Oct 31 2020

Walk in Beauty

I have a friend who in all his correspondence with me concludes with the words “walk in beauty.”  I’ve read enough Tony Hillerman novels to know that this is an important phrase in Navajo life.  The words come from a Navajo ceremony called Beautyway.  To walk in beauty means to walk in harmony with all living things, to live in harmony with God, with nature, with others and with self.  There is a lovely Navajo prayer that includes these words: “With beauty before me, may I walk.  With beauty behind me, may I walk.  With beauty below me, may I walk.  With beauty above me, may I walk.  With beauty all around me, may I walk.”  I find these words to be both powerful and instructive.  I happen to believe that we are all challenged to walk in beauty.  It is, however, easier said than done.

Why is living in harmony with all living things so difficult?  Perhaps the Scriptures give us some clues.  If you go back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 you see that the introduction of sin in Eden destroyed the harmony God intended for Creation.  That sin was basically humanity’s decision to put the will of self before the will of God.  In one word that sin was pride.  That same pride displayed in the Garden of Eden continues to be manifested in each of our lives.  We all have a tendency to put our will above that of God or that of others.  That pride results in discord.  Where pride raises its ugly head beauty and harmony are always found lacking.

Today many see nature as something to be used, not cherished and preserved.  Sad to say, the same thing can be said for our relationships with others.  Far worse, the same thing can be said for our relationship with our Creator.

I am convinced that until we find harmony with God we will not find harmony with self, others, or nature.  There must be peace in the center before there can be peace beyond.  Unfortunately, a lot of people leave God out of the equation.  To walk in beauty surely we should start with our Maker.

In Psalm 27:4 David says “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”   When we focus on the beauty of the Lord everything else falls into place.  We begin to see the true beauty in ourselves.  We begin to see the true beauty in others.  We begin to see the true beauty in nature.  This vision is what enables us to “walk in beauty” and to live our lives in peace and harmony.

I realize that I may not be doing justice to the Navajo concept of walking in beauty but this is how I understand the concept.   It is my prayer that I and everyone else may come to walk in beauty.  If we did, what a wonderful world it would be.

–Chuck

I took the images shown above on a trip earlier this week to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.


Jan 5 2014

Give Beauty a Chance

_CES2968eSomeone recently paid me a compliment that meant a lot to me.  After posting some pictures from an area I had not been to before this person said, “You find beauty wherever you go.”  I’m not sure this is totally true but I do confess that it is something I strive for.  I choose to look for beauty.  Now I realize that what one views as beautiful is highly subjective.  Rob Sheppard and I were photographing in the eastern Sierras a few years ago and we both had a chance to take close up images of a rattlesnake.  Using a telephoto lens I focused tightly on the snakes scales and was amazed at just how beautiful they were.  When I showed the image to others later on some were repulsed; they saw no beauty at all because all they could see was a poisonous reptile that they happened to detest and be afraid of.   Interestingly, I’ve had similar responses when I have shown or posted images taken in winter.  If there is ice or snow in the picture some automatically dismiss the beauty that might be found there simply because they strongly dislike the cold that is associated with snow and ice.

_DSC5241Once again I understand that not everyone will agree on what is beautiful but I do feel that most people can and should strive to expand their perimeters of beauty.  Years ago John Lennon famously sang “Give Peace a Chance.”  Today I feel like uttering the cry “Give Beauty a Chance.”  We all need beauty; it is one of the things that makes life worth living.  Beauty makes us feel better.  It  is also good for the soul since in most cases beauty promotes a sense of gratitude or thanksgiving.

Another reason I think beauty is important is we tend to not only admire but be willing to work for the protection or preservation of that which we find beautiful.  This is true in numerous areas but I am most familiar with the realm of nature.  If people had not found certain species of birds, animals, trees or flowers beautiful many of these would have become extinct by now. Whole areas have been set aside as state or national parks primarily because large groups of people considered them beautiful.  Perhaps other species or places will be preserved and protected in the future if more people will only expand their vision and give beauty a chance.

_CES2599In the end I find beauty to be something spiritual and closely connected to God.  God is the Creator of beauty and is beautiful in and of Himself.  A number of contemporary praise songs have recognized this and include words like “You are beautiful beyond description.”  Long ago the Psalmist prayed, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4)  The Psalmist found God to be beautiful, especially when he visited the temple.  I, too, find God to be beautiful, especially when I visit the larger temple of Creation.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  I believe this to be true and that is one of the main reasons why I look for beauty wherever I go.  I believe that I can experience God in beauty.  I believe you can as well.  For that reason I ask everyone, “give beauty a chance.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image on Friday at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at the Buttermilk Mountains in California, and the bottom image yesterday evening during my first visit to Bluegrass FWA in southern Indiana.)


May 1 2013

Practice What You Preach

“This is what I seek…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Psalm 27:4

CV3993It is not uncommon for those of us who are ministers to hear people say we should “practice what we preach.” After my trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend I feel the need for someone to remind me to “practice what I blog.” I have often encouraged people at this site to slow down when they are outdoors and to be aware of their surroundings. I’ve even offered warnings about being so preoccupied with finding certain things that you fail to see a number of other treasures at hand. Since I write these kind of things you might expect me to practice what I preach. Why, even I expect that of myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.

CV3979When my friend and I entered the park on Friday I was anxious to photograph. Our first stop was Blue Hen Falls. It is only a short walk down to the falls and I was eager to get to the falls and begin photographing. I took scores of pictures right away of the waterfall, none of which were very good. The light was not ideal, nor were my creative juices flowing.  I knew I would have another chance to come back to this particular waterfall but still began the journey back to the car disappointed. I’d come to photograph a waterfall and didn’t have much to show for it.  Then, all at once, we began to see wildflowers all around us. There were beautiful white trilliums, bloodroot, lousewort, and a host of other species. I also noticed a number of fiddlehead ferns unfurling. None of these things were obvious; the forest floor was covered for the most part with leaves. But for those who truly had eyes to see there was much to enjoy and photograph. We ended up spending far more time in that area photographing flowers and ferns than we had taking pictures of Blue Hen Falls.

CV4333It bothers me that I failed to practice what I preach. I should have known better and I should have done better. What I fear even more, however, is that I may not be doing any better in the spiritual realm when it comes to seeing God. I’ve written numerous times that we must be careful about presupposing that God can only be found in certain places. Those who think God can be found only in a church or perhaps in the Bible are likely missing a lot of opportunities to experience God’s presence and glory.  I am not one of those who believe God is found only in a church or in the Bible but that does not mean that I still do not miss the divine presence on numerous occasions. I have a feeling that just as I must do a better job of being aware of my surroundings when enjoying nature or photographing, I must also do a better job of opening my eyes to the plethora of ways God is capable of Himself known.  There simply is no person, place or thing that God cannot use to reveal Himself.  I preach that sort of thing all the time. May God help me now to practice what I preach and really pay attention.  May God help you too…

–Chuck

(The trillium and fern image were taken the day written about above.  The picture of Blue Hen Falls was taken the next day.)