Nov 14 2012

“The Root of Religious Experience”

A couple of nights ago I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Dr. Matthew Fox at the University of Pikeville.  Since the subject of Fox’s presentation was  “Creation Spirituality” I was asked to do a multimedia program featuring images of nature I have taken over the years.  Considering all that Matthew Fox has done to help people connect Christianity and Creation I felt it was quite an honor to be part of the program.

More than once during the course of his lecture Matthew mentioned how awe, wonder, mystery and gratitude are the root of religious experience.  When he said this it helped me realize why I feel so close to God when I am outdoors enjoying nature.  All four things he mentioned are common occurrences when I go out to hike or photograph.

I could not begin to count the times I have experienced awe in God’s Creation.  I felt it as I viewed the northern lights for the first time in Alaska.  I felt it when I first gazed down into Bryce Canyon.   Every time I have watched a glacier calve or a humpback whale breach I have known awe.  I could say the same thing about my first glimpses of the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.  Time after time my jaw hasdropped as I stood in awe before the handiwork of God.

I have likewise experienced the kindred feeling of wonder.   Seeing things like the majestic formations in Carlsbad Caverns, the great sand dunes of Death Valley and the lava flows from volcanoes in Hawaii have left me feeling wonderful or, more accurately, full of wonder.    I have likewise felt full of wonder as I’ve watched a newborn fawn take its first steps, seen thousands of snow geese rise simultaneously at Bosque del Apache or caught a glimpse of the moonbow at Cumberland Falls.

There is much in God’s Creation that I find mysterious.   Simply looking at the Milky Way on a clear winter’s night I sense the mystery of both life and Creation.  Even the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is full of mystery to me.   The same can be said about the way many plants and animals adapt to and thrive in conditions that would not seem conducive to life.  I often find myself scratching my head in amazement at the mystery that surrounds us every day.

Finally, all the experiences of awe, wonder and mystery that I’ve enjoyed have led me to a profound sense of gratitude.  I feel so incredibly blessed just to be alive and to be able to see and hear and smell and taste and touch all the wonders of God’s Creation.  Such experiences cause people everywhere to feel grateful and to express thanksgiving.  Those who are wise know Who to thank.

In God’s “Other Book,” Creation, we are introduced to the Creator.  In His written Word we come to understand even more fully just how awesome, wonderful, and mysterious God is and why it is so imperative that we move on to the practice of gratitude and worship.  The Psalmist said, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,  for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”  (Ps. 95:6-7) Once you’ve encountered awe, wonder and mystery how can you not do just that?   Fox is right.  These things truly are the root of religious experience.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Bosque del Apache NWR, the middle image in Carlsbad Caverns, and the bottom image at Bryce Canyon National Park.)

 


Nov 11 2012

One Pixel

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Matthew 5:8

If you want to get a photographer’s attention, just mention the word “pixel.”  Pixels are what make up the pictures we take in the digital age.  A pixel is actually quite small which is why you hear people talk about megapixels.   Every digital photograph taken these days is made up of thousands and thousands of pixels. A single pixel will not capture an image but that does not mean that each pixel is not important or doesn’t play a role in the overall picture.  Why am I talking about that here?  There’s a reason.

A few days ago I had the chance to hear William Paul Young speak at the University of Pikeville.  Young is the author of The Shack, a story he originally wrote for his kids alone but that has gone on to sell 19 million copies worldwide.  In the midst of his presentation Thursday night he said something to the effect that “we are all one pixel that makes up the picture that is the face of God.”  Being a photographer, when Young used the word pixel it certainly did get my attention.  He was speaking my language.  By what he said, however, he did more than get my attention, the idea also captured my imagination.  I love the thought that you and I are one pixel that helps make up the picture of the face of God.  It is a reminder that every one of us is important and plays a vital role in the revelation of God.  You need me to fully understand what God looks like and I need you.  We even need those folks that we don’t like, or who may not look or think like us, to get the complete picture.

I think I would add to Young’s statement that everything that God has made should also be seen as “one pixel” that helps us see more clearly the face of God.  In doing so I’d hardly be the first person to suggest this.  Writing long ago Thomas Aquinas said, “No one species can attain to the likeness of God.  Neither can any single creature express the full likeness of God because it cannot be equal to God.  The presence of multiplicity and variety among created things was therefore necessary in order that a perfect likeness to God be found in them according to their manner of being.”  In The Imitation of Christ Thomas a’ Kempis echoes this thought: If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine.  There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.”

The Scriptures affirm that God is the Creator of all that exists.  Everything God has made is a work of art that bears His soul and reveals something about Him.  As Thomas a Kempis suggests, if our hearts were right we would recognize this and in the process we would come to see a much clearer picture of the face of God.  We would also come to realize that all that God has made is important and plays a vital role in Creation.  Yes, everything God has made is there for a reason.  We may not understand exactly what that reason is but that gives us no right to dismiss or minimize its importance.  If nothing else it is there to show us a clearer picture of the face of God.  To me that is reason enough to respect and appreciate all that God has made.  To get the clearest picture of God’s face we can we are going to need all the pixels we can get and that includes yours and mine.

–Chuck

(I took the image of Sandhill Cranes in flight in New Mexico, the pika in Alberta, Canada, and the banana slug in California.)