Jun 26 2016

Nature’s Saints

_DSC0843As noted a few weeks ago, recently I have been rereading a number of Thomas Merton books. Earlier this week I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation once again.  I soon came across a fascinating section where Merton talks at length about how created things give glory to God simply by doing what they were created to do.  Merton says, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him.  It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to His creative love.  It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.” Later he adds, “…each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art. The forms of individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.”

_DSC1246In what follows Merton gives several examples of things in nature that give glory to God simply by being what they were created to be. He writes, “The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this widow are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God.  This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.  The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.  The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints.  There is no other like him.  He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way.  That is his sanctity.”

Later in this chapter Merton goes on to talk about how humans are different from the rest of Creation. He says, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God.”  He goes on to indicate that the secret of our identity is “hidden in the love and mercy of God.”

_DSC0755The uniqueness of humans makes for an interesting topic but that is not what I want to focus on here. Merton’s words about the rest of Creation proclaiming God’s glory, something David also said in Psalm 19:1, caused me to ponder why we don’t pay more attention to the “saints” all around us.  If the trees and their leaves bear witness to God why do we not sit and contemplate them more?  The lakes and sea, along with the fish that swim within, also offer God praise and reflect or imitates God’s glory.  If that be so, why do we not pause long enough to join in the chorus and soak in the glory of God?  I know we are supposed to seek God in others but as Merton wisely points out, humans offer an imperfect reflection of God’s glory.  Nature, however, lacking free will, offers that glory perfectly.  Realizing that makes me think I need to be paying even more attention to the glorious revelation found in Creation than I already do.  The witness of the “saints” is just waiting to be discovered by those willing to slow down and pay attention.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on a trip a few years ago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Jun 10 2015

Contiguous and Complementary

_DSC1562I try not to go too long between posts without including one that reminds everyone that God has blessed us with two wonderful books through which we can get to know our Creator and Lord.  One is the Bible; the other is Creation.  Most believers take seriously the call to read and study the Scriptures.  I’m not so sure that many believers seriously study nature as God’s “other Book.”

_DSC0838In 1994 Philip Keller wrote a delightful book called Outdoor Moments With God.  I highly recommend it to you.  In the introduction to this work Keller addresses the question “Why this book?”  I’d like to share his answer with you.  He writes: “The simple answer to that blunt question is that often, often outdoors, flashes of inspiration come with brilliant illumination in a matter of moments.  Suddenly, swiftly, clear spiritual perception of profound truth sweeps into my own spirit like an artist’s painting in vivid colors.  The impression comes in an instant but endures forever.  These moving outdoor moments stir my spirit.  They parallel the parables Christ used to convey truth.  They are lessons learned from the realm of nature.  In actual fact our Father, through the creative work of Christ and by the agency of His Spirit, has produced two remarkable books.  One is His Word, articulated in human language we can comprehend.  The other is His creation, the remarkable and lovely natural realm around us which can be read clearly.  Because He is the genius behind both books, the Creator and the originator of both the natural and the supernatural revelations, the principles which apply in the one also function in the other. The two realms are contiguous, and they are complementary.”

_DSC2099Keller helps us understand the relationship between the two divine books–Scripture and Creation–when he refers to them as being “contiguous” and “complementary.”  My dictionary defines contiguous as “sharing an edge or boundary.”  It defines complementary as “serving to fill out or complete.”  I think what makes the two books contiguous is that they share a common author.   In both we find God’s self-revelation.  The two books are also complementary; Scripture helps us better understand Creation and Creation has a way of illuminating the Scriptures as well.

_DSC2170bI am extremely grateful for both of the books God has given us.  Both have richly blessed my life.  I know that there are some Christians who feel uncomfortable looking at nature or Creation as a divine book but the apostle Paul seemed to understand this.  In Romans 1:20 he wrote “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”   Long before Paul the Psalmist insisted that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (19:1)  I am convinced that we will miss much that God is trying to tell us if we ignore either of the two divine books.  Are you taking time to read both?  I hope so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my trip to Colorado last month.)


Apr 21 2013

Glory

Akaka Falls  208The word “glory” shows up many times in the Bible–somewhere around four hundred times. You will also find it  in countless hymns and praise songs used in worship.  It is a word which is closely tied to God but many people would probably have a difficult time defining what glory means.  Even if they went to a standard dictionary they probably would not find much help. There they would see “glory” defined as “honor,” “distinction,” or “reputation.”  These synonymns offer a clue to what glory is but not much more.  When wanting to get a better handle on words associated with the Bible or faith I often turn to a series of books written by Frederick Buechner. (Today you can find these books compiled in a single volume called Beyond Words.) Buechner has a unique, and often humorous, way of bringing life and meaning to words we all know but may not fully understand. For me, he certainly proves helpful when it comes to comprehending what “glory” means. Here is what Buechner says:

_CES0720“Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria–each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them. In the words of Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.’ It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare. Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.”

HNP summit sunset 615Buechner’s insight into the word glory not only helps us better understand its meaning; it shows us how we might experience the glory of God here and now.  For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of God may be found in God’s handiwork, through Creation. As I observed the beauty of Spring in the Appalachian mountains yesterday it was clear to me that I was beholding the glory of God.  Sometimes, in fact, when I encounter the beauty of God’s Creation I actually find myself uttering the word quietly to myself, “glory, glory.”

PC623Most of us will never experience God’s glory as Isaiah did in the Temple (Isaiah 6) or Saul (later Paul) did on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), but if we will discipline ourselves to look at nature or Creation as the Supreme Artist’s work, we will see more than enough of God to “sing glory to His name.”  We may even join in with the heavenly chorus described in Revelation 4:11 saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” As you look out your window today, take a drive in your car, or saunter along a trail, keep your eyes open for the glory of God.  It is there; He is there!

–Chuck

(I photographed the first and third image in Hawaii.  The little girl is our great niece who lives in Florida.  I took the bottom image yesterday near my current home in Pikeville, Ky.)


Dec 4 2011

The Window of Creation

“The heavens are telling the glory of God…” Psalm 19:1

I am currently in New Mexico photographing. When I find some free time I’ve been reading a book I recently purchased called Consider the Lilies: A Plea For Creational Theology.  The author of the book, T. M. Moore, uses an interesting analogy to describe ways we experience God.  He writes about how his study at home has an east facing window and a west facing window.  Moore says if he only looked out one of the windows he would not have a very good grasp of his surroundings; there would be much he would miss.  By looking through both the east and west window, he says, he is able to have a fuller understanding of the environment in which he lives.

Moore goes on to say that when it comes to understanding God most people live as though there is only one window through which to view His revelation, that window being Scripture.  Certainly we can learn much about God in the Bible.  A person desiring to know or understand God would be foolish not to study the Scriptures.  One could, however, also make the argument that a person would likewise be foolish if he or she did not take the time to look through other windows by which God’s revelation is made known.  The Bible makes it clear that Creation is one such window and we cannot afford to ignore it if we truly want to know and experience God.

One of the reasons Rob and I started this blog was to encourage people to utilize the wonderful source of revelation God has provided for us in His Creation.  As nature photographers we both enjoy the beauty of nature and the wonderful diversity found in Creation.  Both of us feel that many people fail to notice the wonders of nature, big and small, that surround them.  We would certainly want to encourage such people to be more attentive, but even more important we feel that all of us should be aware of God’s desire to make Himself known to us through His Creation.  Furthermore, each of us should make an effort to learn what God is trying to teach us through that which He has made.

If we fail to make an effort to view and study Creation as a source of divine revelation we will find ourselves with a truncated understanding of God.  Failure to do so doesn’t mean we won’t be able to know God, just that we will not know Him as fully as we could if we started seeing Creation as a window of glory revealing our Maker.  So, by all means, take advantage of this window and prepare to be blessed by God’s revelation of Himself in Creation.

–Chuck

(The images above were taken this past week at the Bisti Badlands Wilderness in northwest New Mexico.)


Sep 4 2011

What’s Your Mission?

“The heaven’s declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1

Each Sunday morning I teach the “Young and Restless” Sunday School class at my church.  Today we looked at a chapter in Gordon MacDonald’s book, The Life God Blesses, that deals with mission statements.  In this chapter MacDonald makes some interesting claims about Creation.  To begin with he suggests that Creation itself has a mission.  That mission is to glorify God.  He writes: “There was nothing made in creation that was not meant to do this.  Even human beings.”  Gordon goes on to say, “But humanity rejected the mission early on in the game of history through disobedience.  Ever since the story has been a bad one.  Everything humanity in its rebellious mood has chosen to do has not declared the glory of God; rather, the attempt has been to set forth the honor of humanity.  It hasn’t worked.”

Creation truly has paid a price for our disobedience.  MacDonald goes so far as to say “We now have an earth so polluted and tainted with the afterglow of humanity’s exploitation that it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything that smacks of the original purposes of creation.”  I’m not sure it is as difficult as MacDonald suggests to find the glory of God manifested in Creation but he does have a point.  It’s getter harder and harder for the earth to fulfill its mission of revealing the glory of God.  And, of course, it’s not the earth’s fault; it is ours.

Later in the chapter we studied today MacDonald says that he feels that part of his own personal mission statement must include the recognition that he has the responsibility to care for Creation.  He says it is his mission to “do what I can to restore at least a little part of a ruined creation back to its original mission: that of declaring the glory of God.”  I would like to affirm MacDonald for this recognition and suggest that this mission should be shared by all those who call themselves Christians.

If the true purpose of Creation is to tell the glory of God then we all have the responsibility of making sure that we do our part in caring for the earth.  Where we can make amends for our destruction of the earth we should.  We should also do all we can to prevent Creation from further destruction.  I know that protecting Creation is quite controversial these days.  Many people say that jobs must be our first priority and that if the environment must suffer to secure jobs then we’ll just have to pay that price.  Such talk would lead me to believe that the chief end of man has become to earn a living but for centuries the catechisms have indicated that the chief end of man is, like Creation, to glorify God. 

If the mission of Creation is to glorify God, and humankind’s mission is the same, then we better be rethinking our priorities.  Our primary concern should be glorifying God in the way we live our lives and helping Creation to fulfill its intended purpose.  Is there anything more important than this?  I don’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Mt. Rainier National Park.  The middle image is a mountain top removal site I photographed from a plane near Hazard, KY.  The bottom image was taken a Maroon Bells in Colorado.)