Jan 7 2015

Divine Lessons From a Tree

e_DSC0863Many years ago while in seminary I took a class called The Classics of Christian Devotion.  It turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire graduate school experience.  Over the course of the semester the professor, Glenn Hinson, introduced us to many of the true “classics” of Christian literature.  We read and studied works by people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a’ Kempis, William Law, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly.  One of the books that inspired me the most was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who earnestly desired an intimate relationship with God and developed a method whereby he disciplined himself to “practice” being aware of God’s presence every possible moment.  He said this eventually enabled him to feel God’s presence just as keenly while he was washing dishes in the monastery as when he shared Holy Communion.

e_DSC5134Earlier today I learned something I did not know about Brother Lawrence.  My friend Michael Boone shared on his Facebook page “R120” a passage from the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that tells how a tree played an instrumental role in Brother Lawrence’s spiritual development:  “In the deep of winter, Herman (his name before he was a monk) looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”

I find this to be a fascinating story and also yet one more reminder of how Creation serves as God’s “other Book.”  From the very beginning God has used the world of nature to speak to us.  Creation has many divine lessons to teach us but in order for us to learn these lessons we have to be open to instruction and also careful observers of God’s handiwork.

e_CES0370It is interesting that Brother Lawrence’s experience occurred in “the deep of winter.”  We are in that season now.  As you look around you this time of year what do you see in the natural world that might be offering you divine lessons?  The lesson Brother Lawrence received was a great one indeed but there are many others just as wonderful waiting to be discovered by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  We would all be wise to start paying more attention.


(I took the top image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the bottom image at John James Audubon State Park.)

Feb 3 2013

Heaven Breaking Through

_CES7864I have found it interesting that some of the great Christian preachers/writers from the past that are known for their serious works have written such beautiful things about nature.  Jonathan Edwards, best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” wrote eloquently about Creation’s beauty.  St. Augustine, whose works are quite weighty to say the least, likewise, wrote lovely words about finding and experiencing God in nature.

cardinal 387Recently I came across another example.  William Law is widely known as the author of the devotional classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  It is, as the title suggests, a serious book.  I guess that’s why I was surprised to read this lovely quote by Law, “All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of the seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else but Heaven breaking through the veil of this world.”  I really like what William Law says here.  He sees in God’s Creation heaven “breaking through” so that we might catch glimpses of it.  He felt that we can experience a bit of heaven here on earth by paying attention to what is all around us.  Others have certainly suggested the same thing.  In Celtic Spirituality one often reads about “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is quite tenuous indeed.

Those desiring to experience a bit of heaven on earth can find it, Law posits, in a lot of different places.   He speaks in comprehensive terms when he says “all that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world” but he goes on to offer some more specific examples: the air, the seasons, light, sounds, color, and smells.  I like the fact that he also includes “the splendor of precious stones.”  Law may have had jewels in mind here but I find so much beauty in common rocks.

RRG-425I encourage you to consider seriously (I just had to say that) the idea that glimpses of heaven are all around you.  In light of the current state of the world, it’s nice to know that there are “foretastes of glory divine” to be found.  How foolish it would be for us not to take advantage of them.  Wouldn’t you agree?


(I took the picture of the rocks in Maine. I photographed the cardinal in my yard today.  The tree in the field was also taken in Kentucky, near Red River Gorge National Geological Area.)