Recently I had a chance to go to California and spend a week photographing with Rob Sheppard. It turned out to be a marvelous trip. Everywhere we went there seemed to be something special waiting for us to explore and photograph. Numerous times I found myself saying “Wow!” Even more often I would catch myself saying “Thank you!” to God for the blessing of getting to see what I saw. There were several adorable sea otters that we were able to spend time with around Morro Bay. We also had many opportunities to enjoy this year’s super display of wildflowers. At Carrizo Plains National Monument we saw wildflowers flowing across thousands of acres and even into the mountains. It was a marvelous sight to behold. We spent a good bit of time along the central coast of California and the beauty there likewise called for countless expressions of gratitude. I felt incredibly blessed to see all I did.
A few days ago I was looking at a book I own which happens to be a collection of “famous prayers.” I came across one prayer that helped remind me that for those with eyes to see there are always blessings in nature waiting to be seen. The prayer spoke to me and perhaps it will to you as well. It was penned by John Oxenham and is taken from “A Little Te Deum of the Commonplace.”
“For all the first sweet flushings of the spring; The greening earth, the tender heavenly blue; The rich brown furrows gaping for the seed; For all thy grace in bursting bud and leaf… For hedgerows sweet with hawthorn and wild rose; For meadows spread with gold and gemmed with stars, For every tint of every tiniest flower, For every daisy smiling to the sun; For every bird that builds in joyous hope, For every lamb that frisks beside its dam, For every leaf that rustles in the wind, For spring poplar, and for spreading oak, For queenly birch, and lofty swaying elm; For the great cedar’s benedictory grace, For earth’s ten thousand fragrant incenses, Sweet altar-gifts from leaf and fruit and flower… For ripening summer and the harvesting; For all the rich autumnal glories spread—The flaming pageant of the ripening woods, The fiery gorse, the heather-purpled hills, The rustling leaves that fly before the wind and lie below the hedgerows whispering; For meadows silver-white with hoary dew; For sheer delight of tasting once again that first crisp breath, of winter in the air; The pictured pane; the new white world without; The sparkling hedgerows witchery of lace, The soft white flakes that fold the sleeping earth; The cold without, the cheerier warm within… For all the glowing heart of Christmas-tide, We thank thee, Lord!”
Oxenham is right, there is always something in God’s Creation to catch our attention and elicit our praise and thanksgiving. Needless to say, some things catch our eyes or attention quicker than others but if we will really pay attention we will find plenty to give thanks for no matter where we are or what time of the year it happens to be. What are you seeing right now that leads you to offer a prayer of thanksgiving?
(I took the three pictures shown above on my recent trip to California.)
I am blessed to live just a mile from John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky. After work today I decided to head that way and take a walk. It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that spring has definitely arrived in western Kentucky. Not only were there the proverbial robins hopping around, there were wildflowers everywhere. I saw Dutchmen’s breeches, toothwort, squirrel corn and bloodroot in bloom. I also observed Virginia bluebells, trillium and anemones beginning to emerge. In only a matter of days there will be a wonderful floral display for anyone willing to take even a short walk in the woods. If I had taken the same walk just a couple of weeks ago I would not have seen the many flowers I did this afternoon. Winter still held its grip on the landscape. I may not have been able to see them then but I would have known that they were coming. Spring wildflowers are as predictable as spring itself. Even on the most frigid snowy day of winter you know it’s just a matter of weeks before you will begin to see new life emerging from the earth.
Alexander Pope long ago penned the famous line “hope springs eternal.” Nature has a way of reminding us that things do not remain as they are. Spring always follows winter. In fact, it is the hope of spring’s arrival that enables a lot of us to get through the dreary and cold days of winter. In winter’s darkest hour we know a brighter day is coming.
There is a corresponding truth in the spiritual realm. Many people experience times in their life that may well be compared to the cold and dark days of winter. These times can come in any season of the year or in our lives. We get discouraged or depressed. We feel lonely and isolated. Some may begin to lose hope when winter seems to characterize their lives. But I believe that hope truly does spring eternal, that there is always hope of better days to come. This hope is based purely on my faith in God.
Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” When it’s winter in our lives, just like when it’s winter in nature, we have the assurance that spring will come. My faith leads me to believe that with God in the picture there is always a better day to come. I am certainly not naïve; I realize that here on earth that the “better day” we desire does not always arrive. Still I am “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I believe that this life is not all that there is and that there is a far better day waiting for us on the other side of death’s door. One way or another a better day is coming!
I think I now understand why God arranged for Easter to take place in spring…
(I took the pictures used above at John James Audubon State Park this afternoon.)
“This is what I seek…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Psalm 27:4
It is not uncommon for those of us who are ministers to hear people say we should “practice what we preach.” After my trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend I feel the need for someone to remind me to “practice what I blog.” I have often encouraged people at this site to slow down when they are outdoors and to be aware of their surroundings. I’ve even offered warnings about being so preoccupied with finding certain things that you fail to see a number of other treasures at hand. Since I write these kind of things you might expect me to practice what I preach. Why, even I expect that of myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.
When my friend and I entered the park on Friday I was anxious to photograph. Our first stop was Blue Hen Falls. It is only a short walk down to the falls and I was eager to get to the falls and begin photographing. I took scores of pictures right away of the waterfall, none of which were very good. The light was not ideal, nor were my creative juices flowing. I knew I would have another chance to come back to this particular waterfall but still began the journey back to the car disappointed. I’d come to photograph a waterfall and didn’t have much to show for it. Then, all at once, we began to see wildflowers all around us. There were beautiful white trilliums, bloodroot, lousewort, and a host of other species. I also noticed a number of fiddlehead ferns unfurling. None of these things were obvious; the forest floor was covered for the most part with leaves. But for those who truly had eyes to see there was much to enjoy and photograph. We ended up spending far more time in that area photographing flowers and ferns than we had taking pictures of Blue Hen Falls.
It bothers me that I failed to practice what I preach. I should have known better and I should have done better. What I fear even more, however, is that I may not be doing any better in the spiritual realm when it comes to seeing God. I’ve written numerous times that we must be careful about presupposing that God can only be found in certain places. Those who think God can be found only in a church or perhaps in the Bible are likely missing a lot of opportunities to experience God’s presence and glory. I am not one of those who believe God is found only in a church or in the Bible but that does not mean that I still do not miss the divine presence on numerous occasions. I have a feeling that just as I must do a better job of being aware of my surroundings when enjoying nature or photographing, I must also do a better job of opening my eyes to the plethora of ways God is capable of Himself known. There simply is no person, place or thing that God cannot use to reveal Himself. I preach that sort of thing all the time. May God help me now to practice what I preach and really pay attention. May God help you too…
(The trillium and fern image were taken the day written about above. The picture of Blue Hen Falls was taken the next day.)
I live in Kentucky, which is known as the Bluegrass State. Here recently it has looked more like the Purplegrass State. My entire yard has been covered with lovely violets!
Violets are quite abundant in this area and come in a variety of colors (purple, white, yellow and blue being the most common). They all look, however, pretty much the same. If you have ever examined a violet up close you know that on the lowest petal you can see a series of lines. Naturalists tell us that these lines help guide insects to the source of nectar contained in the flower. The center of the flower is the lightest in color and this, too, might further attract insects to this spot.
I find it fascinating that when the Creator designed violets that He placed upon them “guide lines” that would help insects out. To me this says volumes about God. It shows us that God is concerned about the “little details” of life and that He is there to assist all of His Creation, not just humans. (I once heard someone say God must really love insects since He made more of them than any other creature. The design of violets might be proof of that!)
Seeing the guide lines in violets also reminds me that God has given us guidelines, too, to help us out in life. The Bible is filled with instructions meant to make our lives richer and sweeter. As a pastor I’m often surprised at how biblically illiterate many Christians are. Our failure to pay attention to Scripture is about as foolish as a bee not paying attention to the violet’s guide lines directing her to the nectar within.
The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (119:105) I think if we gave more attention to the Bible our lives would be enriched and we would find ourselves drawn closer to the One who made us all (violets included). If you’ve not read the Bible lately, what are you waiting for?
(I photographed the violet above in my yard yesterday.)