Feb 4 2015

Bowing Continuously

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”  Psalm 95:6

_DSC1272_DSC1272b_CES0270ABPF-066As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry.  In Oliver’s newest book, Blue Horses, there is a poem called “Forgive Me.”  It reads: “Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.  It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some spirit, some small god, who abides there.  If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing continuously.  I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this holiness, which is why I’m often so late coming back from wherever I went.  Forgive me.”

In this poem I sense a call to pay more attention to God’s presence in our everyday surroundings.  I also see here a word of caution.  If we are not careful we will spend too much time seeking God in lofty matters we cannot really understand, like angels, and thereby miss revelations of the divine in the more common things we can comprehend.  Finding God through the Creation is a theme that runs through many of Oliver’s poems.  She seems to discover God in places most of us wouldn’t even think to look—mud, roots, rocks, lichen.  I have often wished I could see the world through Mary Oliver’s eyes.

ANP 0431ANP 0431_CES4270Oliver sees God in so many places that she says if she were a perfect person she would constantly be bowing.  Bowing, of course, is the proper thing to do when one encounters God.  The One who made this world and who can be found within it deserves our worship and praise and would receive it continuously if we were actually able to see the evidence of the divine in everything around us.

_CES0292Oliver indicates this would happen in her own life if she were perfect but is quick to note that she is not.  She, too, misses a lot of God’s manifestations but she is at least wise enough to pause and bow whenever she does sense God’s presence in her surroundings.   She is also wise enough to realize that if pausing to bow and worship the Creator makes one late for something it is still the right thing to do.  In the end there is nothing more important to do and no better way to spend one’s time.

_DSC5435There is an old hymn called “Open My Eyes That I May See.”  It lists a number of things the writer/singer would like to see.  Today it is my prayer that God will open your eyes and mine to see the divine in the common ordinary things of life, and especially in the world of nature.  It is also my prayer that as this request is granted we will actually take the time to bow and worship the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at the Bristlecone Pine Forest in California, the middle image in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.)


Jul 3 2013

Seeing Things My Way

_CES5117“I wish you could see things my way.”  How many times have you heard that?  Or for that matter, how many times have you said it?  Typically when we hear or speak these words the intent is for someone to change another person’s perspective on something.  It might have something to do with politics, religion or any number of other things.  Regardless of the subject the point is that  there is a desire to change one’s view.

mag4586As I write right now I am wishing a lot of people could see things my way but here it is not some viewpoint I’m thinking about.  I mean it literally.  I wish more folks could see things through my eyes because they are missing out on so much.  It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a whole bunch of people fail to see the beauty of Creation and also the presence of God in the midst of it.  They seem oblivious to what is obvious to me.  Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t see nearly as well as I could but I do feel that when it comes to “seeing Creation” my vision is pretty good.

What has got me thinking about this is a number of comments I’ve received recently about pictures I’ve posted on Facebook.  I posted a close-up picture of a red flower last week and someone commented on how beautiful the center of the flower was.  I got the impression this person may not spend a lot of time looking at flowers close up.  Another person commented on an image of a dragonfly I posted.  This time the comment was that they did not realize that dragonflies were so colorful.  Once again it made me wonder if this person had ever made an effort to actually look closely at a dragonfly.

_CES5476This afternoon I stopped to photograph a coneflower in the yard of some friends.  At one point I stepped back and asked one of them if she would like to look through my camera.  She expressed a degree of surprise at what the macro lens revealed.  Due to prior experience I knew exactly what I’d see through the lens.  She didn’t.  I almost found myself wanting to say “I wish you could see things my way.” Fearing that what I’m saying may sound cocky I want to reiterate again that there are lots of people who see God’s Creation far better than I do and they also photograph it better but it just seems that there are too many people out there who aren’t taking the time to really see what is all around them.  I want them to see more.  I want them to see better.   I want them to see things my way.

HS5373This desire springs from my wish that people would come to appreciate better the wonders of God’s Creation.  If they did I can’t help but believe that it would have positive results.  First, they would likely learn to appreciate nature more and would become true advocates for its protection and preservation.  Second, they might very well find God’s fingerprints where they had not realized they can be found and in the process come to love God more and worship Him better.  It is for these reasons I wish more people could see things my way.  It is for the same two reasons I often find myself asking God to help me see more clearly.  I know I have not arrived yet.  I realize that I have barely touched the surface when it comes to seeing the wonders and beauty of Creation.  I also acknowledge that my love for and worship of God constantly stands in need of improvement.

I have a sneaky suspicion that there are lots of times God says to me “I wish you could see things my way.”  That’s why I sometimes find myself singing the words of the old hymn,Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.”  In the end that is my ultimate wish, to see things God’s way.  Is it yours?

–Chuck

(I took all four of these above images recently near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Aug 28 2011

3 Ways to View the Sunset

Yesterday I received a box of books in the mail from Amazon.  Two of the books I purchased were by Richard Rohr.  I have never read anything by this author but recently I keep coming across his name in other books and magazines so I decided to buy a couple of his books.  One of the books I purchased is called The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  When I was looking through this book I noticed that  there was a chapter called “Three Ways to View the Sunset.”  I knew right away I had to read it.

In this chapter Rohr discusses a variety of ways a person can experience a sunset.  Some, he says, see the physical beauty and enjoy the event in itself.  Others, he says, also enjoy the physical beauty but go on to employ reason and view it through imagination, intuition and reason.  Still others are able to see the sunset with both these capacities but also remain “in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness” that connect them with everything else. Rohr refers to this as the “third eye” which “is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing.”

In medieval times names were given to these three ways of seeing by Hugh of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor.  “The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation).”   It should be obvious that what is being discussed here transcends just viewing God’s Creation.  It takes in far more.  Still, I think that there are, indeed, different levels of seeing Creation and that we should strive to incorporate all three levels in our experience.

Rohr writes at one point: “If people have ignored the first and the second eyes, their hold on the third eye is often temporary, shallow, and incapable of being shared with anybody else.  We need true mystics who see with all three sets of eyes, not eccentrics, fanatics, or rebels.  The true mystic is always both humble and compassionate, for she knows that she does not know.”  If we want to truly “see” Creation we will need to use all three ways of seeing.  First, we must make good use of our senses (something we don’t always do).  Second, we should take the time to learn about what we are seeing.  Third, if we are wise we will also go on to make ourselves open to the God who is in, behind and above Creation.  We will not just use our senses and mind to experience Creation, we will also engage the soul.

A hymn I have sung since childhood is “Open My Eyes That I May See” by Clara H. Scott.  Although the words transcend seeing Creation, I feel that when we find ourselves in nature we might be wise to sing: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”  Doing so might very well make viewing sunsets, waterfalls, flowers, wildlife, or any other part of God’s Creation a truly marvelous occasion.  Doing so we may well see far more than we ever have before.

–Chuck

(Above I’ve included three sunset images I have taken.  The top one was photographed at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The middle one was taken on the banks of the Mississippi River in western Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken at Hensley Settlement in Cumberland Gap NHP.)


May 18 2011

Seeing Jesus Everywhere

In the Old Testament there is a story where Moses is leading the Hebrews through the wilderness and they find themselves in great need of water to drink.  God tells Moses to strike a nearby rock with his staff.  Once he did out of the rock flowed life giving water. (See Exodus 17:1-7 for more details.)  In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth and he reminds them of this same story but he adds a significant twist.

In 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 he said “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”  Paul’s words are surprising because Jesus, as we know and understand him, was not present with Moses on that particular day.  It would be centuries before he would be born in the village of Bethlehem.  Still, Paul insists that Jesus was there, that he was the “rock” that provided life for the thirsty Hebrews.

Rob Bell, writing in his new book Love Wins, says “Paul’s interpretation that Christ was present in the Exodus raises the question: Where else has Christ been present?  When else?  With who else?  How else?”  Bell goes on to say, “Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere.”

I suspect Bell is right.  The great apostle did not look at the world quite as literally as most of us do these days.  He was able to see Jesus in places where we do not recognize him.  Does that mean Paul was wrong or perhaps even crazy?  I don’t think so. This coming Sunday I’ll be preaching a message on Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)   I cannot help but believe that Paul was able to see God in places we don’t because of the state of his heart or soul.  I also believe that Jesus’ words imply that as our own hearts are increasingly cleansed and purified that we will begin to see God in places we have not before.  Like Paul we can come to see Jesus everywhere—in the rocks and trees, in the person seeking a handout at the busy intersection, in the smile of a child, or perhaps even in the face staring back at us in the mirror.

Today my prayer is the words of the familiar hymn: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”

–Chuck

(I took the two images above during my recent visit to the Falls of the Stony in Jefferson National Forest.  The bottom image is Upper Falls.)