Oct 22 2014

This Morning’s Lessons

_DSC1754I’ve not been able to get out and photograph for about two weeks so I went out early this morning to try to capture some new local autumn images.  We are still a good bit away from being at peak colors but it was still nice to be outside and to do some photographic work.  I was only able to photograph for a little over an hour but during that time I got some nice images and also was reminded of a couple of important spiritual lessons.

_DSC1797I started the day at one of my favorite places in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area—the Jenny Hole.  Last year I was able to capture a number of images I really liked there.  I discovered once I got there that the cedar cypress trees have already turned to their autumn rust color.  There was some nice side lighting shortly after sunrise but I had trouble getting excited about what I was seeing.  The scene looked practically identical to what I had photographed last year.  It didn’t make much sense to take pictures if they were going to look just like the ones I’d already taken.  As I started to walk back to my car I looked back and noticed something I had not earlier.  There were reflections of the cypress tree.  Last year the water still had duckweed and other vegetation in front of the trees and the reflection I saw was not present.  I found delight in being able to photograph this beautiful tree reflected in the water.

_DSC1839The lesson I was reminded of here is to pay more attention.  If we are not careful we will fail to notice things that are slightly different than they were before.  In doing so we will miss that which is new.  That can happen both when photographing and also in one’s spiritual life.  There are periods in my life when each day seems basically the same.  In those times I may be lulled into thinking nothing new is going on when, in reality, if I were truly paying attention, I would see that God was up to something new or different.  I know the Bible talks about Christ being the same “yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8) but I also believe that the Scriptures reveal a God who is always up to something new.  In Revelation 21:5 John hears God say, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  If we are wise we will strive each and every day to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  It may seem to be just one more day like every other when, in fact, God is trying to show us or do something new.

A few minutes later I drove to a small pond and noticed a yellow tree reflecting nicely in the water.  When I got out of my car I scared a duck that had been in the pond.  The duck flew off and its departure created lots of ripples in the water that disturbed the lovely reflection I saw when I first arrived.  I went ahead and took a few pictures but waited long enough for things to calm down.  Eventually, the reflection I first saw reappeared.  Every good photographer knows that to get mirror-like reflections the water has to be calm or still.

_DSC1807As I waited for the water to calm I was reminded that as a Christian I am called to be a reflection of my Lord.  The goal is to reflect Jesus as perfectly as I can in my life and conduct.  I have discovered that this is very difficult for me to do when my soul is troubled or I am physically stressed or tired.  I feel I offer a better reflection of Christ when I make sure to take time out to be still, to meditate, to cease from striving.  The problem is I often go long periods without taking the time to do this.  I’m afraid God often has to say to me the words He spoke through the prophet Isaiah long ago, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (30:15)  I really should know better by now.

I’m glad I was able to photograph this morning.  Not only did I get some nice images, God gently reminded me of a couple of lessons I needed to hear once again.

–Chuck

 


Aug 24 2011

“The Re-Creating Stillness of Solitude”

Last night I returned to a book I’ve been reading off and on lately, Gardening Eden.  In one of the chapters I read the author, Michael Abbate, writes about creation care as worship.  He says, “The creation should drive us to our knees.  Not to worship it, but to worship the One who made it happen.  His genius, His power, His wisdom.  All of which combined to cause creation’s beauty, creation’s diversity, creation’s order.  But really seeing the creation takes awareness on our part; we have to pay attention.”  Abbate goes on to list a number of steps along creation’s path to worship.  The first of these is something you read about a lot here on this blog—“opening our eyes to see the real beauty that exists in the world around us.”  It is the second step he mentions that I want to focus on today.

The second step Abbate lists is solitude. Here he makes this interesting claim: “Being able to see the beauty in the world around us requires that we open our eyes, but observation is even more powerful if we are alone with our thoughts.”  I have long been familiar with solitude as a spiritual discipline but have not necessarily connected it to seeing Creation.  Abbate makes a convincing case for this.  He says “Solitude can enhance our appreciation of the environment.  Time spent alone can be a powerful way to remove the distractions that commonly prevent us from approaching God in a fully yielding, open way.  Spending time alone in creation allows our minds to reflect on the majesty of creation and the omnipotence of the Creator.  Our minds can be re-created, refreshed, and recharged.  Richard Foster calls this ‘the re-creating stillness of solitude.’”

Later in this section Abbate notes that in today’s world replacing noise with stillness is a challenge.  That is undoubtedly true.  Earlier this week I was reading the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  One of the articles that caught my eye is called “Tech Detox: Unplugged at Church Camp.”  The author, Andrew Scott, writes about how difficult it is for teenagers—and their counselors—to go to Christian camps during the summer and give up their cell phones and ipods.  So many people have become addicted to these.  As noted in the article, “the problem is not the technology itself but the culture of multitasking and instant communication that makes it hard for campers to pay attention to what is happening at camp and to be fully present with one another.”  In this article Scott also quotes camp director Rhonda Parker as saying, “Living life is so much better than watching it.  To be attentive to the world takes time, and that can’t be cultivated by looking at a two-by-three inch screen.”  Another camp director added, “Technology is an addiction, and there is something good about the isolation of a wilderness experience.  Camp is the last place where kids can reclaim an intentional space of connection, and it’s almost a revolutionary idea.”

Both kids and adults can benefit from time alone in Creation without their phones and other devices to distract them.  If it is our goal to worship the Creator we should be disciplined enough to “unplug” and “go it alone” from time to time.  For many this will not be easy but I learned a long time ago that the things in life that really count rarely do come easy.  Another lesson I’ve learned is that great rewards often come through the path of discipline and sacrifice.  And since I know of no greater reward than the opportunity to experience and encounter the Maker of heaven and earth I would think spending time alone with God in nature would be well worth whatever sacrifice that might entail, be that at a summer camp or wherever else you might find solitude in God’s Creation.

–Chuck

(The top image, which symbolizes solitude for me, was taken at Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The bottom two pictures were taken at Disciple campgrounds in Kentucky, Camp  Wakonda-Ho and Camp Kum-Ba-Ya.)