Oct 12 2015

“The Incomparable Sanity”

e_DSC9538It is good for us when we are young because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest…  It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there.”  Wallace Stegner

For the past week I have been in California traveling with my friend, Rob Sheppard. We have covered a lot of territory during this time. We have driven through the Mojave desert, wandered around the mountains and valleys of the eastern Sierras, visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on the west side of the Sierras, and traveled farther westward to take in Pinnacles National Park. We saw first light on Mount Whitney from the Alabama Hills, watched a glorious sunrise from high on Onion Valley, walked reverently among the ancient bristlecone pine trees high atop the White Mountains, and marveled at the truly giant sequoias in the park that bears their name. At Pinnacles National Park we got to see a plethora of wildlife and enjoy the scenic beauty of our newest national park.  Without a doubt we  have been blessed!

e_DSC0793The words of Wallace Stegner that begin this blog I saw on a wayside exhibit at Kings Canyon National Park a couple of days ago. They concern Stegner’s view of wilderness and why he thought preserving and experiencing it is important for both young and old alike. Even though I certainly fall in the “old” category when it comes to age, I still find wilderness necessary because of “the incomparable sanity” it brings me in a world which sometimes seems mad. Recent school shootings, terrorist attacks, the craziness that comes with each political season, and a lot of other things I could mention. makes me at times want to stop the world and get off. Every time I read the news or watch it on television here lately I get either angry, depressed or discouraged.

e_DSC9655Spending a week in wilderness settings has helped put things in perspective a bit. Walking amongst bristlecone pine trees that have been around over four thousand years and looking up at giant sequoias that tower to the skies has a way of doing that. In the wilderness one finds a peace and quiet that is next to  impossible to experience in the regular hustle and bustle of everyday life. Walking in the woods and observing the miracles of God’s Creation has a way of restoring peace and rekindling one’s faith. At least it does for me. And I honestly believe that God intended this to be true for everyone else. The awesome Creation we have been blessed with was not made just to provide for our physical needs; God ordered the natural world so that spiritual needs might be met as well. That’s why in Psalm 23 David writes about God making him lie down in “green pastures” and leading him beside “still waters.” I also get the impression that’s why Jesus during difficult times in his life often got away from everyone and communed with God in “lonely places.” In the beginning God declared the goodness of Creation and that goodness is seen, in part, in the therapeutic and spiritual benefits it provides us all.

e_DSC0138I’ll not elaborate here on the second part of Stegner’s words but I happen to believe it to be true. Now that I am “old” or older I find myself just grateful knowing that there are wilderness areas still available for people like me who sometimes find this world to be anything but sane.  I just hope we can preserve such places for future generations.  I have a feeling they are going to need them…

–Chuck

(The pictures used above are some I took this past week in California.)


Jul 14 2013

Reflections on Reflections

MI7917If you happen to be one of my Facebook “friends” you know I am in Florida right now.  I’m attending my denomination’s General Assembly in Orlando but I came down a couple of days early so I could photograph at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.   While in that area I posted several pictures I had taken.  A number of those images included reflections.  Rob jokingly calls me “the reflection guy.”  Maybe I am.  I certainly take a lot of images of reflections.   The past day or two I’ve been pondering why I gravitate to reflections.

One reason is quite simple; I think they are pretty.   If it is a particularly beautiful scene that is being reflected you get two of everything.  That makes it twice as nice!  I also like reflections because they have a calming effect on me.  They create in me a sense of peace and tranquility.  Beyond these reasons I have to confess that there is just something about reflections that move me or touch my soul.  I wonder if part of the reason for this is my awareness that we are all called to be reflections of God’s light and love.  I see this as being one of the primary reasons for my existence.

MI6158In the Gospel of John Jesus declared that he was the “light of the world.”  Elsewhere he told his followers that they, too, were the light of the world.  It is pretty obvious that those who are disciples of Christ are meant to reflect his light to others.  Unfortunately, we do so imperfectly, even at our best.  If you pay close attention to reflections out in nature you’ll notice that the reflection is always a bit darker than the subject it is reflecting.   That is certainly also true when we reflect Christ’s light.  We never really offer a perfect reflection but our goal should be to offer the best reflection that we can.

When I photograph reflections I generally want still or calm waters.  They offer me the condition I need to render near mirror like reflections.  I have a feeling that the reason a lot of us offer poor reflections of Christ is that there is a lack of calmness or stillness inside of us.  The waters of our soul are often turbulent or choppy.  This keeps us from offering to others a clear reflection of Christ which, in turn, keeps us from fulfilling our true purpose in life.

MI7803If we want to do better than this (and I do) then we must find ways of stilling the soul.  In Psalm 46:10 the Psalmist has God say “Be still and know that I am God.”  Somehow, someway, we have got to learn how to be still.  There are a number of things we can do to promote this stillness.  We can discipline ourselves to slow down some.  The fast paced lives most of us live is not conducive to stillness.  We can and should learn to live in the moment.  Fretting about the past or worrying about the future does not help our cause.  We can follow Brother Lawrence’s advice and “practice the presence of God” moment by moment.  We can learn to meditate, something the Bible encourages.   We can spend more time in prayer.  I find worship to be something that helps create peace within.  Likewise, I know that time spent in the splendor of God’s Creation often brings about the desired result.

MI7758Yes, there are a lot of things we can do to help us be better reflections of Christ and his love.  There are any number of things we can do to promote the stillness inside that will help create beautiful reflections.  But in the end we still need God’s help.  In the 23rd Psalm the writer speaks of God leading him “beside still waters.”  We, too, need to let God direct our steps and allow Him to take us where we need to be.  There will be times in our lives when our souls are so storm-tossed that we will need a miracle for others to see Jesus in us.  The good news I have to offer you here is that the one who calmed the sea long ago can calm the storms in our souls today as well.   Yes, the one who calls us to be reflections of himself can and will help us do just that.  And when we let him, it is a beautiful sight to behold.

–Chuck

(I took all of the images above at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge this past week.)

 


Jan 13 2013

God Will Provide

cardinal 1768This morning I resigned from the church I’ve served the past five years.  It was not an easy thing to do.  It was made even more difficult by the fact that I don’t have another job waiting for me.  I now live with the recognition that in a few weeks I may very well be unemployed.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that causes me a bit of fear and anxiety.  How could it not?  Still I have a peace about the situation and sincerely believe that somehow, someway, God will provide.

The Bible is filled with verses which speak of God’s provision.  We heard Psalm 23 read this morning at church and in this most famous of Psalms David declares, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”  He then goes on to speak of the many ways God takes care of his needs.  In Philippians 4:19 the apostle Paul also speaks of God’s ability to provide for our needs.  He says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in heaven.”

CDI-580According to Jesus there is also plenty of evidence in nature that God will take care of us.  Rob and I have both shared what Jesus said in previous posts but it is worth looking at again.  During his Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “do not worry about your life, what you eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and you’re your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

A few verses later Jesus points to more evidence from nature.  He said, “And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (vs. 28-30)

In light of my current situation, today I am very thankful for God’s promises found in both the Bible and Creation that He does, indeed, look after His children.  I honestly do believe that God will provide.

–Chuck

(I photographed the cardinal at my home in Pikeville and the crested dwarf iris at Red River Gorge National Geological Area.)


Mar 21 2012

Valleys

In a few minutes I’ll be heading to California.  Once there I’m hooking up with Rob and we plan to solve all the world’s problems in the next week and also do some photography.  One of the locations where we will be photographing is Death Valley National Park.  I have been there a couple of times before so I’m really looking forward to it.  However, when I’ve told people recently where I’m going they all seem to indicate they have no desire to go there.  Apparently it doesn’t sound like a very inviting place.  But it is!  Perhaps the name itself bothers people but I can assure you that Death Valley is full of life and beauty.

There are lots of references to valleys in the Bible.  No doubt the one that comes to people’s minds first is “the valley of the shadow of death.”  This valley, of course, is mentioned in Psalm 23.  Many people over the years have found comfort in this particular psalm.  At times of death a lot of people turn to it.  They like hearing that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (v. 4)  I must admit it is, indeed, comforting to know that God is with us in our times of grief and when we die.  Many biblical scholars have noted, however, that the way this verse has been translated may be misleading.  A better translation may be “the darkest valley” instead of “the valley of the shadow of death.”

If we take this alternative translation it expands the meaning.  The Psalmist’s assurance now goes beyond just times of death and dying to any period in our life when we are struggling, any period which we might characterize by “darkness.”  This is, certainly, the truth.  The Bible offers us numerous assurances that God is with us wherever we go and whatever our circumstances.  Jesus promised his disciples before leaving this world that he would be with them always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

I look forward to being in Death Valley in a few days.  While there, I plan to offer thanks for God’s constant presence in my life.  Wherever you happen to be, I hope you will do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures above on previous trips to Death Valley National Park.)


Apr 27 2011

Death and Life

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  1 Corinthians 15:22

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that a few weeks ago I introduced you to a delightful website where you could view a live cam on an active eagle’s nest.  Yesterday I was saddened to learn that the mother eagle at this nest had been hit by an airplane and killed.  This eagle had been taking wonderful care of her three eaglets and had touched the hearts of thousands of people across the globe.  This horrible accident was just another reminder how fragile life is and how death is an inevitable part of life.

The picture you see above was taken on the hill in my back yard.  This skull was here when we moved into our house three years ago.  I elected not to remove it.  Why?  I felt it would serve as a useful reminder to me of my own mortality.  A lot of us live our lives as though we will never die.  The fact is we all will one day die unless Christ returns first.  This cow’s skull makes me mindful that I should live my life with the end in mind.  It makes me want to do all I can to make life meaningful while I have the chance. 

There are certainly a lot of reminders in nature that death is a part of life.  When we look around us we see dead animals on the side of the road, trees that have died, and plants that have perished.  In God’s wonderful economy death actually plays a key role in the giving of life.  Plants and animals return to the soil and make it more fertile.  Through death life goes on.

Some feel that this same cycle is what we face as humans.  We live, we die and then we return to dust.  That’s it.  The Scriptures, however, point to something else.  Here too we learn that death leads to life but the difference is that in God’s hands we are restored to life ourselves.  This, of course, is the message we celebrated a few days ago on Easter.  The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that life goes on for those who follow Christ.  For these death becomes the entranceway to life on a far higher level than that we experience here on earth.  (What happens to other living creatures is not clearly noted in the Scriptures; I can only hope that they too are a part of the “new creation” the Bible talks about.)  

When the words are paired we usually see them in this order—life and death.  God would have us reverse this order and see that life follows death.  Obviously we live now and are meant to make the most of life here on earth.  We do this by loving God, our neighbors, ourselves and God’s Creation but it is comforting to know that this life is not all that we have.  There is more—so much more—to come once we pass through death to life and the home God prepares for us even now.

–Chuck

(The bottom picture was taken at Joshua Tree National Park.  The shadows on the rocks remind me of the words found in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil,  for you are with me.”)