Aug 4 2013

“A Name For An Effect”

_CES5141William Cowper was an 18th c. poet who is known today primarily for the hymns he wrote.  It was Cowper who penned the well-known line “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.  He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.”  In 1785 Cowper published The Task: A Poem in Six Books.  This work, as the title suggests, is a long poem in which the author tackles a number of different subjects.  Among the subjects covered is the blessings of nature.

_CES5082In one section of The Task Cowper wrote: “The Lord of all, himself through all diffused, sustains, and is the life of all that lives.  Nature is but a name for an effect, whose cause is God.  He feeds the secret fire, by which the mighty process is maintain’d, who sleeps not, is not weary; in whose sight slow circling ages are as transient days.”  Later, in this same section, he switches his focus to Christ and writes: “But all are One.  One spirit–His who wore the platted thorns with bleeding brows–rules universal nature.  Not a flower but shows some touch, in freckle, streak, or stain, of his unrivall’d pencil.  He inspires their balmy odors, and imparts their hues, and bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes, in grains as countless as the seaside sands, the forms with which he sprinkles all the earth.”

_CES5104Needless to say, Cowper had no trouble seeing God in His Creation.  In fact, he speaks of God being “diffused” through all of Creation.  In ways we cannot begin to comprehend God is behind, inside, beneath and above everything that He has made.  Cowper sees God as being intimately involved in all facets of nature.  I love his phrase, “Nature is but a name for an effect, whose cause is God.”   In his eyes he sees God not just creating the world but sustaining and maintaining it as well.  Others in his time believed that when God created the world He set things in motion but no longer played any role in His Creation.  Cowper’s view was quite the opposite.  God was at work everywhere!

_CES5129In the New Testament things come to a climax when Jesus is affirmed as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16)  Cowper certainly sees Jesus as Lord over everything–including nature.  Christ’s lordship over nature is not an emphasis you see very often but it is a needed one.  His picture of Christ’s lordship over nature is a beautiful one.  Jesus is not seen as a tyrant seeking to hold back or tame nature but as one who loves it and continues to bring forth beauty from the earth.  It’s kind of hard to look at a flower again in the same way after reading Cowper’s words.  He sees in every flower the work of the Master’s hand.  Even their “balmy odors” come from him.

In practically every area of life we need teachers or mentors.  Seeing Creation is no exception.  I am thankful that we have mentors like William Cowper.  Our understanding of both God and Creation is richer because such people have come along.  Yes, indeed, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform!”


(I took all of the pictures shown above in a friend’s garden here in Henderson, KY.)

Apr 3 2011

A Poet’s Gift

I have to confess that I don’t know much about poetry.  Another confession; I haven’t found a lot of poetry I really like.  I realize that this says far more about me than it does about poets and their work.  Until recently the only poet I read with much regularity is Wendell Berry.  This past week things changed.

In a conversation with my friend and blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, he asked me if I was familiar with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  I had to confess I had never heard of her.  Rob told me he thought I would enjoy her writing so upon his recommendation I bought one of her books.  Having now read approximately half of that book I owe Rob a huge debt of gratitude for introducing me to this Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

John Keats once said, “Poetry should… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.“  Keats words ring true for me when I read Oliver’s poems.  She so eloquently writes about nature and spiritual matters that I feel at times her words have captured my “highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”  Let me give you some examples.

Writing about a thrush in her poem “North Country” she says “There is no way to be sufficiently grateful for the gifts we are given, no way to speak the Lord’s name often enough, though we do try, and especially now, as that dappled breast breathes in the pines and heaven’s windows in the north country, now spring has come, are opened wide.”  In a piece called “The Faces of Deer” Oliver says “Each hoof of each animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches then lifts away from the ground.  Unless you believe that heaven is very near, how will you find it?  Their eyes are pools in which one would be content, on any summer afternoon, to swim away through the door of the world. Then, love and its blessing.  Then: heaven.”

In a poem called “Patience” Oliver encourages all who would find God in Creation to slow down.  She writes, “I used to hurry everywhere, and leaped over the running creeks. There wasn’t time enough for all the wonderful things I could think of to do in a single day.  Patience comes to the bones before it takes roots in the heart as another good idea. I say this as I stand in the woods and study the patterns of the moon shadows, or stroll down into the waters that now, late summer, have also caught the fever, and hardly move from one eternity to another.” 

Finally, in a poem called “Circles” Mary Oliver writes a passage that I’d love to use as my epitaph some day.  She says “I am so happy to be alive in this world I would like to live forever, but I am content not to.  Seeing what I have seen has filled me; believing what I believe has filled me.” 

I share these words of Mary Oliver with you because I believe that here is a woman who can teach us all much about how to see and experience God in nature.  I know that her words will cause me to see things differently now.  What a gift!


(I took the image of the whitetail deer fawn above in Shenandoah National Park.)

Feb 13 2011

“Not In Vain”

robin 1871A few weeks ago I ran into someone I know who has been going through a very difficult time.  A lot of things have gone wrong in his life and it was obvious that he was very discouraged.  Despite this, he seemed to have a resolve to not let his troubles get the best of him.  At one point in our conversation he spoke of a poem that had given him a great deal of inspiration.  He said the poem is called “Not in Vain” and that the author was Emily Dickenson.  I told him I wasn’t familiar with it but that I’d look it up.  Later I did and in case you are not familiar with it either, this is how it reads: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”

I can certainly see how this beautiful poem brought encouragement and inspiration to the person I spoke to.  When things in our life do not work out as we planned we are tempted to conclude that our lives have been lived in vain.  When, however, we look at the bigger picture, we will see that if in this life we are able to help another person, or even another creature, our lives have not been lived in vain at all.

I try to live my life in service to others.  Being a minister it’s what I do for a living, but being a servant to others is far than just a job.  I am a Christian and thus a follower of the one who said he came “not to be served but to serve.”  I also happen to believe that serving others should include caring for animals.  That’s why I support various wildlife organizations, feed the birds, own a dog, and send lots of letters to my congressmen concerning legislation effecting wildlife.  These are all little things but they make a difference.  They also add meaning to my life.

Like the person who told me about the poem, I have no intention of my life being lived in vain.  In every way I can I plan to make it count.  I want to help those in need, be they human or animal.  I hope you do as well.


(I photographed the robin above recently in my yard.)

Mar 7 2010

Rich Beyond Measure

Firehole-River-572A number of years ago I was introduced to the poems of Robert W. Service.  Service was sent by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1904 to work at their Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, branch.  While there he became famous as the poet who chronicled the Klondike gold rush and the beauty of the frozen north.  I enjoy Service’s Yukon poems and none more than one called “Comfort.”

Say!  You’ve struck a heap of trouble—

Bust in business, lost your wife;

No one cares a cent about you,

You don’t care a cent for life;

Hard luck has of hope bereft you,

Health is failing, wish you’d die—

Why, you’ve still the sunshine left you

And the big, blue sky.

Sky so blue it makes you wonder

If it’s heaven shining through;

Earth so smiling ‘way out yonder,

Sun so bright it dazzles you;

Birds a-singing, flowers a-flinging

All their fragrance on the breeze;

Dancing shadows, green, still meadows—

Don’t you mope, you’ve still got these.

These, and none can take them from you;

These, and none can weigh their worth.

What! You’re rich—you’ve got the earth!

Yes, if you’re a tramp in tatters,

While the blue sky bends above

You’ve got nearly all that matters—

You’ve got God, and God is love.

 In Service’s words we find a reminder that as beneficiaries of God’s Creation we are all rich indeed—rich beyond measure.  When times get tough for us, or we just find ourselves feeling down, it truly does help to look around us and notice the wonders and beauty of nature. 

This morning as I walked to the church building from my car I became aware that it was a glorious morning indeed.  The sun was shining (that hasn’t happened a lot around here lately), the sky was a beautiful shade of blue, and the birds were singing their hearts out.  In that moment I recognized that I was truly blessed and offered thanks to God.  Surrounded by the beauty of God’s Creation I smiled for I knew that I had God, “and God is love.”


(The image above was taken in Yellowstone National Park along the Firehole River.)