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 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


Mar 24 2022

Holy Love

During my retirement I have been rereading some of my textbooks from seminary.  Many of these are over forty years old!  Currently I’m reading The Christian Doctrine of God by Emil Brunner.  In this classic work Brunner highlights the self-revelation of God and emphasizes God’s revelation of Godself as holy and love.  Both aspects of God’s nature must be maintained in order to have a significant grasp of who God is.  Brunner says “love is the very nature of God.” “Love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is Holy Lord.” Elsewhere he adds, “Only now do we understand why love and revelation belong to one another. Love is the movement which goes-out-of-oneself, which stoops down to that which is below: it is the self-giving, the self-communication of God—and it is this which is His revelation. The idea of self-communication gathers up into one the two elements love and revelation.”

Reading Brunner’s words has caused me to give further thought to God’s self-communication through nature.  I firmly believe that God has used that which God created to reveal numerous truths to us.  These truths are given in love and continuously point us back to the Source of this love—a God who is Holy Love.  So many times nature has forced me to recognize the holiness of God.  How can we not be struck by God’s holiness or otherness when we contemplate the sun, moon, and stars?  The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)  How can we not sense God’s holiness when we visit the ocean, mountains, or desert?  I find myself standing in awe of God in natural settings more than any other place.  I suspect many of you do too.

Yes, Creation points me to the holiness of God over and over again, but it also serves as a perpetual reminder of God’s infinite love.  Creation may be viewed as an incredible gift God has lavished upon us out of love.  It is a precious gift for many reasons.  In Creation we find many of our physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs met.  In Creation we discover a beauty that both humbles and inspires us.  For those with eyes to see, all around us is the evidence of God’s love.  The fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) here on earth reveals the full measure of God’s love for both the world and us.  Recognizing the value of this gift of love should move us to pay more attention to God’s overtures of love and affection.  It should also move us to cherish, protect, and preserve this amazing gift.

Now that spring has arrived I hope we will all get outside more and with the eyes of faith contemplate the wonders and glory of God’s handiwork.  As we do so, let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who has been revealed to us as Holy Love.

–Chuck


Jan 27 2022

“Wholehearted Faith”

For a number of years I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evan’s books. I just completed reading Wholehearted Faith.  This is the book Evans was working on prior to her untimely death in 2019.  I am so glad this book still got published as it beautifully highlights God’s unconditional love for us and shows how this unconditional love challenges a number of questionable doctrines.  In a chapter called “Beginning Again With Love” Evans talks about God’s love for creation and says “Embracing God’s love for creation isn’t some trite form of positive self-talk; it’s not a wave of the hand that says, ‘Everything’s good,’ or ‘We’re all fine.’  It’s the complicated, challenging, and unwavering conviction that every single person is created in the image of God and loved by God, even your enemies, and even you.”  She goes on to say, “Operating from that conviction is no walk in the Edenic park, let me tell you.  In my experience, centering my worldview and ethics around the inherent worth and belovedness of all creation makes me even more attuned to the seriousness of doing harm to God’s beloved.  It makes me even more aware of my own capacity for destruction and desecration.  Centering our conversations about sin around God’s love rather than our depravity raises the stakes, for it means that salvation isn’t just about managing your own personal sins; it’s also about restoring health and wholeness to all of creation.”

I believe Rachel Held Evans is on to something here.  When we focus on God’s love for us and Creation rather than God’s condemnation, it changes how we look at ourselves, at others, and even at the world around us.  God truly does love us. That has been made clear in more ways than we could count.  In faith we must accept God’s love for us. This is, however, easier said than done.  Many people find it hard to believe that God loves them but it is true.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We may not feel worthy of God’s love but our feelings do not get the final word.  God does.  You are worthy.  God says so.

God loves you and every other person on earth.  This truth challenges the way most of us live our lives, especially how we see others.  We often judge certain people to be unworthy of God’s love and treat them accordingly.  This has created great strife throughout the course of history. It is the source of so many of our problems. God’s love of others challenges us to love and respect all people.  We are to view people through God’s eyes, not our own tainted vision. What a difference it would make if we seriously attempted to do this.  A “wholehearted faith” will lead us to do so.

Evans also points to the biblical affirmation of the goodness of Creation and God’s love for it.  Here, too, we must learn to view the world through God’s eyes.  Unfortunately, we are far more likely to view Creation through anthropocentric eyes.  The many environmental crises we face today offers proof of this.  Air and water pollution, climate change, deforestation, elimination of species, and many other issues have arisen from failure to see and love the Creation as the Creator does.  In our arrogance and pride we have failed to remember that this is God’s Creation (not ours) and if God loves and cares for it, so must we.  The true value and worth of Creation comes from its Maker, not what we think.

Jesus taught us that one aspect of “the greatest commandment” is that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  May God enable us all to love ourselves, love everyone else, and love this wonderful world we live in.  Doing this while loving God first and foremost surely is what it means to have a “wholehearted faith.”  I long for just such a faith.  Do you?

–Chuck


Nov 29 2021

The Light Prevails

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

The season of Advent began yesterday.  Over the next few weeks Christians will be preparing for the celebration of Christmas.  Advent is a time of waiting and eager anticipation.  It seems to me that the natural year offers us a helping hand for Advent.  This is the time of year when the nights are long.  Many people find the long nights disconcerting.  It doesn’t seem right for it to be getting dark when it’s barely 4:00 p.m.  Some folks even experience depression as a result of the longer nights.   That’s understandable.  As a general rule, we long for light.

Right now a lot of us are longing for longer days.  Those days of extended light will soon be here.  After December 21 the time of daylight will begin to lengthen.  At the winter solstice we celebrate that the darkness does not prevail.  That is a theme of Advent as well.  The darkness that prevails in the world right now will not last forever.  A better day is coming, a day characterized by light.

The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of spiritual darkness and prophesied that “a great light” would dawn upon the people.  Christians believe that he spoke of the coming Messiah and that his words were fulfilled with the birth of Jesus.  It was a bright light in the sky that led the Wise Men or Magi to the Christ child.  Later Jesus would identify himself as the “light of the world.”  The author of the Fourth Gospel declared “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) 

I am thankful that God’s Light was revealed to us in such a marvelous way that first Christmas.  Over the years that Light has brought me much comfort and joy.  It has also brought me a great deal of hope.  I look forward to the day when that Light will be made manifest in all his glory.  In the meantime we will have to endure periods of darkness and do all we can to share the light of Christ with others.  How encouraging it is to know that sooner or later brighter days will come.  The Light will, in fact, prevail over the darkness.  Our Advent hope will be fulfilled.

–Chuck