What is far more difficult for me to predict is how we will respond to the sameness of life and the changes that will also come along.  It’s hard to predict because these are things each of us have a certain degree of control over.  We will not all respond the same way.

Change of any kind is frightening to a lot of people.  They are quite content with the way things are and change might threaten that contentment.  Such people do everything they can do avoid change.  Others love and are quick to embrace change.  Change brings excitement to their life and some will for this reason deliberately seek out change.  I tend to be more like the former group.  I like living in my comfort zone and am not prone to go seeking change.  Even though this is my tendency, I realize that it may not be the best way to live my life.  I also realize that I do not have to continue to fear or avoid change.  I can choose to live differently.  So can you.

_CES0722We also all have a choice when it comes to dealing with the consistent things in our lives.  Dealing with the consistent elements of life is not something that is often addressed but I feel it should be.  Too many people find that which is consistent boring and monotonous, not worthy of their attention.   We need to be careful that we do not lose our sense of awe and appreciation for those things that are basically the same every day.  If we do, we may find ourselves taking for granted the beautiful earth God has given us and also the people God has placed in our lives.  Thankfully, here too, we get to choose.

I’m not big on making New Year resolutions but if I were to make one today it might be to strive hard in the coming year to celebrate the wonder of it all—both the changing and the unchanging.

–Chuck

(I took all of the pictures in today’s post near my home in Henderson, KY.)

 


Jan 4 2012

New Beginnings Every Day!

“…His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” Lam. 3:22-23

“Every new morning is a new beginning of our life.  Every day is a completed whole.”  These are the words that begin the devotional thought for today in a book I’m reading based on the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The thought of each morning being a new beginning for us is certainly not something I haven’t heard before.  What Bonhoeffer goes on to say, however, is.  He writes, “God created day and night so that we might not wander boundlessly, but already in the morning may see the goal of the evening before us.  As the old sun rises every day, so the eternal mercies of God are new every morning.  To grasp the old faithfulness of God anew every morning, to be able—in the middle of life—to begin a new life with God daily, that is the gift that God gives with every new morning…”

I find Bonhoeffer’s explanation for why God created day and night fascinating.  He felt God knew we would have a tendency to “wander boundlessly” and that this would cause trouble for us.  Therefore He put us in a world where we would know each morning that darkness would return each evening and we would therefore have to order our lives accordingly.  I realize that this thinking doesn’t necessarily fit into a modern society where earth’s darkness is no longer a hindrance to travel or wandering, but I feel that there is a message here that is still pertinent.  We are meant to live within nature’s cycles.  We should be humble enough to admit our limitations and also our need for rest.  There is much in God’s Creation that reminds us that we are not meant to always be doing something.  We all need rest—physical, mental and spiritual.  In Bonhoeffer’s view, every sunrise and sunset offers us this important reminder.

Reflecting on the words found in Lamentations 3, Bonhoeffer rightly affirms that every new day is a gift from God and that a part of this ongoing gift is God’s love or compassion.  This is something each of us should remember at the start of each new day.  Every sunrise is a reminder of God’s love and faithfulness to us.  Every sunrise is, likewise, a memo that we have another chance “to begin a new life with God.”  Apparently, in God’s plan new beginnings are called for every single day, not just at the beginning of each New Year.  I don’t know about you but I am incredibly grateful for that.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at sunrise on the east coast at Acadia National Park.  I took the bottom image at sunset on the west coast at Redwood National Park.)


Dec 31 2010

Footprints

footprints in the sandIn his writing and workshops Rob Sheppard sometimes talks about how nature photographers should not be afraid to show “the hand of man” in their work.  I confess I rarely do this.  Today, however, I venture to show “the foot of man.”  I took the picture of my footprint on the beach shown above a couple of days at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida.  I took the picture simply to illustrate that all of us leave footprints behind us.  As we come to the end of another year and prepare to start another, that is not a bad thing to remember.

There are a number of different levels we leave footprints.  Environmentalists often speak of our “carbon footprint.”   The way we live our lives has an impact on the earth.  If we are going to be good stewards of the earth we will strive to live our lives in such a way that that impact is a positive one.  It will require effort and discipline on our part but if Creation Care is important to us we will be willing to do whatever we can to care for the earth.

tracks in sandAs a Christian I am also aware that how I live my life has an impact on others.  John Donne was right, “no man is an island.”  Everything I do affects other people, not just me.  As I look back on 2010 I realize that some of my actions left positive impacts while others left negative ones.  There are a lot of things I wish I had not done or done differently.   I cannot change the past but I can learn from it.  Hopefully in 2011 I will not repeat some of the mistakes I made in 2010.  

As the New Year draws near I find myself hoping and praying that I will be a better steward of Creation and of God’s grace in the year to come.  I know that one way or another I will leave my mark behind, as will you.  Remembering this might just cause us to be more careful where and how we leave our footprints in the coming year.  Happy New Year!

–Chuck

(In addition to the image of my own footprint I have included another picture I took at Gulf Islands National Seashore showing bird prints in the sand that reminds us that all living things leave their mark on this earth.)