Jun 15 2014

Removing the Blinders

_DSC5760A few days ago I came across this story in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul.  Once upon a time a Sufi made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It was a long walk for him and the sun was high.  He had come miles without stopping.  Finally, in the sight of the mosque at Mecca, sure of the goal now, the old man lay down in the road to rest.  Suddenly, one of the other pilgrims shook him awake, rough and harsh in the doing of it.  “Wake up,” he commanded.  “You blaspheme.  You lie in such a way that your feet are pointed toward God in the holy mosque!  What kind of Sufi are you?!”  The old Sufi opened one eye, smiled a bit, and said, “I thank you, holy sir.  Now if you would be kind enough to turn my feet in some direction where they are not pointed toward God.”

_DSC8304It would seem to me that it was the second man, not the first, who was guilty of  blasphemy.  He was the one who failed to recognize that God cannot be contained in a building.  As the Maker of heaven and earth God’s presence can be found everywhere and that makes all of the world sacred.  There is something wrong with any theology that limits God’s presence to a church, synagogue or mosque.  Unfortunately, there have been many over the years who have made that mistake.  They have sought to limit the God who cannot be limited.

_DSC8035For years I have been quoting this passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning—“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  Each of us would be wise to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing heaven (or God) on earth.  So many factors have helped to place and keep these blinders on our eyes but they do not have to be worn.  Ask God to give you fresh eyes to see in “every common bush,” every tree or stream, every bird and flower the glory of His presence.  This will no doubt help lead you to worship God more often and with greater joy.  Whether you keep your shoes on is up to you…

–Chuck

(The pictures used here are some I’ve taken in recent days near my home in Henderson, KY.)


May 5 2014

Joyful Gratitude

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

_DSC4257Recently, while reading Joan Chittister’s book The Breath of the Soul, I came across some very insightful words.  In a chapter called “Blessing” Joan claims bounty and beauty and abundance give us a foretaste of wholeness.  She says “These are the palpable manifestations of the goodness of God in our lives” and “they are simply signs that the God of life is a living, loving God.”  She goes on to say, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.  It confirms our trust in God.  It affirms the greatness of creation.  It seals our dependence on God.  It attests to the beauty of the present and asserts our confidence in the beauty of the future.  It recognizes the mercy and love of God.” Finally, she says “When we celebrate the good things in life, we trace them to the Creator who gives without merit, openhandedly, out of the very goodness of community, love, and support that are by nature at the base of the human condition.”

_DSC3818I find in Chittister’s words a needed call to live my life in joyful gratitude.  I know for a fact that I am richly blessed.  When I do take time to count my blessings I am always amazed at just how blessed I am.  It is helpful to remember that the good I see in my life is a sign that “the God of life is a living, loving God.” I must ever keep in mind that God is the Giver of all good gifts. (James 1:17)  I must also bear in mind that such “bounty and beauty and abundance” deserves to be celebrated.  I will confess that many times when I give thanks it is out of a sense of duty or obligation.  Joy does not always characterize my thanksgiving.  I suspect that there is a big difference in simply listing the things I am thankful for and being keenly aware of the things I am thankful for.  The biggest difference may well be the presence of joy.

When I am outdoors in a natural setting I tend to be more aware of my immediate blessings.  I seem to be more joyful.  Part of the reason for this may be that bounty, beauty and abundance are more evident in nature for me than other areas of my life.  In God’s Creation I am often overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.  In my mind I know that there are just as many blessings in the other areas of my life but those blessings might not be as easy to see as the ones I find in the natural world.  At least not presently.

_DSC3747Over the years I have trained myself to see and experience the goodness of God in Creation.  I sense I need to begin to train myself to see better the blessings of God that are found elsewhere.   I need to be more open to experiencing the goodness of God in my family and friends, in literature and the arts, and in the very exercise of living itself.  There are so many other things that bring joy to my life.  These things are also cause for celebration for they, too, are things that can be traced back to God and are, indeed, “palpable manifestations” of God’s goodness and grace.

I encourage you to join me on this journey of not only counting one’s blessings but joyfully celebrating them as well.  Chittister is right, “learning to celebrate joy is one of the great practices of the spiritual life.” 

–Chuck

(I took the images above this past Friday at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. (KY) and Garden of the Gods (IL).


Apr 13 2014

The Gifts of Gratitude

_CES2860Gratitude is the very heart of the spiritual life.  Meister Eckhart once said “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude connects us both to God and His Creation.  This morning I read a brief passage in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul, that does a nice job of making this same connection.  She writes: “When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good.  We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves.  We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God.  Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

_CES8139Whenever I am out photographing nature or just walking outdoors I find myself regularly saying the words “thank you.”  My gratitude is typically generated by simple things—the sun on my face, the wind blowing through my hair, a bird singing nearby, a squirrel climbing a tree, a flower found in an unexpected spot, a cloud shaped like something familiar.  Simple things like these make me smile and cause me to express thanks.  So do the kindnesses shown me by others—a word of encouragement, a cheerful hello, a telephone call or text message, an invitation to a meal, a handshake or a hug,  a gift or even a funny tale.  Watching children play, listening to good music, and reading an interesting book are still yet other things that illicit words of gratitude from my heart and lips on a regular basis.

_CES0461All of these things I see as blessings that ultimately flow to me from my heavenly Father.  James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  It certainly helps to live one’s life with the recognition that the good things that come our way are gifts of the Creator.  There are, indeed, many benefits to remembering that God is the giver of all good gifts and saying “thank you” often.  Chittister says, “Without doubt, unstinting gratitude saves us from the sense of self-sufficiency that leads to forgetfulness of God.”  I encourage you to pay attention to the many gifts God is providing you each and every day.  Not just the big ones, all of them.  Practice gratitude on an ongoing basis and notice how the giving of thanks only leads to the recognition of even more blessings and the goodness of God.  Make gratitude the “alleluia to existence” and “the praise that thunders through the universe.”  I promise you it will make a difference, all the difference in the world!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Big Spring in Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, the middle image is my great niece Braelyn, and the squirrel at the bottom I photographed here in Henderson, KY.)