Feb 21 2016

The Strength of My Heart

_DSC7912A few years ago I came across a verse in the Book of Psalms that deeply moved me. It was Psalm 73:26 that says “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I’m not exactly sure why the verse came to mean so much to me back then but it takes on even more meaning to me today as I sit in the hospital awaiting open heart surgery tomorrow morning. At this point my physical heart has failed me but God nonetheless remains “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I cannot deny that it is a very disturbing thing to have a heart attack and then learn that you are in need of four or five bypasses. Those things have a way of turning your world upside down. But one thing I’ve learned is that although my world may have been turned upside down the world itself continues to turn and God remains in control of it. I think the Psalmist must have recognized that too and it is what enabled him to say that though his flesh and heart may fail, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I know, as he knew, that as long as I am on earth it is God who gives me the strength to carry on and that when this life comes to an end it will once again be God who will give me strength to carry on “forever.”

_DSC0890In so many ways the Bible reveals God to be the One who gives us strength and who protects and provides for us at all times, but especially during troublesome times. In a number of instances references to elements of Creation are used to help make the point. In Psalm 46 we read “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Yesterday, my dear friend, Ken Jenkins, reminded me of another passage that offers this same assurance and encouragement. The prophet Isaiah says “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God.” (43:1-3)

e_CES8881There are countless other biblical references that could be cited here. The overwhelming evidence of the Scriptures is that God loves each of us immensely. God knows the burdens we bear and the trails we are going through. My current heart issues are no secret to God. I have complete confidence that the One who made the heavens and the earth actually is concerned about me and whatever the outcome of my surgery will be that God will see me through to the end. My study of God’s two books, the Scriptures and Creation, teaches me that I am in very good hands. And just in case you didn’t know, so are you.


(I took the baby barred owl image at Corkscrew Swamp in Florida, the second image at Lake Superior in Michigan, and the bottom image at Canyon de Chelly National Monument.)

Jan 29 2014

Listening from the Heart

SC jan 2014-3The poet Mark Nepo asks, “Can you refresh your ethic of wonder by listening to the earth?” (From his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen.) That thought has some very interesting ideas in it.

Nepo uses listening in a broader, deeper sense than merely hearing things with our ears. He also intends this to mean listening, connecting with the heart. For me, connecting with the heart in nature is enhanced by my photography, and not simply by the photographs. As I photograph, I shut out other things. I try to open my heart and listen to what the nature in front of me is telling me it needs. I think good photography is always about the photographer and the subject and how they connect. Photography becomes superficial and trite when it becomes merely surface where the photographer imposes some sort of arbitrary technique on the scene rather than hearing what the scene wants to tell him or her.

SC jan 2014-4Still, sometimes I forget to listen and get all excited about my way of photographing what is in front of me. The photograph starts then to be about me and not about the subject. It is then ego and not connection. Wayne Dwyer says that EGO means Edging God Out and I think that can be true.

I think Nepo’s idea of refreshing our ethic of wonder is pretty remarkable. That is a very spiritual point of view. ‘Refresh” and ethic are core to a spiritual life and to religion. Jesus himself says in John 3:3 – “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” There is not much that is more about “refresh” than being born again or about the “spirit” than the kingdom of God. Last year Chuck talked about how important our world is as it is connected to the kingdom of God, again noted by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer, “… Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”

SC jan 2014-5Being born again spiritually to the wonder of nature on earth – that seems like a pretty good idea. Photography helps me do that. I believe nature is an amazing expression of God’s art and it is worth paying attention to it, deeply paying attention from the heart. That means shedding off the ego and being open to what nature has to say to us about the world, about us, about God.

SC jan 2014-1

The photos here are all from a recent trip to Florida.

— Rob

Sep 26 2012

Seeing with the Heart

Eyes are critical for sight, but do we always truly see what is before us? Paul Baloche wrote a beautiful contemporary Christian song called Open the Eyes of My Heart:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
“Open the eyes of my heart
“I want to see You
“I want to see You”

Sometimes seeing is not about just seeing what is in front of us with only our eyes. Sometimes we have to see with our heart. I believe that is definitely true, as Paul Baloche notes, because we cannot “see” God in any other way. As Jesus says in the Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” I really like the way The Message translates this passage, “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle wonders.”

As a photographer, I cannot simply see the obvious things in front of me or all I will get is a simple snapshot record of the scene. Photographers have to dig deeper into their own hearts to find images that express something more than a scientific record of “I was there.” My grandfather used to call photos that people took of themselves in front of exotic locations “I was there and you weren’t” shots.

A good nature photograph should evoke something more than being able to show what is obviously there. It needs to dig deeper, and the photographer has to see from his or her heart, not just their mind/eyes. I think this can apply to how all of us see the nature around us. We can see it as simply something in front of our eyes, or we can see it from the heart and notice the special beauty God has embedded in the natural world. We can see it as the second Book of God, showing His creative hand in a most direct way. It is easy to see a pretty flower or a bee with our eyes, but when we see these elements of nature with our heart, too, life is revealed in new ways.

What does it mean to see eye to eye with someone? It literally means we are in agreement with that person. It comes from the idea that when you agree with another person, you can look them right in the eye and know you are seeing the same things at a much deeper level than simply seeing with just the mind/eyes. It definitely means seeing the other person heart to heart as well.

I believe we need to see nature from the heart, to see it eye to eye, heart to heart, because this both honors nature and the great Artist who designed and created it, God.

The first photo is of my beautiful wife, Vicky, the second, a wonderful little grasshopper nymph giving me the eye, and finally, an eye-to-eye connection with a black-crowned night heron.

— Rob

May 22 2011

What It Takes to See God

What would you think if you went to your eye doctor to have an eye examination and he or she proceeded to run an EKG on you?  It probably wouldn’t make sense. What do the eyes have to do with the heart?  Physically not much but in the spiritual life there is a close connection.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)  Apparently only those whose hearts are pure have a chance of seeing God.

When Jesus said this he did not mean that here on earth we can actually see God with our own two eyes.  That is not possible.  God told Moses long before that no one could see Him and still live.  There are, however, other ways of seeing and that is what Jesus was referring to in this beatitude.  He was pointing to an intimate fellowship with God that is possible here and now for those whose hearts are pure.

The heart he had in mind was not the organ of our body that pumps blood throughout the circulatory system.  For Jesus the heart was a symbol of one’s total personality.  It was inclusive of mind, emotions and will and, therefore, the source of the motives, values and images which shape our life.  We sometimes think of the heart as being the seat of emotions.  For Jesus it represented much more; it encompassed one’s complete life or character.

Those who can see God are those whose entire life is pure.  The word “pure” in this case means to be cleansed and washed.  It is also used in the Bible to describe someone who is single-minded.   A person is pure if there is no conflict of interest or loyalty in his or her life.  A lot of us are not pure in heart because we have divided loyalties.  We have yet to commit our lives fully to Christ.  Having divided loyalties causes us to be cross-eyed.  Our vision is blurred and as a result we cannot see or experience God as we might if we were more focused on Him.

Soren Kirkegaard once said “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”  The one thing he said we must will is the will of God.  When our hearts are focused primarily on God—and not a hundred different things–we are not cross-eyed but can see things clearly. 

I believe all of this relates to seeing or experiencing God in Creation as well.  If our hearts are not right—if they are not focused first and foremost on God—it is unlikely we will see God in Creation very often.  If, on the other hand, we live lives where our focus is primarily on God then we will see the Creator throughout His Creation on a regular basis.   What some of us need to experience more of God in Creation is not better eyesight but a purer heart.  For that reason, perhaps we ought to pray with the Psalmist, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)  Truly blessed and joyful are the pure in heart for they shall see God.


(The top image is a cone flower I photographed in Tennessee.  The bottom image is a wild rose I photographed in Olympic National Park.)