Jun 6 2012

The Shadow of God

Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote, “I don’t see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwoods.”  After spending quite a bit of time this past week photographing the white blossoms on the magnolia tree in our yard, I can see how Lindbergh wrote what she did.  The magnolia blossom is a wondrous delight to behold from a distance but an even greater joy to look at close up.  As I pointed my macro lens at a single blossom (all of the pictures shown here were taken of the same flower) I found myself amazed at its outstanding beauty.  In fact, I wondered how one tree could produce so many exquisite flowers.

I also have to admit that while photographing this blossom I sensed the presence of God.  Maybe it was the flower’s white color, symbolizing purity and holiness.  Maybe it was the cone’s golden color, representing royalty.  Or perhaps it was simply the overall beauty of the flower itself.  I am convinced that there is a connection between God and beauty.

I am certainly not the only one who has felt this connection.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament.”  Gabriela Mistral said something similar; she said beauty “is the shadow of God on the universe.”  In the magnolia blossom it is easy to see God’s handwriting, not difficult at all to sense the shadow of God.

Long ago Confucius noted “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  I suspect he is right.  Most people would likely acknowledge that magnolia flowers are beautiful, but I’m not sure they can know just how beautiful without doing what I did—getting close to them and carefully observing their features.   Even with magnolia blossoms it takes some effort and time to truly appreciate their beauty.  In other things their beauty might not be obvious at all, but if we will take the time to look closely at them and study their purpose, we will come to see the beauty that is inherent in each thing God has created.

No one ever said “seeing Creation” is easy work (at least, I don’t think they have).  It is instead a spiritual discipline that requires much effort and a good deal of time.  It is, however, worth the effort because it enables one to see the beauty that lies in everything.  It is worth the effort because it allows us to read God’s handwriting and sense His shadow on the universe.  I plan to keep working on seeing Creation and I hope you will as well.


Jun 8 2011

Macro Therapy

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  –Jesus (John 14:27)

In his book, Our National Parks, John Muir beckoned, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  Muir knew as well as anyone the healing qualities of God’s Creation.  He sometimes described himself as a John the Baptist calling people to the wilderness.  He recognized that there are physical, spiritual and emotional benefits that come with immersing oneself in nature.

Unfortunately, sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we cannot “climb the mountains.”  Perhaps we are not geographically close to some wilderness area, or it may be that time simply does not permit us to get away.  Does that mean we cannot receive the life-giving benefits of nature?  Not at all!  Yesterday I was reminded that one does not have to go anywhere to experience the healing power God has bestowed upon nature.  I had a very busy and stressful day.  I was privileged to speak at the funeral of a wonderful member of the church I serve.  It was a beautiful service but I still found myself feeling drained and empty when I got home.  Before leaving the church, however, members of the deceased’s family asked me to take home one of the vases of flowers that were still there.  My wife thought that was a good idea so I brought a nice arrangement home with me.

When I got the flowers home I decided I’d take a few pictures of the flowers.  They were too pretty not to.  I put a macro lens on my camera and took the flowers outside.  As I moved in close and starting focusing on the delightful colors and patterns I could feel a burden being lifted from my shoulders.  Where there had been sadness I started to feel great joy.  I could definitely relate to John Muir’s words.  Nature’s peace did flow into me and refresh me.  It seemed as though my cares truly did “drop off like autumn leaves.”

Later in the evening I had a chance to work on the pictures I had taken of the flowers.   Even looking at the images on the computer screen proved therapeutic.  I ended up putting several of the images on Facebook and called the folder I placed them in “Macro Therapy.”  I enjoyed the whole experience so much I borrowed a floral arrangement from my secretary’s desk this afternoon and came home and took some more pictures.  Once again, it proved to be a most satisfying and soothing enterprise.

I share all of this with you in the hope that the next time you are feeling stressed or discouraged that you will remember that God has placed in His Creation healing powers that can truly help.  If you can head to the mountains, the ocean or desert, by all means do so.  But if you can’t, just glance around you.  Look closely at a flower, a leaf, an insect, a shell or even a rock—anything you can find nearby.   You may shortly discover your cares dropping off like autumn leaves.  If you do, know that this is by design—our heavenly Father’s design.


(The images above were taken today and yesterday.  Many thanks to the family of Mary Ruth Prater for the gift of the flowers!)

Jun 13 2010

Aware and Alive

yellow flowers 059
“…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10

This weekend Bonita and I celebrated our 29th anniversary by going over to Cumberland Falls State Park.   As always, I took my camera with me (I have a very understanding wife!) thinking I might find something to photograph.  As we entered the park it was raining and I quickly noticed that everything was green.  This is not my favorite time of the year to photograph and I began to think that I’d probably brought my camera along for nothing.  Then I began to notice all of the flowers.

Around here we have wildflowers about nine months out of the year.  Maybe because they are almost always around I sometimes fail to pay them any attention.  This is just another example of ways we can take nature for granted.  Some of us have eyes only for the spectacular.  We fail to notice and appreciate the simple.

This reminds me of something Sigurd Olson wrote in his book, Open Horizons.  He said, “Joys come from simple and natural things, mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water.  Even rain and wind and stormy clouds bring joy, just as knowing animals and flowers and where they live.  Such things are where you find them, and belong to the aware and alive.”

If we are not careful we will miss out on a lot of the joys God has intended for us in His Creation.  Doing so is equivalent to receiving a precious gift from someone and never noticing that it is even there.  Creation is God’s gift to us and certainly deserves to be noticed.  Recognizing that our joy is at stake, perhaps we should begin each day by praying that God would help us to be “aware and alive” and more cognizant of the “simple and natural things” around us. 


(The image above was taken yesterday near the entrance to Cumberland Falls State Park.)

Apr 11 2010

Living in the Moment

toadshade trilliumRobert Frost has a poem called A Prayer in Spring.  Here’s the first stanza:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the springing of the year.

As Rob and I have both noted recently, this is a wonderful time of the year to take pleasure in the flowers.  In the mountains of my area one can now find trillium, bloodroot, trout lilies, hepatica, and scores of other wildflower species.  Of course, many domestic species are also currently blooming. 

The flowers are there but are we seeing and taking pleasure in them?  The fact that Frost feels the need to pray that we will indicates that this does not come automatically.  God gives us the flowers to enjoy but there are things that can keep us from experiencing the enjoyment intended.

If I read his poem correctly, Frost seems to be pointing to worry over the future as something that can keep us from the pleasures of God’s Creation today.  For the farmer the worry might be over an “uncertain harvest.”  For the rest of us it could be any number of things.  There is no shortage of things to cause us anxiety about the future.

phaceliaFrost prays that God would “keep us here, all simply in the springing of the year.”  To me this is a reminder of how important it is to live in the present moment.  If we’re always worrying about what might happen down the road there’s a good chance we will miss the blessings of today.

In the same sermon where Jesus encouraged us to “consider the lilies” and to “look at the birds” he said, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mt. 6:33-34)  In telling us this, his point was that we can trust God to take care of us each day.  There’s no need to be fretting about the future.  If we remain anxious, we will miss the blessings of today—blessings like the beautiful flowers all around us.


(The trillium and phacelia pictured here are common southern Appalachian wildflowers.)

Apr 9 2010


CA Los Osos Fall 09-12A week ago, I was doing a workshop in Central California about flowers and the landscape. This is the time of year where there can be spectacular displays of flowers.

I recently read an old Chinese proverb that I thought really appropriate to nature: “The miracle is not to fly in the air or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.” I am often amazed by God’s miracles all around us, every day. I consider no flower ordinary. Every species has a unique way of living and adapting to life on earth, from how it grows to how it attracts pollinators to how it works to keep things that would eat it at bay and more.

I think sometimes we look for big miracles like those that Jesus performed. But I am thinking those were specific to Jesus, His time and His life on earth. There is a miracle of life all around us and we find it just by being open to what is around us as we “walk on the earth.” Photography helps me focus not only my camera but also myself on the miracles of nature.

— Rob

CA Los Osos Fall 09-08

Apr 7 2010


violet 872I live in Kentucky, which is known as the Bluegrass State.  Here recently it has looked more like the Purplegrass State.  My entire yard has been covered with lovely violets!  

Violets are quite abundant in this area and come in a variety of colors (purple, white, yellow and blue being the most common).  They all look, however, pretty much the same.  If you have ever examined a violet up close you know that on the lowest petal you can see a series of lines.  Naturalists tell us that these lines help guide insects to the source of nectar contained in the flower.   The center of the flower is the lightest in color and this, too, might further attract insects to this spot.

I find it fascinating that when the Creator designed violets that He placed upon them “guide lines” that would help insects out.  To me this says volumes about God.  It shows us that God is concerned about the “little details” of life and that He is there to assist all of His Creation, not just humans.  (I once heard someone say God must really love insects since He made more of them than any other creature.  The design of violets might be proof of that!)

Seeing the guide lines in violets also reminds me that God has given us guidelines, too, to help us out in life.  The Bible is filled with instructions meant to make our lives richer and sweeter.  As a pastor I’m often surprised at how biblically illiterate many Christians are.  Our failure to pay attention to Scripture is about as foolish as a bee not paying attention to the violet’s guide lines directing her to the nectar within. 

The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (119:105)  I think if we gave more attention to the Bible our lives would be enriched and we would find ourselves drawn closer to the One who made us all (violets included).  If you’ve not read the Bible lately, what are you waiting for?


(I photographed the violet above in my yard yesterday.)