Jun 30 2018

Quiet Places

Recently a friend shared the following quote by Dale Carnegie: “Let us not get so busy or live so fast that we can’t listen to the music of the meadow or the symphony that glorifies the forest. Some things in the world are far more important than wealth: one of them is the ability to enjoy simple things.”  I had not seen these words before but I certainly believe there is wisdom to be found in them.  A lot of us do, in fact, stay so busy and live our lives so fast that we miss “the music of the meadow” or fail to appreciate and enjoy “simple things.”

I was reminded of the richness to be found in the sounds of nature on a recent trip with Rob to northern Minnesota. One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to hear the loons call out.  I knew what their calls sounded like but had never experienced that in person.  What a treat it was to hear their song!  But we would never have heard the loons had we not found quiet places to experience them.   The truth is the noise of commerce often drowns out the beautiful life=giving sounds of nature.  I realize this is just the way things are, a necessity of life, but if we want to hear the music of the meadow or the symphony that glorifies the forest then we must find quiet places in nature.

I believe the same thing can be said about listening to God. I am convinced that God does still speak to us but we often fail to hear what God is saying because of all of the noise in our lives.  Once again, much of that noise is necessary and important.  But if we want to hear the still small voice of God we must find quiet places for our soul.  God, speaking through the Psalmist, said “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10)  Here is the problem for a lot of us.   We don’t hear God speak because we don’t take the time to be still or find the quiet places necessary to know God’s presence and hear God’s voice.

I definitely need to discipline myself to find those quiet places more often—both in nature and in the spiritual realm. Carnegie was right, some things in the world are far more important than wealth.  I believe experiencing God and the glory of God’s Creation are two such things.

–Chuck


Aug 31 2014

Be Still

_CES1861It is Labor Day weekend and it would appear most the people I know are quite busy.   Folks have gone to the lake for the weekend,  taken mini-vacations, planned picnics or had family reunions.  All of these things are certainly fun and good in and of themselves.  I wonder, however, if we might not be wiser to spend Labor Day weekend resting from our labors.  Our work life causes most of us to run at a steady if not hectic pace.  We are on the go constantly and eventually this catches up with us.  A number of studies have indicated that one thing a lot of Americans lack is rest.  We are quite good at doing things and being on the go but what we are not so good at is being still and resting.

WA-Olympic-NP-deer-in-lupineSeveral years ago I came across a poster that had the following prayer by Wilfred A. Peterson written on it: “Slow me down, Lord.  Slow me down!  Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.  Give me amid the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.  Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.  Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift—that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.  Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.”

TN-GSM-Greenbrier-stream-(h)-I have to return to this prayer periodically to remind myself to slow down.  The pace a lot of us keep is not good for either our physical or spiritual health.  We were never meant to go full-speed all of the time.  God instituted the Sabbath so that we would remember that life is not just about work and doing things.  Neither our bodies or our souls were designed for constant activity.  If we are to enjoy life more completely and experience God more deeply we must learn to slow down.  In Psalm 46:10 we hear God say “Be still, and know that I am God.”  One of the reasons some of us do not feel God’s presence more or see the divine presence in Creation is that we won’t slow down enough to be still.

I hope each of you have a wonderful Labor Day.  By all means do something fun if you can but I encourage you also to take some time to rest from your labors and be still.  That is good advice not just for Labor Day but every day.  Now if I can just remember to do so myself…

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Mt. Baker National Recreation Area, the middle image at Olympic National Park, and the bottom image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

 


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.)

 


Jul 15 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

“Be still, and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; I don’t like this time of year.  I don’t think I’ve been a fan of summer since I was a teenager.   I cannot stand the heat and humidity.  That’s not good since the earth is undeniably experiencing a warming trend.  Things are hot and it’s getting hotter.

What I said above I could say again here concerning another subject—politics.  I don’t like this time of year and am already dreading the next four months.  I know we must have elections and that it is good that we live in a country where we have the freedom to vote for the candidate we choose, but I hate all the negativity that seems to come with political races, especially presidential ones.

The negativity is everywhere.  It’s in the candidates’ ads that run on television and the radio.  It’s on the annoying unsolicited automated phone calls that come on a regular basis.  It’s all over the social media.  When I go on Facebook these days it looks like a political war zone.  I just don’t understand why people feel they have to be so hateful and demeaning.   Almost everything I see and hear tells me why I shouldn’t vote for some particular candidate, not why I should vote for his or her alternative.  The focus is not on what it should be–what’s right about a particular candidate.  Things are hot and it’s getting hotter.

Last night I came across a Wendell Berry poem that seemed most appropriate to what I’m talking about.  Berry writes: “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.  I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.  I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

I am certainly grateful for “the peace of wild things.”  I am thankful that God created beautiful and wild places where we can still escape from all the madness, if only for a moment.  I think in some ways I need them more now than ever before.  If I’m going to survive the next few months I have a feeling I’m going to have to spend less time in front of the television and computer and more time outdoors.  I just wish it wasn’t so hot…

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  I think I photographed the blue heron in Florida.  I photographed the ferns at Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky.)


May 9 2012

Speechless

“There is a time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  Ecclesiastes 3:7

Last night as I was driving home from the airport in Louisville I played a CD by my favorite contemporary Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman.  In his song “Speechless” he sings these words: I’m astonished and amazed; I am silenced by your wondrous grace.  You have saved me, You have raised me from the grave.  And I am speechless in your presence now.  I’m astounded as I consider how You have shown us a love that leaves us speechless.”

As I listened to these words I certainly concurred with Steven’s sentiment; God’s love and grace often leave me speechless.  So too does the beauty of God’s Creation.  Several times on my recent trip to the desert southwest I could only stand in awe at what I was seeing.  I was “astonished and amazed” as I looked at the marvelous formations in Carlsbad Caverns.  I was “astounded” by the beauty of Big Bend National Park.  I was left “speechless” as I looked out on the pristine dunes of White Sands National Monument.  There were so many times on this trip that I was overwhelmed by what I saw, and at times heard, in God’s Creation that I simply had to stand in wonder, awe and silence.

This was not a new experience for me.  Countless times I have beheld beauty that humbled me and left me speechless.  I say “beauty” but in reality it is the Creator that leaves me overwhelmed and lacking words to express what I’m feeling.  As a pastor I make my living talking about God but there are times when words get in the way.  I can understand why the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (5:2)  When we encounter God, wherever or however that might be, the best thing we can do at times is be silent.

There is no doubt a time to lift up our voices in praise to God.  Every single day we should offer Him words of thanksgiving.  But it is not a bad thing at all to “be still and know” that God is God. (Psalm 46:10)  Christina Rossetti once said, “Silence is more musical than any song.”  I cannot help but feel God is honored when we stand speechless before Him.  It is in those moments we let God be God and that is enough.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Big Bend National Park, the middle one at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the bottom one at White Sands National Monument.)


Apr 13 2011

Embracing Idleness

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you about my discovering the poetry of Mary Oliver. In addition to ordering a number of her volumes of poems I also purchased a book by Thomas W. Mann called God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God. This book not only does an excellent job of discussing the spiritual side of Oliver’s poetry, it also has much to say in general about the role of creation in spirituality.

In his book Mann says “The first order of a spiritual attitude toward the world is simply to pay attention to our place in it.” He goes on to add, “This requirement may seem so obvious that it is needless to say, but, in fact, most of us do not pay attention to the natural world in our everyday lives.” Mann points out that our failure to take time to pay attention to the world around us “produces the incapability of experiencing an epiphany.” He next quotes a passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems: “Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another–why don’t you get going? For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees. And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”  

Mann explains that if we are to experience God in nature we will have to learn to be idle; he writes, “Paying attention requires idleness, and far from being the Devil’s workshop, this is sacred, Sabbath time.” This is something I needed to hear. I tend to avoid idleness like the plague. It’s hard for me to be still and yet God says to us through the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10) My fast paced life and also my fast paced photography (Rob Sheppard says I remind him of a jackrabbit taking pictures) no doubt limits the opportunities God is given to speak to me through His “other book”–His Creation.

I must somehow learn to embrace idleness and make it what it should be, “sacred, Sabbath time.” It won’t be easy but because I hate the thought of missing out on God’s revelation just because I’m too busy to pay attention I’m going to give it a try.

–Chuck

 (I took the two images above yesterday on the Hana Highway on Maui, Hawaii.)