Dec 25 2013

Merry Christmas

SC Christmas greetingsNo blog to post today; just wanted to wish all of our readers a very merry and blessed Christmas.  Rob and I appreciate it when you take the time to read our reflections on nature and spirituality and we look forward to sharing more reflections in the year ahead.

I encourage you in the coming days (the true Twelve Days of Christmas) to take advantage of the slower pace and less chaotic atmosphere to enjoy time with both the Creator and His Creation.  There are plenty of blessings to be found in both.

Once again, Merry Christmas and God bless!


Sep 8 2013

Bristlecone Pine and Whose Values Anyway?

SC Bristlecone-03This summer I was privileged to spend a couple of days in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. For me, this is a spiritual place, a place that enhances my connection to God. There is something about being among and photographing trees that are thousands of years old in a place hard to access high on the mountains. There were some people in the Patriarch Grove, but I have never seen this place crowded because the road into the grove is a long, narrow, winding mountain road filled with sharp rocks that threaten tires. It can take up 45 minutes to traverse the 12 miles from the end of paved road to the Patriarch Grove.

Once there, I wandered among the striking trees, feeling honored to be there photographing them. That might seem odd if you have never been there. After all, how can you be honored by trees that don’t think? I felt honored to be in a special place of God’s creation. I stayed until after dark and even played a bit with star photography and the trees.

SC Bristlecone-01These trees live under difficult and challenging conditions. They grow in a soil too harsh for other trees, plus these trees deal with a short growing season high in mountains, severe winter conditions, and low annual rainfall. Bristlecone pine can live with only 10% of their bark left. They grow so slowly in the dry conditions and a very short growing season that their wood becomes extremely dense and resistant to mold, fungi and insects. Bristlecone pine grow in other areas more normally, but here, they handle the conditions quite well.

Now I have heard people say that these trees grow in spite of inhabitable conditions, that they are survivors against the odds. I can’t agree with that. I think that diminishes God’s creation. It implies man’s values rather than God’s values. These conditions may be inhospitable to man, but obviously they are not inhospitable to these amazing trees that hold adaptations for the conditions. Would God feel sorry for these trees growing in “inhospitable conditions”? I don’t think so. They are part of God’s creation, not man’s creation. Oh, those poor trees with only 10% of their bark left! Not really. That’s man’s values. These trees are smartly attuned to the difficult conditions for any other tree.

SC Bristlecone-02It seems to me that we want to attach our values to many things in nature without wondering what is God’s will. The Rim Fire in California near Yosemite is another example. It certainly is troublesome when it threatens people, but on the other hand, it is not going to “destroy” Yosemite, as I have heard news people say (“the Rim Fire threatens to destroy large areas of Yosemite”). We are beginning to understand that fire is actually a part of nature, a part of the world that God made. In some areas, such as Yosemite and its surroundings, fire has always been part of the environment, the ecology, God’s creation. In fact, much of Yosemite is quite unlike what it looked like when the white man first came there and started suppressing fires. Fire in such places is only “bad” from our perspective, not necessarily from God’s. Smokey the Bear came not from God, but from lumber interests that wanted the forests “protected” to protect “their” trees and any potential income they could get from them. In Proverbs 3:5, it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (NIV) I also like the translation in The Message: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”

We cannot possibly understand the immensity, the mystery of God, the wisdom of His creation, but then we can trust in God’s wisdom. When things grow in unique places, like the bristlecone pine, that does not mean they are suffering or any better or worse than any other part of God’s creation. They simply are and they are a beautiful part of that creation. When natural events like fires occur, they are disasters only in our eyes, not necessarily in God’s. And I will be a little harsh about people, too. Building a home in an area that burns and then getting upset it burns is kind of counter productive, and then blaming God for not protecting people is a bit odd.

There is an old story that has a number of forms about a man who expects God’s help. In one form, he desperately needs money because he has lost his job and has big medical bills. He prays to win the lottery. The lottery comes and goes – he wins nothing. He tries again, praying more fervently, prostrating himself on the ground. He wins nothing. Really desperate now, he spends all day and night praying non-stop before the next lottery. And again, he wins nothing. He rails against God, “Why have you forsaken me?” God replies, “It would help if you bought a lottery ticket.”

And it helps if we treat nature as part of God’s values, not ours. We cannot expect to do things the way we want to, based on our values, like the man wanting to win the lottery, if we do not follow God’s will and His values.

— Rob

Nov 6 2011

Blessing the Animals

This morning at church we sang a hymn that begins with the words, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing; Alleluia!  Alleluia!”  This hymn was written by Francis of Assisi.  Francis was known for his love for animals and it is said he often preached to them.  He saw them as his brothers and sisters.  Many continue to recognize our spiritual kinship to the animals we share this planet with.  In fact, this recognition has led several churches to have an annual blessing of the animals on St. Francis’ Feast Day, October 4.  People bring their pets, large and small, to a church or designated location and they receive a blessing from a minister.  When I lived in Middlesboro, Kentucky, I took our dog to such a service and had her blessed. 

I suspect a lot of people would think blessing animals to be sentimental nonsense but I cannot help but believe that this is a wonderful practice.  Like us, these animals were created by God.  In Genesis 1 we read “And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’  And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.”  This passage reminds us not only that God created the animals but that He also declared them to be good.  They were His idea and each plays a role in His Creation.  As such, they deserve to be blessed.

I really don’t know if anything special happens to the animals when they are blessed but I’m pretty sure that something happens to us.  We hopefully come to realize our kinship with the rest of Creation and also our responsibility to care for those God called “good” and St. Francis called his “brothers and sisters.”  My wife and I have a dog that we got from an animal shelter after it had been abused and abandoned.  Sierra has brought Bonita and I much joy.  I honestly see her as a blessing from God.  I can only hope she thinks the same when she looks up at me.


Mar 9 2011

A Suggestion for Lent

pink-lady-slipperToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.   Lent is a forty day (not including Sundays) period of preparation for the celebration of Easter.  The English word “Lent” comes from a Latin word that means “lengthen.”  It was chosen because Lent always comes in the spring of the year when the days begin to lengthen.  I find it interesting (but not surprising) that this religious season gets its name from the world of nature.

Tonight at church we will have an Ash Wednesday service.  At this time people will receive the imposition of ashes.  The ashes come from the burnt palm leaves used last year on Palm Sunday.  The ashes will be placed upon participants as a reminder of their mortality and as a sign of penitence for their sins.  There are many reminders in nature that we must all one day face death but we tend to ignore these.  Even though we know better most of us live in denial of our mortality.  Tonight’s ashes will be a helpful reminder.  Like Abraham we will remember that we are “nothing but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27)

During the season of Lent Christians are encouraged to give up something meaningful to them as a sign of their repentance and desire to follow Christ more closely.  It seems like most people give up favorite food items.  Several times I’ve given up chocolate for the 40 days of Lent.  Because I have been on a diet for the past few months and already given up a lot of foods I’m doing something different this year.  During Lent I’m giving up computer games.  I probably spend about 30 minutes a day playing Mahjong and Solitaire.  I intend to use the extra 30 minutes in the weeks to come to focus more on spiritual matters.

trout lily 979In recent years I’ve noticed that there is a trend to encourage people not only to give up something in their lives during Lent but to also add something during this time.  I’ve heard people suggest adding extra time in prayer or reading the Bible.  Others recommend spending extra time doing acts of service.  These are all good ideas.  I would like to add my own suggestion: spend more time outdoors connecting with God through His Creation.  The timing for Lent (Spring) certainly helps make this a viable and enjoyable option.  During Lent I’d like to encourage you to spend a few minutes every day in God’s Creation.  As Rob and I have said repeatedly, there is something special about meeting Christ in the natural world he has made.  Use this time to be reminded of Christ’s goodness and his undying love for you.

Whatever you choose to “give up” or “add on” during the season of Lent, I pray that this will be a time that you will be drawn closer to the Source of creation and our salvation.


(The top image is a pink lady slipper; the bottom image is a trout lily.  I photographed these spring wildflowers close to home.)

Sep 15 2010

Learning About God & Ourselves From Nature

MR 427As I read the Scriptures I continue to be amazed at how often the biblical writers use nature imagery to make theological comparisons.  A case in point is the passage I’ll be discussing tonight at church, Hosea 6.  Starting in verse 3 the challenge is made to “acknowledge the Lord” and to “press on to acknowledge him.”  Then we read: “As surely as the sun rises he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Here we see God compared to the sun which rises each morning and to the winter and spring rains that you can count on like clockwork.  Such images prove helpful to us.  Since we must deal with an unseen God, it is beneficial when the biblical writers reveal that God is like something we can see with our own eyes.  “What is God’s faithfulness like?” we might ask.  The Bible says it is like the sun that comes up everyday—without fail.  It is like the rains that return each winter and spring.  In other words, God is as faithful as you can get!

In Hosea 6 nature imagery is also used to demonstrate our own unfaithfulness.  God says to His people here, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears?” (v. 4)  By pointing to the “morning mist” and “early dew,” both which come and go quickly, God declares that His people’s loyalty to Him is fleeting at best.  Here again, by referring to something in nature that everyone is familiar with, the point is driven home powerfully.

One of the primary goals Rob and I have in sharing our thoughts with you on is that people will realize that by paying attention to the world God has made they can learn much about God and about themselves.   As Hosea 6 shows, the Scriptures can help us do that.  When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I encourage you to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.  If you happen to experience a morning mist or see dew around you, you may want to consider whether these may be a reflection of your own loyalty to God.  There is so much in nature that makes us think about things that really matter.


(The image above of an Indian paintbrush surrounded by dew covered leaves was taken last month at Mount Rainier National Park.)

Sep 13 2010

Our House

CA-EasternSierras7Chuck was talking to me a little while ago about an issue that we have both heard, namely that some Christians feel that we don’t have to worry about what happens to the earth because this is not our “final” home and that if Christ comes soon, none of this matters. I heard such things 40 years ago around the first Earth Day. I remember getting into such a discussion with a young woman once who said that all this worry about the earth was wrong, that we needed to just focus on God, and in a discussion with a self-professed “Jesus freak” who said essentially the same thing. My response was then, and still is now, what will you say to God when you die and are held accountable for your actions on the earth, his creation? The woman actually thought about it, but the Jesus freak quit talking to me.

I have thought about this a bit recently after Chuck and I talked. Imagine if a young couple were given a beautiful house to live in, everything taken care of for them, while their father built a new home for them on the other side of the mountain, in a place even more beautiful. Their father had actually built the beautiful house they now lived in, including wonderful gardens around it. Now suppose that young couple trashed the house and the gardens, saying it didn’t really matter what they did because their father was building an even better home for them on the other side of the mountain.

Can you imagine what most people would say about that young couple? Spoiled rich kids who can’t appreciate what is right in front of them. They do not deserve that home on the other side of the mountain.

Most people would not think highly of that young couple. So this is what I don’t get. It is not okay to trash something that your earthly father built even though it is not the final destination, yet it is okay to trash something our heavenly Father has created because it is not the final destination. That is really odd.

The photo above is from the Alabama Hills below Mount Whitney near Lone Pine, California. It is sort of looking out from the “house” of earth toward the mountains.

— Rob