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.


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


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


Dec 29 2021

Nature-RX

I had my annual physical exam a couple of days ago.  After telling my physician about some issues I’ve been having he prescribed a couple of new medications for me.  I am hopeful they will prove beneficial.  I am certainly thankful that we live at a time when there are wonderful medications to help us experience better health. Ironically, shortly before Christmas I received a green T-shirt in the mail that had “Nature-RX” printed on it.  I have no idea who sent me the shirt but I love it.  The shirt will serve as a reminder to me that nature has healing benefits we could all use.

Various studies have revealed a host of benefits from spending time in nature.  These benefits include an increase in happiness, an antidote to stress, anxiety reduction, improved moods, lower blood pressure, enhanced immune system function, a sense of meaning and purpose, and the promotion of cognitive development in children.  Spending time in nature also improves concentration, energy and focus. It even makes a person more giving.  If there was a pill that would do all of this for us I suspect we’d all be asking our doctors for a prescription.   We would even be willing to pay a high price for such a medicine.  Well, in nature we find all this available to us for free and anyone can take advantage of it.

Today we actually know just how much nature is required to reap many of the benefits I’ve mentioned.  A recent study revealed that people who spend two hours a week in green spaces—local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spread out over several visits—are substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.  Spending just 120 minutes a week outside can do you a world of good! 

I would be negligent if I didn’t also note that there are many spiritual benefits to spending time in nature.  As we get outdoors we have a chance to observe our Creator’s handiwork.  Our spirits get lifted as we admire the beauty of the earth.  We can actually commune with God through nature.  If we will pay close attention we can also learn many spiritual lessons from the natural world.  It is obvious from reading the Gospels that Jesus did just this.  I believe we can likewise find comfort and peace, as well as joy and strength, from time spent with God outdoors.  Viewing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, observing the wonders of the night sky, or paying attention to the flora and fauna around us can draw us closer to God.  Surely spending time in nature ought to be considered a spiritual discipline.  It is something we can all benefit from.

The “Great Physician” has written us a marvelous prescription that will have positive benefits for us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I hope we will all be wise enough to take advantage of this prescription in the coming year.  Why not make a New Year’s resolution now to do just that?  Happy New Year and God bless!

-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