Jan 7 2015

Divine Lessons From a Tree

e_DSC0863Many years ago while in seminary I took a class called The Classics of Christian Devotion.  It turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire graduate school experience.  Over the course of the semester the professor, Glenn Hinson, introduced us to many of the true “classics” of Christian literature.  We read and studied works by people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a’ Kempis, William Law, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly.  One of the books that inspired me the most was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who earnestly desired an intimate relationship with God and developed a method whereby he disciplined himself to “practice” being aware of God’s presence every possible moment.  He said this eventually enabled him to feel God’s presence just as keenly while he was washing dishes in the monastery as when he shared Holy Communion.

e_DSC5134Earlier today I learned something I did not know about Brother Lawrence.  My friend Michael Boone shared on his Facebook page “R120” a passage from the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that tells how a tree played an instrumental role in Brother Lawrence’s spiritual development:  “In the deep of winter, Herman (his name before he was a monk) looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”

I find this to be a fascinating story and also yet one more reminder of how Creation serves as God’s “other Book.”  From the very beginning God has used the world of nature to speak to us.  Creation has many divine lessons to teach us but in order for us to learn these lessons we have to be open to instruction and also careful observers of God’s handiwork.

e_CES0370It is interesting that Brother Lawrence’s experience occurred in “the deep of winter.”  We are in that season now.  As you look around you this time of year what do you see in the natural world that might be offering you divine lessons?  The lesson Brother Lawrence received was a great one indeed but there are many others just as wonderful waiting to be discovered by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  We would all be wise to start paying more attention.


(I took the top image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the bottom image at John James Audubon State Park.)

Jul 14 2013

Reflections on Reflections

MI7917If you happen to be one of my Facebook “friends” you know I am in Florida right now.  I’m attending my denomination’s General Assembly in Orlando but I came down a couple of days early so I could photograph at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.   While in that area I posted several pictures I had taken.  A number of those images included reflections.  Rob jokingly calls me “the reflection guy.”  Maybe I am.  I certainly take a lot of images of reflections.   The past day or two I’ve been pondering why I gravitate to reflections.

One reason is quite simple; I think they are pretty.   If it is a particularly beautiful scene that is being reflected you get two of everything.  That makes it twice as nice!  I also like reflections because they have a calming effect on me.  They create in me a sense of peace and tranquility.  Beyond these reasons I have to confess that there is just something about reflections that move me or touch my soul.  I wonder if part of the reason for this is my awareness that we are all called to be reflections of God’s light and love.  I see this as being one of the primary reasons for my existence.

MI6158In the Gospel of John Jesus declared that he was the “light of the world.”  Elsewhere he told his followers that they, too, were the light of the world.  It is pretty obvious that those who are disciples of Christ are meant to reflect his light to others.  Unfortunately, we do so imperfectly, even at our best.  If you pay close attention to reflections out in nature you’ll notice that the reflection is always a bit darker than the subject it is reflecting.   That is certainly also true when we reflect Christ’s light.  We never really offer a perfect reflection but our goal should be to offer the best reflection that we can.

When I photograph reflections I generally want still or calm waters.  They offer me the condition I need to render near mirror like reflections.  I have a feeling that the reason a lot of us offer poor reflections of Christ is that there is a lack of calmness or stillness inside of us.  The waters of our soul are often turbulent or choppy.  This keeps us from offering to others a clear reflection of Christ which, in turn, keeps us from fulfilling our true purpose in life.

MI7803If we want to do better than this (and I do) then we must find ways of stilling the soul.  In Psalm 46:10 the Psalmist has God say “Be still and know that I am God.”  Somehow, someway, we have got to learn how to be still.  There are a number of things we can do to promote this stillness.  We can discipline ourselves to slow down some.  The fast paced lives most of us live is not conducive to stillness.  We can and should learn to live in the moment.  Fretting about the past or worrying about the future does not help our cause.  We can follow Brother Lawrence’s advice and “practice the presence of God” moment by moment.  We can learn to meditate, something the Bible encourages.   We can spend more time in prayer.  I find worship to be something that helps create peace within.  Likewise, I know that time spent in the splendor of God’s Creation often brings about the desired result.

MI7758Yes, there are a lot of things we can do to help us be better reflections of Christ and his love.  There are any number of things we can do to promote the stillness inside that will help create beautiful reflections.  But in the end we still need God’s help.  In the 23rd Psalm the writer speaks of God leading him “beside still waters.”  We, too, need to let God direct our steps and allow Him to take us where we need to be.  There will be times in our lives when our souls are so storm-tossed that we will need a miracle for others to see Jesus in us.  The good news I have to offer you here is that the one who calmed the sea long ago can calm the storms in our souls today as well.   Yes, the one who calls us to be reflections of himself can and will help us do just that.  And when we let him, it is a beautiful sight to behold.


(I took all of the images above at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge this past week.)


Jan 11 2012

Finding God in a Barren Winter Tree

On this date in 1611 Nicholas Herman was born in Lorraine, France.  Nicholas would eventually become known simply as “Brother Lawrence,” the monk who wrote the timeless classic The Practice of the Presence of God.  In this little book Brother Lawrence shares what he sees as the secret of the spiritual life, it is turning every moment into an opportunity for prayer or “the practice of the presence of God.”  Brother Lawrence said by doing so he was able to feel God’s presence just as near while he was washing dishes in the monastery kitchen as he did when he observed the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

I have been familiar with Brother Lawrence’s writings for many years.  What I did not know until today was the story of his conversion.  I learned in the book, Common Prayer, that gazing at a barren tree one winter Nicholas Herman “saw for the first time the majesty of God’s grace and the constancy of God’s providence.  He imagined himself like the tree, waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring in season.”  Not long after this experience Nicholas became a lay brother in the Carmelite monastery in Paris and received the name, Brother Lawrence.

I find this story of Brother Lawrence’s conversion fascinating.  Who would have thought that God might speak to someone through a barren winter tree?  Moses’ burning bush makes sense to me, a barren winter tree doesn’t.  But that’s my problem, not God’s.  It should be apparent to all of us by this time that God has no limitations on how He can speak or what He might use to get our attention.  Yes, it should be apparent, but that is not always so.  It is so easy to forget this vital truth and for that reason only look for God in the spectacular or highly unusual.  Doing so, we may very well miss Him altogether. 

I appreciate Brother Lawrence’s initial awareness at the barren winter tree that it symbolized himself “waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring.”  If we are going through “barren” times right now, the barren trees we see around us this time of year serve as reminders that the seasons will change.  We will not always be where we are right now.  As Brother Lawrence understood, they also remind us that God is the one who “makes all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) This is a reminder we need not just in winter but throughout the year.

If you are not familiar with Brother Lawrence and his classic of Christian devotion, The Practice of the Presence of God, I highly encourage you to find a copy of this book and read it.  You’ll be glad you did.


(I took the two images above in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.)