Nov 13 2013

Finding Grace in Nature

AZ-Canyon-de-Chelly-Spider-Rock-(v)There is a scene in the movie, “O God,” where God (played by the cigar smoking George Burns) sends a message to a televangelist and tells him that He’d prefer that he not try to speak for Him anymore.  I have a feeling that the real God would like to send that message to a lot of folks today.  Certainly not everyone who claims to speak for God actually does.  I was reminded of that yesterday when I read a message on Facebook by one of my favorite natural history writers, Craig Childs.  Craig, who has authored numerous award winning books, wrote: I was once in a church where they told me to shun the world of things, the world of decay and physicality. They said to think only of the immortal afterworld, a place I could not see or touch. Even then, I believed they were wrong. I was too in love with wind and rivers and rock.”

CO-Dallas-DivideI wrote a response back to Craig and told him that I was sorry that he had been exposed to such teaching in the church.  I explained to him that I believe the Bible teaches the importance of the earth and that I view it as a source of revelation of God. I mentioned Jesus’ injunction to “consider the lilies” and to “look at the birds.”  He wrote me back and told me that he knew most religions have “a fundamental reverence for nature” and that he believed there were a number of reasons why some people of faith have a sense of “aversion to the corporeal world.”  He then added this line: I imagine the dichotomy reflects the different kinds of people, those who dread this physical world, and those who find divine grace within it.” 

AZ-Glen-Canyon-NM-Horseshoe-Bend-(v)I suspect Craig is right.  Many people do, in fact, dread and/or fear the physical world.  Perhaps they had bad experiences in their childhood or were taught by grownups early on that there is much in nature that is dangerous and to be avoided.  Even worse, they may have been exposed, as was Craig,  to preaching or teaching in some church where the evilness of this physical world was stressed rather than its goodness and holiness.  They may have heard religious leaders declare that our focus should not be on things of this world but on the world to come.  Regardless of the reason for their fear or dread of nature it makes me sad that this is how they approach or see God’s Creation.  I cannot help but believe that their lives would be richer and their experience of God deeper if they could instead “find divine grace within it.” 

Ironically, the three things Childs said he loved—the wind and rivers and rock—were all things Jesus talked about and used to explain spiritual principles.  I get the impression that these were things that Jesus loved as well.  When Craig walked away from that church I suspect he made the better choice and found more grace than had he stayed.


(I took the three images above in the Colorado Plateau area, the region Craig Child writes so eloquently about.  The top one was taken at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, the middle one in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and the bottom one near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.)

Nov 3 2013

Change, Fear and Creation

HS0139When I moved to western Kentucky six months ago I already had in the back of my mind the question, what will I do for fall photography?  Living in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky the past twenty-four years had spoiled me.  For autumn beauty few places can match the splendor of the southern Appalachian mountains.  After that many years in the area there were numerous locations I could count on for spectacular fall images and I returned to many of them year after year.  But now I live between five and seven hours from those spots.  I knew I would not be able to return to this familiar territory this year and could only hope that I would be able to find something to photograph.  Part of me feared that I would not be able to find anything in my present region that would move me like my beloved mountains further east.

GG7146Thankfully I can report that I have found a number of wonderful locations to do nature photography in western Kentucky and southern Illinois and Indiana as well.  The scenery nearby may not have tall mountains but the beauty of God’s Creation is surely manifest here as well.  I’ve enjoyed photographing in Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area since moving to Henderson, Kentucky, but really did not think it would be a good location for fall photography.  On Friday I learned I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I also made another trip to Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois on Friday and was impressed with the colors there.  There is a ruggedness to this location that already has found a niche in my heart.  Today I spent a couple of hours photographing at James John Audubon State Park.  Here in Audubon’s old stomping grounds I found a brilliant display of autumn’s palette.  As I drove home I found myself offering thanks for being able to live in such a beautiful part of the country.

ASP0294I share all of this to remind myself and you that the change we often fear can, at times, turn out to be a wonderful blessing.  I have never found change to be easy.  I understand that change is inevitable but at the same time when I know changes are coming fear is usually my first response.  I start to worry about whether I will be able to adapt to what is to come.  I stress out about the unknown before me.  Still, over the years I have come to learn that despite my fears I can always move forward because God is with me.  Countless times I have turned to Joshua 1:9 for comfort.  There God says “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”   In God I find my constant in the midst of change.  He is, after all, the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

ASP0397I am also discovering that the constancy of God’s presence is evident in nature.  I do not have to be in the mountains to feel or sense God’s nearness.  The geography, flora and fauna may change in the places that I live and travel to but the One who made all things continues to reveal Himself to me through that which He has made wherever I happen to be.  In nature we find a perpetual reminder that in the midst of an ever-changing world there stands the unchanging Creator who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  That makes facing change far less scary for me.  I hope it does for you too.


(I took the top image at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, and the bottom two images at John James Audubon State Park.)