Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)


Aug 25 2013

The Moon and Stars

_CES7969In recent days I’ve had occasion to do some photography of the night sky.  While visiting Michael Boone in Washington State I photographed the Milky Way from his driveway.  It had been a long time since I was able to see that many stars at one time.  A few days ago I saw the beautiful full moon rise as I was walking our dog and quickly ran home to get my camera and telephoto lens so that I could capture an image of it.  It was quite a sight sitting over the neighbor’s house.

_CES1966Both opportunities remind me of something the Psalmist said long ago.  In Psalm 8 David declared, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (v. 3-4)  There can be no doubt that David felt what so many of us have when viewing the night sky–an incredible sense of smallness.  Had he known what we know today he might have felt even smaller.  There’s no way he could have known then that the moon was 238,900 miles above his Judean home.  Nor would he have have known that there are around 100,000 million stars in the Milky Way alone.  Some recent studies indicate that the total number of stars in the universe might exceed 300 sextillion (that’s 3 followed by 23 zeros).  Still, what David saw and knew was enough for him to feel humbled before the Creator and “the work of your fingers.”

David wondered how the One who put the moon and stars in their place could possibly be mindful of him or care for him.  As he expresses this wonder it is not that he is doubtful that God is mindful of him or lacks concern.  Quite the opposite!  David was very much aware of God’s concern for him; he just found it hard to believe as he gazed into the heavens.  He’s certainly not the only one to have had this problem.  I know that God loves me immensely but when I look up at the heavens at night, or across the Grand Canyon, or at the summit of Mount McKinley I find that knowledge all the more amazing.  I feel so small.  So insignificant.

GC-Imperial-PointIn Psalm 147 it says God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (v. 4)  That is unfathomable to me for it means God knows over 300 sextillion stars by name!  In the spirit of David, what blows my mind in light of this is that he knows my name too.  In John 10:3 Jesus talked about how the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  The God who knows the stars by name also knows your name and mine.  Elsewhere Jesus added that he even knows the number of hairs upon our head. (Luke 12:7)  That’s pretty amazing, is it not?

I have no doubt that the moon and stars will continue to make me feel small and insignificant at times but they also serve as constant reminders that I am not insignificant at all.  The God who made them knows and loves me.  The God who made them knows and loves you too.  That knowledge is enough to drive a person to his or her knees.  It is at the same time enough to make one stand tall.

–Chuck

(I describe the top two images in the text.  I took the bottom image showing the Grand Canyon from Imperial Point several years ago.)


Aug 5 2012

Thank the Lord for the Nighttime

From time to time I hear Neil Diamond singing “Thank the Lord for the nighttime” on the radio.  Although it is for totally different reasons than he suggests in the song, I have learned from my studies of Celtic Spirituality that giving thanks for the nighttime is actually a very good thing to do.  I realize that a lot of people find nighttime frightening, but it, too, is a part of God’s Creation.  Genesis 1:3-5 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”  Later in the same chapter we read that God made “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night.” (v. 14)

For most of us night is a time for sleeping and rest.  When it grows dark we turn out the lights and go to bed.  We may sleep during the night but life goes on.  In fact night is the most active time for much of Creation.  Nocturnal creatures hunt and feed while we sleep.  The bright light of the sun that we need to operate is not so critical for them; the light of the moon and stars is sufficient.

The ancient Celts recognized the value of the moon in ways we typically do not.  They often spoke of the moon in their evening prayers.  In the Carmina Gadelica one such prayer begins, “Bless to me, O God, the moon that is above me.”  Another includes the sentence, “Holy be each thing which she [the moon] illumines.”  Commenting on this latter phrase, Philip Newell says the Celts didn’t think the moon made things holy, “but rather that in her light the holiness of each thing is more readily perceived.”  Newell goes on to suggest, “We need to rediscover ways of experiencing the light of the night, for it can open in us perceptions that are complementary to seeing by the light of day.”

I wonder if we are not missing out on much of what God has to say to us through His Creation by ignoring what goes on at night.  Do our observations of the earth have to cease once the sun goes down?  The Psalmist apparently didn’t think so.  In Psalm 8 he wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (vs. 3-4)   His observations of the night sky led him to awesome wonder and praise.  Our observations of the world around and above us at night might very well do the same.

I love the stillness of the night and the coolness that usually comes with it.  I love the shadows and silhouettes nighttime brings.  I love the sounds of nature you hear only at night.  And, like the Psalmist, I love looking at the moon and stars above.  These things help me feel closer to God.   They help me sense His presence.

I encourage you to look for ways you can enjoy nature at night and the revelations of God that come with it.  I’ll close with a prayer Philip Newell includes in his beautiful little book, Celtic Benediction“Glory to you, O God of the night, for the whiteness of the moon and the infinite stretches of dark space.  Let me be learning to love the night as I know and love the day.  Let me be learning to trust its darkness and to seek its subtle blessings.  Let me be learning the night’s way of seeing that in all things I may trace the mystery of your presence.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Death Valley National Park, the star trails in Kentucky, and the moonlit landscape at Big Bend National Park.)

 


Aug 14 2011

The Royal Road

Over the years many have commented on the importance of wonder in our lives.  In one of his recent books Sam Keen wrote: “Wonder is the alpha and the omega of the human mind.  It stands at the beginning and end of our quest to understand ourselves and the world.  Aristotle said philosophy begins in wonder.  It is the most primal of emotions, at once ordinary and disturbing.  As the sixth sense, the natural religious sense, wonder is the royal road that leads us to the other elemental emotions, and thus to a renewed sense of the sacred.”

I like Keen’s description of wonder as “the royal road” that leads us to a renewed sense of the sacred.  It rings true to my experience.  And nowhere has wonder raised its wonderful head more often for me than in the world of nature.  There are so many things I have seen that have left me breathless, so many things I’ve experienced in Creation that have left me feeling humbled and aware of the greatness of God.

It has happened as I’ve watched humpback whales bubble feeding in the Inside Passage, as I have peered down into Utah’s Bryce Canyon, as I have stood beneath the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and as I have watched the northern lights in Alaska.  I have experienced deep wonder observing a meteor shower late at night, and while watching a glorious sunrise early in the morning.  I have stood in awe and wonder before calving glaciers, erupting geysers, soaring eagles and foraging bears.  I have experienced wonder watching thousands of snow geese rise suddenly at one time in New Mexico and while observing fascinating formations deep within a cave.  I will never forget how looking at Saturn through a small telescope in my youth made my heart skip a beat.  Even the beauty and intricacies of tiny flowers and insects have moved me in wonder.

I know that my experiences are not unique.  Countless others have had similar experiences.  Even the Psalmist wrote of this.  David said to God, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8: 3-4)   The world God has made is wonder-full.  Everywhere we look there are things that provoke wonder and move us toward the Creator.  I’m convinced this was God’s intention from the beginning.  Since God is Spirit and we cannot see Him He chose to make it easier for us by placing within His Creation countless things that will move us to a “sense of the sacred.”  He has provided a “royal road” that will lead us to Himself if we will follow it to its end.  Just the fact that God would do this leaves me full of wonder.  How about you?

–Chuck

(I chosen three images to illustrate some of my moments of wonder.  The top is Grand Geyser erupting at Yellowstone NP.  The middle image is an “explosion” of snow geese at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.  I took the bottom image at Bryce Canyon NP.)