Apr 21 2013


Akaka Falls  208The word “glory” shows up many times in the Bible–somewhere around four hundred times. You will also find it  in countless hymns and praise songs used in worship.  It is a word which is closely tied to God but many people would probably have a difficult time defining what glory means.  Even if they went to a standard dictionary they probably would not find much help. There they would see “glory” defined as “honor,” “distinction,” or “reputation.”  These synonymns offer a clue to what glory is but not much more.  When wanting to get a better handle on words associated with the Bible or faith I often turn to a series of books written by Frederick Buechner. (Today you can find these books compiled in a single volume called Beyond Words.) Buechner has a unique, and often humorous, way of bringing life and meaning to words we all know but may not fully understand. For me, he certainly proves helpful when it comes to comprehending what “glory” means. Here is what Buechner says:

_CES0720“Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria–each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them. In the words of Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.’ It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare. Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.”

HNP summit sunset 615Buechner’s insight into the word glory not only helps us better understand its meaning; it shows us how we might experience the glory of God here and now.  For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of God may be found in God’s handiwork, through Creation. As I observed the beauty of Spring in the Appalachian mountains yesterday it was clear to me that I was beholding the glory of God.  Sometimes, in fact, when I encounter the beauty of God’s Creation I actually find myself uttering the word quietly to myself, “glory, glory.”

PC623Most of us will never experience God’s glory as Isaiah did in the Temple (Isaiah 6) or Saul (later Paul) did on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), but if we will discipline ourselves to look at nature or Creation as the Supreme Artist’s work, we will see more than enough of God to “sing glory to His name.”  We may even join in with the heavenly chorus described in Revelation 4:11 saying, “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.” As you look out your window today, take a drive in your car, or saunter along a trail, keep your eyes open for the glory of God.  It is there; He is there!


(I photographed the first and third image in Hawaii.  The little girl is our great niece who lives in Florida.  I took the bottom image yesterday near my current home in Pikeville, Ky.)

Feb 10 2013

A Broken Hallelujah

Highland-Hammock-SP-079During our worship service this morning one of our youth sang a song recorded by Mandisa called “Broken Hallelujah.”  I had not heard the song before but was deeply touched by it.  This beautiful song acknowledges that when our hearts have been broken “in a thousand pieces, maybe even more” that it can be difficult to offer God the praise He deserves.  Here are the words to the chorus: When all that I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins.  I will worship You and give You thanks even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah.”  There can be no denying that there are times in each of our lives when it may be hard to praise God but that it is a noble thing when a person offers Him praise nonetheless, even if it is only a broken hallelujah.

On the way home from church I thought about the song and how the words had fit my life on a number of occasions.  It also hit me that there is a sense in which God’s Creation also at times has to offer a broken hallelujah.  The Bible teaches us that all of Creation offers God praise but considering what we have done to the earth perhaps in some places only a truncated or limited offering of praise is possible.  I think of clear-cut areas I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest, mountaintop removal sites in the southern Appalachians, and areas drained for development in the Everglades.  I think of the polluted rivers and lakes I’ve seen, as well as urban settings covered with smog.  In so many places and in so many ways we have hindered Creation’s ability to offer God praise.

Hazard-926eI would like to think that even in those places where humans have altered the landscape and brought pollution that broken hallelujahs continue to be offered.  I would also like to think that through conservation efforts and by being better stewards of Creation we can help restore some of these areas and enable nature itself to offer a greater offering of praise to its Creator.  In fact, since I have been inspired numerous times by Creation to offer my own praise, I feel obligated to do what I can to help Creation fulfill its own task of worshiping God.  How about you?


(I took the top image at Highland Hammocks State Park in Florida.  The bottom image is a picture I took from an airplane of a mountaintop removal site near Hazard, KY.)

Oct 14 2012

A Strong Tower


“For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.”  Psalm 61:3

A couple of days ago I had a chance to visit Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Even though I had been there before, the sight of Devils Tower rising from the earth still impressed me. From the pictures shown here some of you may recognize Devils Tower as the formation that was featured in the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It has, however, other claims to fame. This park was declared the first national monument in the United States in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. It is also considered a sacred place by many native Americans.  Some people come to Devils Tower not to view or photograph it but to climb it. 

The monolith known as Devils Tower rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the river and 5,112 feet above sea level. I’m not sure how this great tower came to be known as “Devils Tower” but I know that seeing it made me think of someone else–the God who made it. Throughout the Scriptures God is often referred to as a “strong tower” or “place of refuge.”  Viewing Devils Tower I was reminded how God truly has been “a strong tower” in my life, as well as a place of refuge.

The world we live in is ever-changing and unpredictable. Sometimes we can feel afraid in the midst of life’s constant changes and uncertainties.  A lot of people live with anxiety because there doesn’t seem to be anything to hold on to, anything that is constant and unchanging, in our chaotic and turbulent world. I’m not sure there is anything we can hold on to help but I do know that there is Someone we can hold on to. In one of the great hymns we are reminded “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”  The contemporary chorus, “Shout to the Lord,” likewise refers to Christ as our “my comfort, my shelter,  tower of refuge and strength.” 

I truly do give thanks for the stability and security God brings to my life.  As strong and mighty as Devils Tower appears to be, it does not begin to compare with the strength and might of the One who made it.  Nor does one have to go to Wyoming to find the strong tower and refuge that is God. The Solid Rock is available wherever you are.  All you have to do is call out for Him and He is there.  That’s His promise, not mine, but I have discovered it is true.  I hope you have as well.



Sep 26 2012

Seeing with the Heart

Eyes are critical for sight, but do we always truly see what is before us? Paul Baloche wrote a beautiful contemporary Christian song called Open the Eyes of My Heart:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
“Open the eyes of my heart
“I want to see You
“I want to see You”

Sometimes seeing is not about just seeing what is in front of us with only our eyes. Sometimes we have to see with our heart. I believe that is definitely true, as Paul Baloche notes, because we cannot “see” God in any other way. As Jesus says in the Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” I really like the way The Message translates this passage, “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle wonders.”

As a photographer, I cannot simply see the obvious things in front of me or all I will get is a simple snapshot record of the scene. Photographers have to dig deeper into their own hearts to find images that express something more than a scientific record of “I was there.” My grandfather used to call photos that people took of themselves in front of exotic locations “I was there and you weren’t” shots.

A good nature photograph should evoke something more than being able to show what is obviously there. It needs to dig deeper, and the photographer has to see from his or her heart, not just their mind/eyes. I think this can apply to how all of us see the nature around us. We can see it as simply something in front of our eyes, or we can see it from the heart and notice the special beauty God has embedded in the natural world. We can see it as the second Book of God, showing His creative hand in a most direct way. It is easy to see a pretty flower or a bee with our eyes, but when we see these elements of nature with our heart, too, life is revealed in new ways.

What does it mean to see eye to eye with someone? It literally means we are in agreement with that person. It comes from the idea that when you agree with another person, you can look them right in the eye and know you are seeing the same things at a much deeper level than simply seeing with just the mind/eyes. It definitely means seeing the other person heart to heart as well.

I believe we need to see nature from the heart, to see it eye to eye, heart to heart, because this both honors nature and the great Artist who designed and created it, God.

The first photo is of my beautiful wife, Vicky, the second, a wonderful little grasshopper nymph giving me the eye, and finally, an eye-to-eye connection with a black-crowned night heron.

— Rob

Sep 9 2012

The Arms That Hold The Universe

Yesterday while my wife and I were riding in the car she played a song for me from one of her favorite Christian groups, 33 Miles.  She told me it was a song that meant a lot to her and after listening to it I can understand why.  Here are the words to a portion of the song: “And the arms that hold the universe are holding you tonight.  You can rest inside, it’s gonna be alright.  And the voice that calmed the raging sea is calling you His child.  So be still and know He’s in control; He will never let you go.  You can hope, you can rise, you can stand; He’s still got the whole world in His hands.  You can hope, you can rise, you can stand; He’s still got the whole world, the whole world in His hands.”

As you and I look out at the wonders of Creation it is very important to always remember that behind Creation stands the Creator.  God has made Himself known through that which He has made, through the events of history, and above all else through His Son, Jesus Christ.  That which is revealed over and over is that the God who made this universe has “the whole world in His hands”  and that He is not a distant unknowable being but a God who extends love and compassion to all that He has made.  As hard as it is for some to believe, God actually cares about each of us and loves us immensely.

This morning in church we sang the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”  This song reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)  In both the song and the scripture verse we are given the assurance that God watches over all of His Creation and that we can rest assured that He watches over us as well.

It brings me great comfort to know that the arms that hold the universe are also holding me.  Knowing that God cares for me I can hope, I can rise, and I can stand even in the toughest of times.  Knowing that the Creator loves me so much also makes me appreciate His Creation more and both motivates and inspires me to be a better steward of it.  I hope it will motivate and inspire you to do the same.  But more than anything, I hope you will somehow sense God’s loving arms around you for that is where we will find our greatest joy and peace.


(I photographed the whitetail fawn at Shenandoah National Park, the goldfinch in Middlesboro, KY, and the sunset clouds at Paducah, KY.)

Aug 15 2012

What Are We Seeing?

Spruce trees are a beautiful part of nature. They stand tall and have a wonderful horizontal branching pattern.

Did you know that in some parts of the world, people cut them down and cover them with strange items made of plastic and some of these items are strange, filmy strips cut from some sort of mylar or something?

I am messing with you a bit. I am talking about a Christmas tree. I love Christmas trees and all the decorations that go on them, including the plastic tinsel. My point is simple – how we look at things, how we “see”, affects our thinking about them and that definitely includes God’s creation.

I was recently at a meeting of native plant enthusiasts. The presenter was talking about keeping a garden wild, and had some great ideas, but she surprised me when she talked about how some people will take a hose to wash the spiderwebs out of their trees and bushes. That never even occurred to me. Those spiderwebs are such a beautiful adornment for the bushes and show how tightly connected the natural world is, even in a garden.

Spiders are amazing creatures, even if we don’t always like them. Frankly, even though I enjoy photographing them and their webs, they do seem a little creepy at times. I don’t know what that is about our nature that makes us feel that way. Yet they are obviously an extremely important part of our world because they are so common. Spiders are the number one predator in the world, and without them, we would be covered with all sorts of bugs that would destroy plant life. There is a very important balance to predators and prey in the environment that works extremely well. And if we are to honor God and His creation, and honor God with the idea that maybe He actually knows what He is doing, we need to acknowledge that even if we don’t always like everything we see, such things are still important.

It does come down to how we see the world.  Paul Baloche wrote a song called “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord”:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You
I want to see You.”

There is much around us, including those silly little spiders in our bushes, that give us a glimpse into the wonder of God’s world, to see God. But we have to open our eyes to see the world, “open the eyes of our heart”, and not allow our very human limitations of sight give us a misleading view of nature.

The webs are made by small sheet web spiders. The spider in the big web is a jeweled araneus orbweaver.

— Rob