Sep 7 2011

My Obsession With Seeing

I have an obsession about seeing.  This is true for me both as a Christian and as a photographer.  As a Christian I long to see God.  I realize that I will never see God in all His fullness and glory this side of heaven but I also know that there is far more of Him to be seen than I have thus far experienced.  In the musical Godspell the song “Day By Day” begins with the words, “Day by day three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly day by day.”  That is my prayer too.

As a nature photographer I also long to see the world around me more clearly. I’ve been doing nature photography long enough to know that I often miss much when I’m out shooting.  That’s why I usually pray before I go out to photograph.  I ask God to help me to see Him in His Creation and also to help me see more of the wonders in His Creation.  Andreas Feininger once wrote that “a camera is an instrument for intensified seeing.”   I truly believe that with God’s help my camera can help me see better.

In recent days I’ve continued to read Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  As the title suggests, he has a lot to say about seeing in this book.  Several things he’s said has caused me to pause and think.  For example, at one point he says “We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see.”  I suspect he is right about that and this has implications for both my spiritual and photographic vision.  I need to be “ready” to see more; “expect” to see more; and “desire” to see more.

In another chapter Rohr writes, “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.”   Who I am truly does affect how I see and experience both God and His Creation.   There are experiences from my past that may well limit how I see things.  Hopefully I can be conscious of how this affects my spiritual and photographic eye.  I am not, however, bound to my past.  I can, and likely shall, have new experiences that will enable me to see God and His Creation more clearly.  Some of these experiences I will have control over, others I will not.  The main thing is to always be open to learning and growing so that I can see better.

In yet another chapter Rohr says “Good religion…is always about seeing rightly.”  Here he quotes Jesus’ words found in Matthew 6:22, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.”  I know that Rohr is right.  That, once again, is why I’m obsessed about seeing more clearly.  For me there is even a connection with seeing more clearly photographically and seeing more clearly spiritually.  I really do want to see more clearly but by now you’ve already figured that out.


(The three images above were taken last month during a trip to Breaks Interstate Park, a location about 30 miles from my home.)

Mar 6 2011

Trashing the Planet

BIP 009This past Thursday afternoon I decided to drive over to Breaks Interstate Park.  With all the rain we had received in recent days I knew the water would be up and that this might offer some nice photographic opportunities.  My hunch was right and I did manage to get some images I liked.  I also captured some I didn’t like at all.   The images I didn’t like were not good because I failed to expose correctly or did a poor job with my compositions.  It was the subject matter—trash.

Along the banks of the Russell Fork River were hundreds of plastic bottles.  These were not placed there intentionally.  They had all been discarded at various places upstream and the swollen waters had carried them to this location making one of my favorite places in the park a mess.  Just a short distance from this spot I encountered another eyesore.  Some  group had deposited their beer and food containers off the side of the road.  It was obvious that this act of littering was intentional.  Some folks had partied in this area and didn’t bother to take their trash with them when they left. 

BIP 015Seeing all the trash diminished my experience at Breaks Interstate Park.  I usually leave such beautiful places feeling happier and more peaceful but this time the presence of all the litter saddened me.  I left discouraged but also reminded how important it is that we take better care of God’s Creation.

Unfortunately, my experience at Breaks Interstate Park was not an isolated experience.  There are few places you can go anymore where you do not see litter—discarded plastic containers, glass bottles, loose paper, cardboard boxes, etc.   We are literally trashing the planet.  This litter does far more than mess up beautiful pictures.  It degrades the environment and can even cause health problems for both humans and animals alike.  The presence of trash also makes it harder for us to see God in His Creation. 

BIP 074Psalms 24:1 says the earth belongs to the Lord.  I know we tend to think of it as being our home but it is really His.  From the looks of things we are not taking very good care of it.  I know if someone came into my house and trashed it I would not be happy.  I would consider the violator guilty of great disrespect.  It makes you wonder what God thinks when He looks upon the earth.  It makes you wonder what He thinks of us.  And hopefully, it also makes you wonder what you can do to find a solution.

There are, of course, solutions to this problem.  We can refrain from littering ourselves, practice recycling, purchase items that use less packaging, and participate in litter removal programs.  We can also help educate and encourage others to respect the earth and be better stewards.  Failing to make such efforts will result in further trashing of the planet and reveal our disrespect for the Owner of the house.  Neither result is wise or desirable if we want to honor the Creator.


Nov 3 2010

Hitched to Creation

BIP 048On Sunday I shared with you some thoughts from Leonard Sweet’s book, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, and noted how he makes some bold claims there concerning the Christian’s relationship with Creation.  Here is another one of his bold claims: “Our relationship with God by necessity includes our relationship with all that God created.  If the creation joins in praising God and joins in the sufferings of Jesus, how can we disregard the importance of what God has created?  If we are not in right relationship with God’s creation, then we are not in right relationship with God.”  Sweet concludes this discussion by saying, “If we love God, we have to also love what God has made.”

It would indeed help us to contemplate the idea of being in relationship to Creation.  Even better would be to consider what it means to be in a good relationship with Creation.  All of us, whether we realize it or not, are in a relationship with Creation.  As John Muir pointed out long ago, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”  What is important for us is to make sure our relationship with Creation is a good and healthy one.

BIP 982The Bible talks a lot about relationships and indicates that, ideally, love should be the basis of our relationships with others.  I would argue that this includes our relationship with Creation.  Just as Christians are called to love God and love others, we are also expected to love Creation.  In the Scriptures love is not some sentimental feeling; it is, in fact, more about actions than feelings.  Love is something we show, something we demonstrate.

If love is going to be the basis of our relationship with Creation it means we must respect the earth and show concern for it by doing everything we can to preserve and protect it.  Loving Creation will mean we spend time getting to know that which God has made and hopefully also spending time in its presence.  If we are to love Creation we will certainly not take it for granted or do anything that will harm it.  If we truly love Creation we will never forget “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalms 24:1)

How would you describe your relationship with Creation?  If Sweet is correct (and I believe that he is) then the answer to this question will reveal much about your relationship with God.  I sure hope it’s a good one.


(I took the two images above last week at Breaks Interstate Park in Virginia.)

Oct 31 2010

Exegeting Nature

BIP 989On Sunday nights I have been teaching a study based on Leonard Sweet’s book, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery.  The chapter we’re covering this evening is called “Getting Right with Divine Handiwork” and deals with loving what God has made.  Here Sweet makes some bold claims.  He asserts, for example, that “We can only be with God to the extent we are in relationship with both the Creator and creation” and “No Christian has an excuse for not being an ecologist.” Elsewhere he says, “Today, Christians expend a great deal of energy and effort learning how to rightly exegete Scripture.  Such exegesis helps us comprehend and know God.  But what about learning how to exegete nature—the handiwork of God?”

I find the idea of exegeting nature intriguing.  I was required in both college and seminary to take several classes on how to exegete, or interpret, Biblical passages.  There were, however, no classes offered on how to exegete nature.  When we recall how many Christians over the centuries have understood nature to be a “second book” of revelation it seems strange that such a class didn’t exist.

BIP 090In one section in tonight’s chapter Sweet argues that since we are spiritual beings in physical bodies “our biological selves need nature.”  He goes on to say: “There are huge health benefits to living in GodLife relationships—including relationship with creation.  Contact with nature can heal, whether it’s a walk in the woods, a drive on a scenic route, or even peering at framed nature photography hanging on a wall.  Small contacts with creation—gardens and other green spaces—have a cumulative impact.  People who view a nature video after a stressful event can reduce their pulse rate, skin conductance activity, and muscle tension after as little as five minutes.  Following surgery, those who get a room looking out on trees heal faster and need fewer painkillers than those who look out on brick walls.”

There can be no denying that exposure to nature has many health benefits—physical and spiritual.  Those who are wise will use this knowledge to live fuller and healthier lives.  Those who are wise will also learn to exegete nature and discover within Creation the Creator who loves and cares for them very much.  May God help us all to be wise!


(I took the  images above this past Thursday evening at Breaks Interstate Park in Virginia.)

Sep 19 2010

Peace Like a River

BIP 866This morning we sang “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at church.  That got me to thinking of other hymns that combine peace and rivers.  One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul,” begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.”  Another popular hymn begins “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” I’m not aware of any direct link in the Scriptures to peace and rivers.  At times rivers do serve as a symbol of God’s presence and this may be a link.  In the Bible rivers are also viewed as a source of life.  This, too, may be a link.  Throughout the Scriptures rivers are associated with cleansing—physical and spiritual.  This could be a link as well.

In the end I’m not sure the linking of rivers and peace by various hymnists has anything to do with the Scriptures at all.  It may instead simply represent an experience common to many.  There is just something peaceful about rivers.  People have enjoyed sitting by rivers for ages.  There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a river flow by. 

On Thursday I went over to Breaks Interstate Park and took some pictures of the Russell Fork River.   It had been a stressful week and I really wasn’t in the mood to photograph but setting up my tripod next to the river I felt a sense of peace flow over me.  The sight and sound of that river calmed my nerves and brought a sense of tranquility I had not felt for several days. 

river abstractI realize that when God created rivers He had lots of other purposes in mind than just providing us a place to experience peace, but I’m not so sure that this wasn’t also one of His reasons for making rivers and streams.  I think God knew that we would need places we could go to in order to have our spirits renewed, places where we could feel serenity.  It really is no wonder that there are so many songs that combine peace and rivers.  They go together quite naturally.


(The images above were taken Thursday at Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County, Kentucky.)

Jul 25 2010

Nature’s Sermons

BIP 669I continue to be amazed at how the various figures of the Bible use nature to illustrate spiritual truths.  I’m reading the Book of Jeremiah now and a few days ago I came across a passage where the prophet encouraged his listeners to trust in God.  He indicates that there are benefits of trusting God but he doesn’t say exactly what these benefits are.  Instead he compares them to a tree planted by water.

The passage I’m referring to is Jeremiah 17:7-8.  It reads, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A similar comparison is made in Psalm 1.  There the Psalmist declares as “happy” those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (v. 3)

Since I live in an area which has lots of creeks and rivers I see every day “trees planted by water.”  And sure enough, even in the tremendous heat we are experiencing this summer, they continue to thrive.  They have what they need most—water.

In God we find what we need most.  And Jeremiah is certainly right.  There are many benefits of putting our trust in God.  Like the tree planted by water we can endure difficult times when we remain close to God.  We can live without fear and anxiety knowing that the One who created us and everything else has promised to provide for our needs.  We can live productive lives as long as we stay close to our Maker.  This is something Jesus himself stressed in his analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As a pastor I have the privilege of delivering sermons each Sunday.  Here lately the Bible has been reminding me that nature delivers sermons each and every day.  Are we listening?  We should be!


(The “tree planted by water” shown above was photographed at Breaks Interstate Park in southeast Kentucky.)