Aug 24 2011

“The Re-Creating Stillness of Solitude”

Last night I returned to a book I’ve been reading off and on lately, Gardening Eden.  In one of the chapters I read the author, Michael Abbate, writes about creation care as worship.  He says, “The creation should drive us to our knees.  Not to worship it, but to worship the One who made it happen.  His genius, His power, His wisdom.  All of which combined to cause creation’s beauty, creation’s diversity, creation’s order.  But really seeing the creation takes awareness on our part; we have to pay attention.”  Abbate goes on to list a number of steps along creation’s path to worship.  The first of these is something you read about a lot here on this blog—“opening our eyes to see the real beauty that exists in the world around us.”  It is the second step he mentions that I want to focus on today.

The second step Abbate lists is solitude. Here he makes this interesting claim: “Being able to see the beauty in the world around us requires that we open our eyes, but observation is even more powerful if we are alone with our thoughts.”  I have long been familiar with solitude as a spiritual discipline but have not necessarily connected it to seeing Creation.  Abbate makes a convincing case for this.  He says “Solitude can enhance our appreciation of the environment.  Time spent alone can be a powerful way to remove the distractions that commonly prevent us from approaching God in a fully yielding, open way.  Spending time alone in creation allows our minds to reflect on the majesty of creation and the omnipotence of the Creator.  Our minds can be re-created, refreshed, and recharged.  Richard Foster calls this ‘the re-creating stillness of solitude.’”

Later in this section Abbate notes that in today’s world replacing noise with stillness is a challenge.  That is undoubtedly true.  Earlier this week I was reading the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  One of the articles that caught my eye is called “Tech Detox: Unplugged at Church Camp.”  The author, Andrew Scott, writes about how difficult it is for teenagers—and their counselors—to go to Christian camps during the summer and give up their cell phones and ipods.  So many people have become addicted to these.  As noted in the article, “the problem is not the technology itself but the culture of multitasking and instant communication that makes it hard for campers to pay attention to what is happening at camp and to be fully present with one another.”  In this article Scott also quotes camp director Rhonda Parker as saying, “Living life is so much better than watching it.  To be attentive to the world takes time, and that can’t be cultivated by looking at a two-by-three inch screen.”  Another camp director added, “Technology is an addiction, and there is something good about the isolation of a wilderness experience.  Camp is the last place where kids can reclaim an intentional space of connection, and it’s almost a revolutionary idea.”

Both kids and adults can benefit from time alone in Creation without their phones and other devices to distract them.  If it is our goal to worship the Creator we should be disciplined enough to “unplug” and “go it alone” from time to time.  For many this will not be easy but I learned a long time ago that the things in life that really count rarely do come easy.  Another lesson I’ve learned is that great rewards often come through the path of discipline and sacrifice.  And since I know of no greater reward than the opportunity to experience and encounter the Maker of heaven and earth I would think spending time alone with God in nature would be well worth whatever sacrifice that might entail, be that at a summer camp or wherever else you might find solitude in God’s Creation.


(The top image, which symbolizes solitude for me, was taken at Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The bottom two pictures were taken at Disciple campgrounds in Kentucky, Camp  Wakonda-Ho and Camp Kum-Ba-Ya.)

Aug 7 2011

Spirituality and Beauty

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

This morning in the Sunday School class I teach we had an interesting discussion on spirituality.  One of the points I made during class was that perhaps the best indicator we have that we are growing spiritually is love.  If we are not loving God and others more we are not growing—our spirituality is lacking.

Last night while I was looking at Michael Abbate’s book, Gardening Eden, I noticed that he offers another indicator—one I find very fascinating.  Abbate writes: “Here is a barometer for us to monitor in ourselves: the extent to which we can recognize and appreciate beauty in our lives may indicate the condition of our spiritual walk with the Creator.  The closer we are walking with the Creator, the more beauty we will see in life.”  He notes that many people fail to see the beauty around them.  The beauty gets overlooked.  He says “It’s as if we have to be forced to remove the scales of materialism and entertainment from our eyes so that we can see the beauty in God’s universe, the beauty intended to fill us with joy, rest, and inspiration.”

I’m not sure that I’ve thought of the ability to see beauty as an indicator of spirituality before but it does make sense.  If God is the author of beauty, as I believe He is, then it would stand to reason that those who are closest to Him would be most aware of the beauty He has created.  They would have “eyes to see and ears to hear” that others of us might not.

I find myself wondering whether the awareness of beauty draws one closer to God or is it that those who are close to God are drawn to the beauty?  I know from  personal experience that when I behold the beauty of God’s Creation that I do feel or sense His presence in a powerful way.  So maybe it is the beauty of Creation that draws us closer to God and helps us to grow spiritually.  But then again, perhaps it is because my heart is already attuned to God that I am able to recognize in the beauty around me the presence of God.  Here, too, I know from experience that some people are not affected by beauty in the same way I am.  Some see the same sunsets, rainbows or flowers I do and are not moved at all.

In the end I can’t decide which is more accurate but I do think Abbate is on to something here.  There is, indeed, a connection between one’s ability to see and enjoy beauty and his or her nearness to God.  And since I don’t know which one comes first (kind of like I’m still unsure whether it is the chicken or the egg) I think I’ll just pursue both.  I will spend as much time as I can in the presence of beauty, for it draws me closer to God, and I will at the same time do all I can to walk closer to God so that I might be able to see even more beauty.  That sounds like a win-win approach to me.


(The images above were taken on my trip to Hawaii in April.)

Jul 24 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere?

“I was thirsty…”  (Jesus)

One of my favorite naturalist writers is Craig Childs. Recently I completed reading his book The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. One of the points driven home in this work is that “there are two easy ways to die in the desert: thirst or drowning.” The desert is known as the land of little rain but when it does rain there is often the danger of flash floods. In many cases people perish because the floods catch them by surprise.

When it comes to God’s Creation water in general is a fascinating subject to me. The planet we live on is approximately 2/3 water. Interestingly enough, our bodies are also approximately 2/3 water. Water is absolutely essential to our existence. A human being can go without food for about a month but will not survive without water but three to five days. We depend on consistent rainfall or irrigation systems to grow our food. When areas experience droughts, such as the horrible one occurring in Somalia right now, the results can be devastating. Not only are crops lost, so are lives.

Although our planet contains vast amounts of water much of it has become polluted. This is true for both our freshwater and seawater sources. It is all too evident that humans have not been good stewards of this vital resource. At times we have polluted the waters unintentionally. More frequently it has been intentional. In the 2004 U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, “An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century”, we read “Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity, diminishing our ability to fully realize their potential, costing us jobs and revenue, threatening human health, and putting our future at risk.”  The pollution of our inland rivers and lakes has these same ramifications. The effect of water pollution on both humans and wildlife concerns me. It should concern all of us.

I am also concerned about the future availability of clean water. I have read that global consumption of water is doubling every twenty years and that this is more than twice the rate of human population growth. Numerous nations already have water shortage problems. According to the World Health Organization about one billion people presently do not have access to adequate fresh water and nearly 2 ½ billion lack access to adequate sanitation.

In Michael Abbate’s book, Gardening Eden, he writes: “For those of us concerned about the Bible’s admonition to care for the ‘least of these,’ assuring access to reliable, clean water is an undeniable priority.  More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor-quality water.” Abbate is right; if anyone should be concerned about the crisis that has resulted because of water pollution and poor management of resources it is Christians. So much is at stake here. We must do all that we can to conserve our own usage of water, fight to make sure that laws are enacted–or kept enacted—that protect the earth’s water supplies from polluters, and support the work of those organizations that seek to dig wells in Third World countries and provide clean water to those in need. If we do not do our part, we may just hear our Lord say to us one day, “I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.” (Matthew 25:42) I pray that day will never come for me… or you.


(I took the three pictures above on a trip to Olympic National Park last summer.  The top image is of  fireweed along the Sol Duc River.   The middle image is Sol Duc Falls.  The bottom image is of the Elwah River.)

Jul 13 2011

All Thy Works Shall Praise Thy Name


I have been in Nashville this week for the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Nashville is a nice city but I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy staying in “concrete jungles” where so much of the natural world I love is missing. Still, I’ve enjoyed being here, getting to see a lot of people I know and care for, and participating in some wonderful worship services.

One of the things I’ve been reminded of in our worship services here is how many hymns and praise songs make reference to God as Creator or to Creation itself. A few days ago we were singing the classic hymn by Reginald Heber,“Holy! Holy! Holy!”, and on the screen I saw the words “All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea. Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and Mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Other songs we have sung have echoed the call for all of Creation to join in offering praise and worship to God, the “Creator of heaven and earth.”

Recently I started reading Machael Abbate’s book Gardening Eden. Here he says “In His unfathomable wisdom, God designed everything in the universe to all work together in immeasurable complexity so that it could relentlessly glorify Him. As odd as it may sound, it is not just humans that are expected to recognize God’s power, wisdom, and love. Everything He created is intended to join in the chorus.”

The Scriptures certainly give evidence that all of Creation is meant to give God praise. Psalm 145:21 says “Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” Elsewhere the Psalmist wrote, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it: let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.” (Ps. 96:11). The prophet Isaiah says “The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (55:12) God told Job that at Creation’s dawn “the morning stars sang together” (38:7) and when the Pharisees sought to silence people giving Jesus praise as he entered Jerusalem he told them “I tell you, if my followers didn’t say these things, then the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40)

It would seem that the testimony of both the authors of Scripture and the hymns of our faith understood that all of Creation is meant to join in together offering God praise. What a shame it will be if we humans who were created in the image of God, and have the capacity to experience communion with Him like no other part of His Creation, fail to give Him the praise He deserves! Apparently the rest of Creation is doing its part. Are we?


 (I took the two pictures above on my trip to Hawaii this past April.)