Jul 30 2019

Wonder and Awe

“For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” Psalm 92:4

While on a road trip with a friend last week he told me about a book by Leigh Ann Henion called Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World.  In this book Henion talks about the importance of wonder for our lives and how it can be found especially in nature.  She chronicles her experiences of wonder visiting migrating monarchs, Hawaiian volcanoes, viewing the northern lights, while on an African safari, and observing a total eclipse of the sun.  Learning about this book has made me think about some of the places where I have experienced wonder and its counterpart, worship, in nature.  Space does not permit an exhaustive list but here are a few.

I have experienced wonder each time I have visited slot canyons in the desert southwest.  When light from above is reflected on the sandstone rock walls the result is pure magic.  Like Henion, I have also experienced wonder and awe observing the northern lights.  Watching the curtains of light move across the Alaskan skies moved me to the depths of my soul.  It was truly a spiritual experience.   I have likewise experienced a deep sense of wonder in Alaska watching giant glaciers calve.  The sights and sounds of this phenomenon inspire me in a remarkable way.   I could say the same thing about walking amidst the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.

I remember feeling wonder and awe the first time I looked up at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.  There was something about those mountains that humbled me and made me feel small in more ways than one.  I have also experienced a heightened sense of wonder each time I’ve visited the geyser basins in Yellowstone National Park.  Watching geysers like Old Faithful, Giant, Grand, and Castle erupt thrill both my heart and soul.  The same thing can be said for sunsets I’ve experienced in the Grand Canyon and sunrises on the coast of Maine.

Many times I have been moved to awe and wonder watching wildlife.  It’s happened observing a whitetail fawn take its first steps and coastal brown bears snatching salmon midair at Katmai’s Brooks Falls.  It’s happened while listening to sandhill cranes migrate overhead and while watching humpback whales frolic in the seas.  Getting to see wolves and moose in the wild have likewise provoked wonder and awe.

Henion speaks about how the phenomena she experienced proved to be life-changing.  The things I’ve mentioned have also been life-changing for me.  In each instance I believe I have been able to catch a glimpse of the Divine.  I see each example as a gift of God’s grace.   I sincerely believe that it has been the Creator’s intention all along to show us God through the handiwork of Creation.  Most of the examples I cited are big things but God is also revealed in the small for those with eyes to see.  It might be a tiny delicate wildflower or the wings of a butterfly.  It could even be something so simple and complex as a snowflake.  The truth is, God may be found in all that God has made and when we truly see we cannot help but be moved by wonder and awe to worship.  Wouldn’t you agree?  What natural phenomena have moved you to wonder and awe?

–Chuck


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.)


Oct 26 2016

Nature’s Call to Worship

_dsc0868Currently I’m teaching a study on the Book of Revelation at the church I serve. This week the focus is on chapter four where John is given a glimpse of the worship going on in heaven.  John records what he saw and among the things he glimpsed were “four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes.”  (v. 6) He goes on to say “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.”  (v. 7)  These four creatures, we are told, offered God worship day and night, continually saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (v. 8)

dnp-grizzly-2eSeveral scholars believe the four creatures John saw stand for the four parts of the animal kingdom. The lion represented wild beasts, the ox represented domesticated animals, the human face represented humans and the eagle represented birds.  The lion’s nobility, the ox’s strength, the human’s wisdom and the eagle’s swiftness likely played a role in their selection.  Each creature has preeminence in its own particular sphere and yet each give preeminence and worship to God, their Maker.  Here we find a reminder that all of Creation was made to worship God.  It is not humans alone that worship God; all that God has made joins together in offering the Creator praise.

In the verses that follow we learn that when the four creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God that others gathered around God’s throne fall down before God and join them in offering their own worship. Specifically, twenty-four elders are mentioned and they too sing a hymn of praise to God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v. 11)

_ces4447I would not be so bold as to say I understand all the particulars of worship in heaven but I do find a parallel here with my own experience. It is noteworthy that the twenty-four elders offer their praise after watching the four living creatures offer theirs.  The actions of the creatures somehow move the elders to join in the worship.  I have experienced that pattern myself.  As I have watched various creatures do what God created them to do, and thus offer God praise, I have found myself moved to offer praise to the Creator as well.  It was as though the creatures I was observing led or called me into worship.  Watching an eagle soar has done this for me.  So has observing a grizzly bear forage and a mountain goat climb rocks.  Hearing a bull elk bugle in the fall has served as a call to worship for me on more than one occasion.  Even spending time with comical prairie dogs has lifted my spirits and moved me to offer God worship.  So maybe all of Creation was not just made to worship God but also to lead the rest of us to do the same.  The question is, are we following in their steps as the twenty-four elders do in heaven.  I hope the answer is Yes.

–Chuck

(I took the elk and mountain goat pictures on my recent trip to South Dakota.  I took the grizzly image several years ago in Alaska.)


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 4 2015

Bowing Continuously

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”  Psalm 95:6

_DSC1272_DSC1272b_CES0270ABPF-066As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry.  In Oliver’s newest book, Blue Horses, there is a poem called “Forgive Me.”  It reads: “Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.  It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some spirit, some small god, who abides there.  If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing continuously.  I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this holiness, which is why I’m often so late coming back from wherever I went.  Forgive me.”

In this poem I sense a call to pay more attention to God’s presence in our everyday surroundings.  I also see here a word of caution.  If we are not careful we will spend too much time seeking God in lofty matters we cannot really understand, like angels, and thereby miss revelations of the divine in the more common things we can comprehend.  Finding God through the Creation is a theme that runs through many of Oliver’s poems.  She seems to discover God in places most of us wouldn’t even think to look—mud, roots, rocks, lichen.  I have often wished I could see the world through Mary Oliver’s eyes.

ANP 0431ANP 0431_CES4270Oliver sees God in so many places that she says if she were a perfect person she would constantly be bowing.  Bowing, of course, is the proper thing to do when one encounters God.  The One who made this world and who can be found within it deserves our worship and praise and would receive it continuously if we were actually able to see the evidence of the divine in everything around us.

_CES0292Oliver indicates this would happen in her own life if she were perfect but is quick to note that she is not.  She, too, misses a lot of God’s manifestations but she is at least wise enough to pause and bow whenever she does sense God’s presence in her surroundings.   She is also wise enough to realize that if pausing to bow and worship the Creator makes one late for something it is still the right thing to do.  In the end there is nothing more important to do and no better way to spend one’s time.

_DSC5435There is an old hymn called “Open My Eyes That I May See.”  It lists a number of things the writer/singer would like to see.  Today it is my prayer that God will open your eyes and mine to see the divine in the common ordinary things of life, and especially in the world of nature.  It is also my prayer that as this request is granted we will actually take the time to bow and worship the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at the Bristlecone Pine Forest in California, the middle image in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.)


May 22 2013

Eyes of the Heart

_CES8139I received a book in the mail a few days ago that has brought me a good bit of excitement. It’s called Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice and was written by Christine Valters Paintner. I have long felt that there was a spiritual dimension to my photography. I have likened it in the past to a spiritual discipline. That is why I named my photography business Contemplative Images over twenty years ago. Photography has helped me see things in a way I had not prior to picking up a camera. In this new book Paintner gives a voice to my experience.

_CES2657In the introduction the author writes, “Photography as a spiritual practice combines the active art of image-receiving with the contemplative nature and open-heartedness of prayer. It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the ‘eyes of the heart’ (Ephesians 1:18). This kind of seeing is our ability to receive the world around us at a deeper level than surface realities.” Later she adds, “Photography as a spiritual practice can help us to cultivate an awakened vision so we begin to really see.”

_CES5257I have often said that my nature photography is at times an act of worship. Paintner agrees with this. She says “Photography can be an act of silent worship. When we see the world with eyes of the heart, we can engage in an act of both reverence and self-expression. We can discover how the living Spirit is being revealed in the world.”

_CES8282As I’ve been reading this book I have rejoiced that someone has been able to put into words what I have felt for so long. The experience has been like finding just the right greeting card that says exactly what you wanted to say to someone but could never have come up with the words yourself. If you own a camera and would be willing to explore how it might be used as a spiritual tool I highly recommend that you purchase and read this book. It is not a book that will teach you how to use a camera (my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard has written plenty of those and I urge you to buy them too), but it will help you to see the world in a different way and this will make you a better photographer in the end. Practicing the principles taught in Paintner’s book will not necessarily help you create award winning images but will instead lead to something far better–a closer connection with God and His Creation.  In the end this book is as much about the contemplative life as it is photography.   It is a book that has the potential to change your life in more ways than one.   That’s saying a lot for a book that only cost me $11.86 on Amazon.com!

–Chuck

(The pictures I’ve used today are examples of my work I’ve come to call “macro therapy.”