Sep 23 2012

A Natural Partnership

I bought a book recently written by Benjamin M. Stewart called A Watered Garden. It was the book’s subtitle, Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology, that drew me to it.  I was curious how the author would connect worship and ecology.  In the book’s first chapter Stewart writes, “…ecology and Christian worship both extend outward toward ‘everything,’ to attend to the worth of things, their interconnections with things seen and unseen, and their place in the whole living creation.  Their consideration together in a single theme is no novelty, but rather a natural partnership.  Both are, in fact, ways of seeing everything as part on the one great whole.”

I cannot help but agree that worship and ecology form a natural partnership.  When I spend time in nature, or even just study about it, I am often moved to offer worship to the God of Creation.  My love and appreciation for nature has long been a vital part of my life and spirituality.  For me, nature and the study of ecology are conducive to worship.

Any observant student of the Scriptures realizes that nature has played a pivotal role in worship from the very beginning.  God first makes Himself known to humans in a garden setting and there they learn that He is worthy of worship.  From Genesis to Revelation there are countless instances where nature comes into play, one way or another, in God’s revelation of Himself and in humankind’s response of worship.

In our worship service at church this morning there was no special emphasis but I noticed that the connection between worship and nature made a number of appearances.  The first hymn we sang was “How Great Thou Art.”  The words of the second verse are: “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze; then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art!”  Shortly after this hymn we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together asking that God’s name be hallowed and that His kingdom come and His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the children’s sermon the kids learned about how God used Moses to part the sea so the Hebrews could escape the pursuing Egyptians.  Among other things, this story teaches that God is Lord and Master of Creation.  Following the offering we sang together the “Doxology”: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  Here we are reminded that God is the Giver of all good gifts and that we, along with “all creatures here below” are called upon to praise Him.

 

The sermon I preached focused on Hebrews 11.  Although I did not talk about this particular verse we all read together the words: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” (v. 3)  In a chapter that highlights the importance of faith and faithfulness we were reminded that a central belief for Christians is the affirmation of God as Creator.

We ended our service today by singing a chorus based on Psalm 118:24.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Here again was one last reminder that every day is a gift from God and that He is to be honored and worshipped as the Creator.

Perhaps there are some Sundays when we don’t have quite so many overt references to God and nature but it’s almost impossible to imagine a worship service without the connection being made in some form or fashion.  They are, after all, natural partners.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Broke Leg Falls in Kentucky and the bottom two images in northern California.)


Feb 12 2012

The Gift of Today

In Psalm 118:24 we read the words, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I’ve heard these words quoted my entire life.  Usually they were spoken by ministers at the beginning of a worship service.  The Psalmist words are certainly appropriate at such a time, but they are actually words to be affirmed each and every day.  Every single day is a gift from God.  Every day God continues His work of Creation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The day was God’s first creation, something miraculous and mighty in the hand of God.  For us the day has completely lost its creaturely and wondrous nature.  We use it—and abuse it—but we don’t accept it as a gift.  We don’t live it.”  He also said, “The daily works of God are the rhythms in which creation occurs.”  Bonhoeffer’s words have caused me to recognize anew how every day is a gift from God and also evidence of the Creator’s ongoing work of Creation. 

During Communion at church this morning our two wonderful accompanists played the song “Morning Has Broken.”  The words of this song echo both Psalm 118:24 and Bonhoeffer’s belief that each new day reveals evidence of the Creator’s hand.  The first verse says, “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird.  Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!”  The last verse adds, “Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!  Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day!”

I have a feeling that if we could begin each morning reciting Psalm 118:24 and reflecting on the words to “Morning Has Broken” it would go a long way in getting our day off to a good start.  Such a practice would surely lead us to begin the day offering praise to the Giver of all good gifts and would help prepare our eyes to see more of God in the gift of His Creation.  Why not give it a try?

–Chuck

(I’ve included two daybreak  images I captured on my trip to Maine this past fall–the top one from Acadia National Park and the bottom one from Baxter State Park.)


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