Because I had a funeral to officiate at on Monday I did not get a chance to watch much of the President’s inauguration. From what I’ve read and some of the images I’ve seen it must have been a grand event. Many years ago I had the privilege of attending a presidential inauguration, that of Jimmy Carter. I was in college at the time and my history professor, who was a member of the Electoral College, invited some students to go to Washington, D.C. with him. I am very thankful I had a chance to be a part of that trip. It was wonderful!
I realize that that there are many who do not feel like Jimmy Carter was a very good president but I have to admit I’ve always admired him. Part of the reason for my admiration is his faith. Carter has never been hesitant to speak of his religious convictions. He taught Sunday School while in office and continues to do so. I also admire greatly what Carter has done since leaving the Oval Office. His work through the Carter Center has had a positive effect on millions of people. I was once at a denominational meeting where Carter spoke. He was introduced as the first President who used that office “as a stepping stone to greater service.”
Still another reason why I like Jimmy Carter is his love for the outdoors. While President he was a proponent for environmental issues and also supported the national park system. I actually believe that this had something to do with his faith. Why? Carter once said, “I have never been happier, more exhilarated, at peace, inspired, and aware of the grandeur of the universe, and the greatness of God than when I find myself in a natural setting not much changed from the way He made it.”
When one is cognizant of God’s hand in nature and awed by its beauty he or she cannot help but want to be good stewards of Creation. Such a person recognizes the need to preserve wilderness areas and to support those places already protected. These places are valuable in and of themselves but also, as Carter saw, as sources of happiness, exhilaration, peace, inspiration and experiences with God.
Wouldn’t it be great if our current elected officials recognized the spiritual value of wilderness? I suspect some of them do. Others, I fear, do not. It is important that we all do our part in helping our elected officials to see the connection. After all, they are the ones who will make the decisions about whether wilderness areas are preserved and our national parks are properly funded. Perhaps now would be a good time to let your Senators and member of Congress know how you feel. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
(I took the top image at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND), the middle image at Kenai Fjords National Park (AK), and the bottom image at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area (WV).)
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12
Today is the second Sunday of Advent and the theme for this particular Sunday is peace. Peace, though greatly desired by most people, can be hard to find these days. It definitely seems to be in short supply. Nations do battle with one another. Arguments rage in the halls of Congress. There is ongoing conflict in most homes and places of business. I suspect that in the end all of this is symptomatic of the lack of peace that resides inside our own hearts. Today we remember the coming of the Prince of Peace but at the same time cannot help but lament the lack of peace evident in the world and in our own lives.
One of the things I have come to realize is that I need peaceful refuges or sanctuaries in order to maintain what peace I do have. This morning I went to church early and after turning the lights of our Chrismon Tree and Christmas wreaths on I simply sat and soaked in the sense of peace that pervaded the place. I have in my home a study which is also for me a peaceful sanctuary. There I am surrounded by my books and can find a variety of music to listen to that contribute to my peace of mind and soul.
I spent a couple of days in southern Florida with Rob this past week and while there I had a chance to take some walks in swamps and hammocks. It always amazes me how God’s Creation generates feelings of peace and tranquility within me. Yes, even in swampy areas filled with spiders and snakes and alligators I felt a peace I do not find in the normal hustle and bustle of life. The places Rob took me were all near populated and/or commercial areas. Not far away thousands of cars were making their way here or there, but in these pockets of wildness I found sanctuaries of peace and a sense of the presence of God.
I am thankful that no matter where you live nearby there is likely to be a natural sanctuary of peace. Due to crime most churches are not able to keep their doors unlocked at all times. For that reason few people have the option I do of going into a church sanctuary anytime they want and spending peaceful moments there alone. But in nature we can find a place of peaceful refuge twenty-four hours a day. I realize that some parks also have locks but there are always pockets of wildness waiting to be made into sanctuaries of peace. I cannot help but believe that the God who first made Himself known to others in a garden still waits in a variety of gardens and natural habitats to make Himself known. And when we give God that opportunity the peace we so urgently need is usually found as well. Where do you find your own sanctuaries of peace? Have you been there lately?
(I took the images above near West Palm Beach, Florida, this past Thursday and Friday.)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” –Jesus (John 14:27)
In his book, Our National Parks, John Muir beckoned, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Muir knew as well as anyone the healing qualities of God’s Creation. He sometimes described himself as a John the Baptist calling people to the wilderness. He recognized that there are physical, spiritual and emotional benefits that come with immersing oneself in nature.
Unfortunately, sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we cannot “climb the mountains.” Perhaps we are not geographically close to some wilderness area, or it may be that time simply does not permit us to get away. Does that mean we cannot receive the life-giving benefits of nature? Not at all! Yesterday I was reminded that one does not have to go anywhere to experience the healing power God has bestowed upon nature. I had a very busy and stressful day. I was privileged to speak at the funeral of a wonderful member of the church I serve. It was a beautiful service but I still found myself feeling drained and empty when I got home. Before leaving the church, however, members of the deceased’s family asked me to take home one of the vases of flowers that were still there. My wife thought that was a good idea so I brought a nice arrangement home with me.
When I got the flowers home I decided I’d take a few pictures of the flowers. They were too pretty not to. I put a macro lens on my camera and took the flowers outside. As I moved in close and starting focusing on the delightful colors and patterns I could feel a burden being lifted from my shoulders. Where there had been sadness I started to feel great joy. I could definitely relate to John Muir’s words. Nature’s peace did flow into me and refresh me. It seemed as though my cares truly did “drop off like autumn leaves.”
Later in the evening I had a chance to work on the pictures I had taken of the flowers. Even looking at the images on the computer screen proved therapeutic. I ended up putting several of the images on Facebook and called the folder I placed them in “Macro Therapy.” I enjoyed the whole experience so much I borrowed a floral arrangement from my secretary’s desk this afternoon and came home and took some more pictures. Once again, it proved to be a most satisfying and soothing enterprise.
I share all of this with you in the hope that the next time you are feeling stressed or discouraged that you will remember that God has placed in His Creation healing powers that can truly help. If you can head to the mountains, the ocean or desert, by all means do so. But if you can’t, just glance around you. Look closely at a flower, a leaf, an insect, a shell or even a rock—anything you can find nearby. You may shortly discover your cares dropping off like autumn leaves. If you do, know that this is by design—our heavenly Father’s design.
(The images above were taken today and yesterday. Many thanks to the family of Mary Ruth Prater for the gift of the flowers!)
Today is the second Sunday in Advent. In worship this morning we lit the candle of peace. The timing is good. It seems tension is escalating on numerous fronts. Many are worried over what will happen in Korea. That peninsula is hardly the only hotspot. At the present time there are eight ongoing wars that claim at least 1,000 lives per year and 22 smaller-scale conflicts where countless others die. Even where there is no literal killing there is still much conflict. Many have noted in recent months how our society has become marked by animosity and conflict. You see this in Congress, among ethnic groups, in many churches and families. We may hear a lot about “peace on earth” these this time of year but finding it is another thing.
For me peace is found first and foremost through my relationship with Christ. In him I have found what the apostle Paul called “the peace that passes all understanding.” I cannot help but believe that if people took more seriously the life and teachings of Jesus that there would be far more peace in the world.
The other place I find my greatest peace is in the natural world. Perhaps this is because the world was fashioned by the Prince of Peace. I’m not real sure why it is, I just know that in Creation my nerves are soothed and my tensions often find relief.
Yesterday we got our first measurable snow here in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Everything has been blanketed in white and looks so beautiful. At my home the birds flocked to the bird feeder outside my bedroom door. By opening the door and sitting on my bed I was able to photograph the birds you see here. I found this very relaxing and was reminded of something John Muir once wrote. He said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Yes, there is a peaceful side to nature that can calm even the most troubled soul.
I suspect there will always be conflict and tension in the world. For that reason I remain grateful for the peace Christ and his Creation bring to my life. If people would spend more time in their presence I suspect there would be far more peace on earth than there is right now.
This morning we sang “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at church. That got me to thinking of other hymns that combine peace and rivers. One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul,” begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” Another popular hymn begins “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” I’m not aware of any direct link in the Scriptures to peace and rivers. At times rivers do serve as a symbol of God’s presence and this may be a link. In the Bible rivers are also viewed as a source of life. This, too, may be a link. Throughout the Scriptures rivers are associated with cleansing—physical and spiritual. This could be a link as well.
In the end I’m not sure the linking of rivers and peace by various hymnists has anything to do with the Scriptures at all. It may instead simply represent an experience common to many. There is just something peaceful about rivers. People have enjoyed sitting by rivers for ages. There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a river flow by.
On Thursday I went over to Breaks Interstate Park and took some pictures of the Russell Fork River. It had been a stressful week and I really wasn’t in the mood to photograph but setting up my tripod next to the river I felt a sense of peace flow over me. The sight and sound of that river calmed my nerves and brought a sense of tranquility I had not felt for several days.
I realize that when God created rivers He had lots of other purposes in mind than just providing us a place to experience peace, but I’m not so sure that this wasn’t also one of His reasons for making rivers and streams. I think God knew that we would need places we could go to in order to have our spirits renewed, places where we could feel serenity. It really is no wonder that there are so many songs that combine peace and rivers. They go together quite naturally.
(The images above were taken Thursday at Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County, Kentucky.)
Over the years, I have discovered many special places in nature for peace and restful meditation. By special places, I am not talking about the bold locations like Yellowstone where Chuck is now. Those are definitely special places, but not very accessible for most of us.
When Jesus was troubled in the last hours before he was arrested before the crucifixion, he went to a very accessible place of natural things, the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray and have some time alone. It is interesting and informative that he did not go inside a building, did not go to a temple, did not go to a home, but went outside to a garden. This was a time of considerable stress for Jesus, and while his prayer is very important, I think his location is, too.
None of us feel the pressure that Christ did that night, but still, we have our own pressures to deal with. Nature is, for me, a great place to connect with life and with God, and therefore, to help me with that pressure. On 9/11 when all of those terrible visions were seen on television and the awful things of that attack became known, I went off into a local nature center’s preserve and photographed flowers. In all of that turmoil of death and destruction from the attack on the World Trade Centers, for me, becoming intimately involved with those flowers through my camera connected and grounded me to life. It has been said that a flower is the ultimate expression of hope for the future since a flower only exists to create seeds for future plants.
I have planted much of our yard into native flowers, shrubs and trees. They bloom all year round here in Southern California. Whenever I am stressed with my work as an independent author/photographer, I go out into that garden and take some pictures. There are also other places that are not far that I can go to and be at peace with nature and God. Finally, I also find my and others photography helps me reconnect with nature and helps me be at peace, too.
The flower here is a monkey flower from my garden. It blooms in winter to early spring and is a common plant in the chaparral ecosystem of Southern California.