Jul 30 2022

Giving Nature a Second Look*

Today I want to share with you some thoughts from two writers separated by many centuries.  Ken Gire is a contemporary writer that I greatly admire.  His book, Windows of the Soul, is one of my all-time favorites. In this book he explores the many different ways God speaks to us today and he identifies these avenues as “windows of the soul.”  In the opening chapter of this book he writes: “We must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears, for the sounds are sometimes faint and the sights sometimes far away.  We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one.  Or one may find us.”

Gire goes on to explain that “windows of the soul is a way of seeing that begins with respect.”  To this he adds, “The way we show respect is to give it a second look, a look not of the eyes but of the heart.  But so often we don’t give something a second look because we don’t think there is anything there to see.  To respect something is to understand that there is something there to see, that it is not all surface, that something lies beneath the surface, something that has the power to change the way we think or feel, something that may prove so profound a revelation as to change not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”

Gire’s words deserve our attention.  He’s right; there truly are many “windows of the soul” available to us and we must make sure that we take advantage of them.  One of the windows he discusses at the end of his book is nature.  He realizes, like many who have gone before him, that Creation itself is a window of the soul.

Writing over eight hundred years before Gire, Bonaventure noted how important it is that we pay close attention to nature.  He said, “All the creatures of this tangible world lead the soul of the wise and contemplative person to the eternal God, since they are his shadows, echoes and pictures…  They are set before us for the sake of our knowing God, and are divinely given signs.  For every creature is by its very nature a kind of portrayal and likeness of that eternal Wisdom.”

Like Ken Gire, Bonaventure recognized that when people look at the things around them they do not always see all that is there to be seen.  For him it is “the wise and contemplative person” who is able to discern God’s Presence in Creation.  How does one become such a person?  By practicing the respect Gire writes about, by giving Creation a second look realizing that in it we do, indeed, find a window of the soul that reveals to us our God and Savior.  I truly believe that when we give nature a second look we actually do find “something that has the power to change the way we think or feel” and something that will alter “not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”  With that in mind, wouldn’t you agree that nature does, in fact, deserve a second look?

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in August, 2012.


Jul 12 2022

Embracing Struggle*

In Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke says “we must embrace struggle.”  He writes this after noting that most people seek to resolve everything  “the easy way.”  When I read this a few days ago I had to admit I have a tendency to want to resolve things the easy way.  I am certainly not one prone to embrace struggle.  Rilke then goes on to say, “Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance.  We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.”

Since reading these words I’ve given them a good bit of thought.  Rilke has a point.  When you look at nature you see that there is a sense in which everything “grows and struggles in its own way.”  This struggle in many instances is not something bad at all but necessary.  For example, I remember hearing about a person who came across a cocoon where a butterfly was in the process of emerging.  Seeing that it was quite a struggle for the creature this person assisted the butterfly by cutting the cocoon.  The butterfly was freed but soon died.  What this good intentioned person did not realize is that the struggle to free itself from the cocoon is a necessary part of the process.  It is what strengthens the wings so that the butterfly can fly.   I guess you could say the butterfly’s struggle is a prelude to flight.

As I think back over my own life I cannot help but see that I, too, have found strength through life’s struggles.  I can’t say I enjoy struggle but my life would be very different today had I been able to escape all the hard times or struggles that have come my way.   It’s probably only human that we try to avoid struggles when we can but no one can escape struggle entirely.  Nor should we want to.  What I now see is that struggle is necessary for the building of character.   If we do not experience struggles in life we, like the butterfly, cannot grow nor can we fly.  I think that’s what Rilke was trying to say in his letter.  I also feel it is the message sounded in the first chapter of  the Book of James.  Here we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (vs. 2-4)

I’m not sure how quick I will be to embrace struggle in the future but both of God’s books—Scripture and Creation—teach me that it is a wise thing to do.  If I want to grow and fly I really have no choice.  Neither do you.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in September of 2011.


Jun 28 2022

Two Conversions*

In his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey speaks of having undergone two conversions: “first from the natural world to discover the supernatural, and later to rediscover the natural world from a new viewpoint.”  The second conversion led him to try to make daily life sacramental.  This means attempting to see God in the world around us each day.

Yancey says, “Every day, every hour, every moment, I must exercise my calling to hallow God’s creation, whether it be leatherback turtles in Costa Rica or the irritating kid next door who peppers my yard with golf balls.  Holy sparks are potentially trapped in every moment of my day, and as God’s agent I am called to release them.”

I think a lot of us are in need of the second conversion Yancey speaks of.  We need to understand that the world God has created is indeed sacred.  Likewise, we need to grasp that God uses what He has made to reveal Himself to us.  There are lots and lots of “holy sparks” waiting to be released.  But before they can be released we must recognize that they are there and look for them.  In The Imitation of Christ Thomas a Kempis wrote, “If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life, and a book of sacred doctrine.  There is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God.”

Yancey also speaks of another effect of his second conversion.  He says, “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.”  Normally we treat works of art with great care.  Apparently many  today fail to see Creation as a work of art.  This is evidenced by the destruction of the planet’s rain forests, the pollution of streams and rivers, the careless elimination of animal species, and a host of other environmental degradations.  God’s incredible work of art deserves far better care than it has received!

Throughout Christian history there have been a number of “great revivals” or spiritual awakenings where thousands of people experienced the first conversion Yancey spoke of.  Perhaps what we need now is a great revival where people will experience the second conversion.  I pray that revival comes.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in July, 2010. Twelve years later, I believe it is a message that still needs to be heard.


Jun 13 2022

Rejoicing in His Works?*

Toward the end of Psalm 104, having spent thirty verses praising God’s greatness made manifest in Creation, the Psalmist says in verse 31: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works…”   What God has created is worth an eternity of praise!   It is the Psalmist’s hope that God can “rejoice in His works.”

We know that when God created the earth that following each day God paused and “saw that it was good.”  Like an artist (or photographer) standing before his or her work, God looked upon what He had made and took delight in it.  In the Psalmist’s words here he seems to be hoping that this delight will be ongoing, that God would always be able to take delight in what He had made. Did the Psalmist have reason for concern?

I don’t know if he did then or not but as we observe God’s Creation now there does, in fact, seem to be reason for concern.  We have polluted the skies and water that once were clean.  We have destroyed mountains and made new ones piled high with waste.  We have hunted some of God’s creatures into extinction or destroyed their habitat to the point that they can no longer survive. We have poisoned the land and cut down the majority of the earth’s forests.  If present day scientists are correct we have even altered the environment to the point where the climate is being changed in a detrimental fashion. 

Is God still able to rejoice in His works?  My guess is that God still does find much to delight in (just as we do) but I also cannot help but feel that God must experience some degree of sadness at the current state of the world.  That which God created “good” has been marred.  Out of love for God we should all seek to do everything we can to preserve and restore God’s Creation.  It should be our concern, as it was the Psalmist’s, that “the glory of the Lord endure forever” and that God “rejoice in His works” always.

–Chuck

*This blog was originally posted August 23, 2009.


May 28 2022

Nothing New

I have been posting blogs at Seeing Creation for thirteen years.  During that time I have written well over 600 entries related to nature and spirituality.  It has been a labor of love.  But I have a confession to make; in recent months I have found myself struggling to find something new to say.  I started by posting blogs twice a week.  Eventually that changed to once a week.  For quite some time, however, it has been only once a month.  I am frustrated by my inability to come up with new material and have thought about shutting down the Seeing Creation page.  I will probably do that eventually but I thought for a little while I would share with you some of my early posts.  Today I share with you one called “Like a Tree Planted by Water” that was originally posted May 29, 2009.  It was one of my first attempts at blogging. In the coming weeks I will share with you some of my favorites from the past.  I hope you won’t mind.

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water…” (Psalm 1:3)  

I have just returned from a photo trip to California that included stops at Yosemite National Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore and Santa Monica National Recreation Area.  One reason I enjoy visiting other parts of the country is that I get to see trees we do not find here in the southern Appalachians where I live.  Majestic redwoods, ponderosa pines, Pacific dogwoods — even a sequoia planted by John Muir himself–brought great delight to my soul. 

While on this trip I started reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer.  Commenting on Psalm 1 he writes,

“Comprehension of the invisible begins in the visible.  Praying to God begins by looking at a tree.  The deepest relationship of which we are capable has its origin in the everyday experience of taking a good look at what is in everybody’s backyard.  We are not launched into the life of prayer by making ourselves more heavenly, but by immersing ourselves in the earthy; not by formulating abstractions such as goodness, beauty, or even God, but by attending to trees and tree toads, mountains and mosquitoes.”  

I think Peterson is on to something here.  Contemplating the natural world can, in fact, move us—even compel us—to pray. Psalm 19 begins with the words, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”  The same psalm ends with the Psalmist praying “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”   

I suggest that it’s not just “the heavens” but all of Creation that declares the glory of God and that as we begin “seeing Creation” we will join the Psalmist in offering our prayers to God. 

— Chuck


Apr 20 2022

Tune In

George Washington Carver once wrote, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.”  I have loved this quote ever since I came across it several years ago.  It speaks truth to me.  I really do believe that nature is one of the means God uses to speak to us.  Everyday there is an opportunity to “hear” something new.  But how many of us get these messages?  A lot of us don’t and Carver intimated why—we fail to tune in.  Either we forget to pay attention or are not fully convinced that God does in fact speak through nature.  I admit that I do not always listen as I should.  I, too, sometimes forget to tune in.  But over the years I have heard God speak to me in powerful and moving ways through nature.  In this post I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned about God in or through nature.

First, I have learned that God truly is the Almighty, that God is all-powerful.  Looking up at the Milky Way on a clear night, standing before a roaring waterfall, watching glaciers calve into the sea, looking up at majestic mountains I have felt humbled by God’s power.  God is the Creator of all these things, the Creator of everything! God’s power is undeniable.  It is incomprehensible.  In nature we are reminded of this day after day.

Second, I have learned through nature that God is wise and all-knowing.  Only one who is infinitely wise could put the world together the way that it is.  God’s wisdom is on display everywhere we look.  Everything God made has a purpose.  Everything!  We may not always know what that purpose is but that is only a sign of our limited understanding.  With unbounded wisdom God made this planet livable.  Things had to be just right for earth to sustain life as we know it.  God’s design of this earth is amazing!  The evidence of this is everywhere we look.

Third, I have learned that God is the consummate artist and the author of beauty.  Every day I get to witness God’s handiwork and I stand in awe of it.  I see the beauty in my neighborhood where I walk almost every day.  I see it when I’m out driving around.  I see it when I visit our state and national parks.  I’ve seen it in my international travels.  There is beauty to behold everywhere you go.  God could have made all flowers and all birds to look the same but chose instead to bless them with an infinite variety of colors, shapes and sizes.  This attention to variety and detail can be seen in all of nature.

The last thing I’ll mention here is that I have learned in and through nature that God is love.  The fact that a home was prepared for us in the first place is proof to me that God loves us.  The fact that God gave such careful attention to details necessary for our survival, as well as other creature’s survival, is a testament to God’s love for us.  So is all the beauty that we find such delight in.  Nature teaches me that God delights in us and cares deeply for us.

Now all of these truths can be found in the Scriptures.  The Bible speaks extensively about God’s power, wisdom, creativity and love.  And we will never find a clearer picture of God than that which we find in Jesus Christ.  But nature augments these truths and brings them home to us in a visible and tangible way.  If we are wise we will make sure to tune in each day so that we might catch God’s “unlimited broadcasting station.”

What have you learned about God through nature?

–Chuck