Jan 24 2017

My Awe-full Life

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve had an awe-full life. Not awful, mind you, but awe-full or full or awe.  I was teaching a class a few days ago and I asked those in it if they could point to instances where they had experienced awe or wonder in nature.  Every single member could point to a time.  As we listed these out loud together I found myself coming up with example after example.  From my first glimpses of the Appalachian mountains and Atlantic ocean as a child until the present moment nature has continued to fill me with wonder and awe.  I can’t help but believe that is true for everyone.

God’s Creation is simply awesome! I’ve seen that awesomeness in giant trees and tiny flowers.  I’ve seen it in the Milky Way above and in marvelous creatures here below.  I’ve seen it in the heated desert and in the frozen tundra.  I’ve seen the awesomeness of nature in calving glaciers, steaming geysers and raging rivers.  I’ve seen it in mountains high and valleys low.  Near and far I’ve been blown away by the wonders and mysteries of Creation and led to moments of pure awe and worship.

WA Olympic NP Hoh RainforestThis awe-full life I’ve had comes as no surprise because the Bible teaches us that there is an awesome God behind all of this. Nature is awesome because it is a reflection of the awesomeness of God.  That awesomeness is found everywhere.  Isaiah 6:3 says “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Because this is true there are awe-full moments waiting for us all of the time.  If we will but use the eyes and ears that we have been given we cannot escape experiencing God’s glory.

VA Atlantic Ocean sunriseThe apostle Paul believed that God’s awesomeness in Creation was so great and evident he declared “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  Having seen what I’ve seen, it would be difficult for me to argue with Paul concerning this matter.

I believe that the Creator made the world awesome on purpose so that it would lead individuals like you and me to God. The marvels of nature are signposts directing us to God.  Today I am thankful for those signposts and for this awe-full life I’ve been given.  It has brought me much joy and brought me closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

( I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone NP, Olympic NP, and the Atlantic ocean.)


Apr 1 2015

Seeing With Wonder

_DSC9010Earlier today I took a longtime family friend out to see some of the bald eagles that we have nesting nearby.  It was the first time she had ever seen eagles close up in the wild and it was fun watching her excitement.  She told me that as the eagles would fly in and out of the nest her heart would start pounding.  When it came time to go I had trouble getting her to leave.  The bald eagles filled her with such wonder and awe she found it difficult to walk away from them.  I was touched by her enthusiasm but it also served as a reminder that because of my frequent sightings of bald eagles in the area I don’t get as excited about seeing them as I once did.  I certainly still enjoy seeing bald eagles but I will confess that because it has become routine I have lost a good bit of the awe and wonder my friend displayed this afternoon.

In her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”  I think that is wonderful advice.  It may be hard for some of us to regain the excitement of our first sighting of some bird, animal or flower but we should be able to discipline ourselves to look at things with the recognition that it might be our last time to do so.  I suspect we would pay far more attention than we normally do if we looked at things this way.

_DSC8958I am convinced that we need more wonder in our lives.  G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”   There are certainly no lack of things found in God’s Creation that should cause us to experience wonder and awe.  Unfortunately, the problem is we fail to pay attention to these things and thus miss out on the wonder of it all.

_DSC8984One reason why I believe wonder is needed is that I see it as a prelude to worship.  When we experience wonder and awe we are on the verge of worship; we find ourselves very close to the God of wonders.  I have indicated numerous times on this site that I believe God has made the world not just to meet our physical needs but to point us to Him.  If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we will find much that will lead us to worship the Maker of heaven and earth and as Betty Smith indicates, it will also cause our time on earth to be “filled with glory.”

The next time you find yourself outdoors I encourage you to pray that God will help you look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.  I have a feeling that it will truly make a difference.

–Chuck


Feb 27 2013

The Grace of Wonder

MR-428Over the years I have benefitted greatly from the writings of Brennan Manning.  My favorite book of his is called The Ragamuffin Gospel.  Brennan has experienced the grace of God in a powerful way and bears eloquent witness to its power in this book. In a chapter called “Cormorants and Kittiwakes” he also shares some words that I think readers of this blog will find insightful.  I encourage you to give them some thought:

Jenny Wiley SP sunset“We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive that we become immune to the glory of creation.  We barely notice the cloud passing over the moon or the dewdrops clinging to the rose leaves.  The ice on the pond comes and goes.  The wild blackberries ripen and wither.  The blackbird nests outside our bedroom window.  We don’t see her.  We avoid the cold and the heat.  We refrigerate ourselves in the summer and entomb ourselves in plastic in winter.  We rake up every leaf as fast as it falls.  We are so accustomed to buying prepackaged meats and fish and fowl in supermarkets we never think and blink about the bounty of God’s creation.  We grow complacent and lead practical lives.  We miss the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.”  Manning goes on to say, “for the eyes of faith, every created thing manifests the grace and providence of Abba.”

Can people really “become immune to the glory of Creation?”  Sad to say, the answer is yes.  It is a danger we all face in our fast-paced and busy lives.  If we are not careful we will miss not just the glory of Creation but the presence of the Creator found in it.  We will miss, as Manning notes, “the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.”  That truly is a high price to pay!

raven-380Manning concludes the chapter mentioned above by inviting us to pray the following prayer: “Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.  Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of Your universe.  Delight me to see how Your Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His, to the Father through features of men’s faces.  Each day enrapture me with Your marvelous things without number.  I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all.”  I conclude this entry asking you to do the same.  Offer this prayer and see if you do not once again begin to see and experience more of the glory of Creation.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Mount Rainier National Park, the middle image at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky, and the bottom image at Yellowstone National Park.)


Jan 27 2013

Through the Eyes of a Child

Rose-breasted-GrosbeakIn a journal I keep in my study I have recorded the following words by an unknown writer: “God, are you real?” the child whispered. “God speak to me.”  And a meadowlark sang.  But the child did not hear.  So the child yelled, “God, speak to me!”  And the thunder rolled across the sky, but the child did not listen.  The child looked around and said, “God let me see you.”  And a star shone brightly, but the child did not notice.  And the child shouted, “God show me a miracle!”  And a life was born, but the child did not know.  So the child cried out in despair, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!”  Whereupon God reached down and touched the child.  But the child brushed the butterfly away and walked away unknowingly.

I like this piece because it serves as a reminder that God often speaks to us and reveals Himself through nature.  I’m not sure, however, why the person who wrote it used a child as the primary subject.  I suspect that children are more likely to recognize God’s presence in Creation than most adults.  Children have not yet lost their sense of wonder; they typically maintain a simple trust that we adults struggle to keep as we grow older.   Perhaps that is why Jesus once spoke these words: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2)

Paducah-storm-cloudsI do believe that God can speak through a meadowlark and loud claps of thunder.  I believe God can be seen in the stars shining above, as well as in the birth of a child.  I likewise believe that God’s touch can be felt when a butterfly alights on one’s face.  But in order to experience these things we must have the faith of a child.  Our grown up rational minds will likely fail to make the connection.

butterfly-on-milkweedYes, if we want to see and hear God more often, whether in nature or anywhere else, we should ask God to help us see through the eyes of a child.  Then, and only then, will we be able to look with eyes full of wonder and humility—the eyes that will enable us to recognize the face of God and to feel His gentle touch.

–Chuck

I photographed the rose-breasted grosbeak (sorry, I didn’t have a meadowlark image) and storm clouds in Kentucky.  The butterfly image was taken in Virginia.


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.)

 


Aug 14 2011

The Royal Road

Over the years many have commented on the importance of wonder in our lives.  In one of his recent books Sam Keen wrote: “Wonder is the alpha and the omega of the human mind.  It stands at the beginning and end of our quest to understand ourselves and the world.  Aristotle said philosophy begins in wonder.  It is the most primal of emotions, at once ordinary and disturbing.  As the sixth sense, the natural religious sense, wonder is the royal road that leads us to the other elemental emotions, and thus to a renewed sense of the sacred.”

I like Keen’s description of wonder as “the royal road” that leads us to a renewed sense of the sacred.  It rings true to my experience.  And nowhere has wonder raised its wonderful head more often for me than in the world of nature.  There are so many things I have seen that have left me breathless, so many things I’ve experienced in Creation that have left me feeling humbled and aware of the greatness of God.

It has happened as I’ve watched humpback whales bubble feeding in the Inside Passage, as I have peered down into Utah’s Bryce Canyon, as I have stood beneath the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and as I have watched the northern lights in Alaska.  I have experienced deep wonder observing a meteor shower late at night, and while watching a glorious sunrise early in the morning.  I have stood in awe and wonder before calving glaciers, erupting geysers, soaring eagles and foraging bears.  I have experienced wonder watching thousands of snow geese rise suddenly at one time in New Mexico and while observing fascinating formations deep within a cave.  I will never forget how looking at Saturn through a small telescope in my youth made my heart skip a beat.  Even the beauty and intricacies of tiny flowers and insects have moved me in wonder.

I know that my experiences are not unique.  Countless others have had similar experiences.  Even the Psalmist wrote of this.  David said to God, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8: 3-4)   The world God has made is wonder-full.  Everywhere we look there are things that provoke wonder and move us toward the Creator.  I’m convinced this was God’s intention from the beginning.  Since God is Spirit and we cannot see Him He chose to make it easier for us by placing within His Creation countless things that will move us to a “sense of the sacred.”  He has provided a “royal road” that will lead us to Himself if we will follow it to its end.  Just the fact that God would do this leaves me full of wonder.  How about you?

–Chuck

(I chosen three images to illustrate some of my moments of wonder.  The top is Grand Geyser erupting at Yellowstone NP.  The middle image is an “explosion” of snow geese at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.  I took the bottom image at Bryce Canyon NP.)