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 3 2012

Being A Good Host

It’s the season for company at our house.  Last week we were blessed to have my younger sister and her family come spend some time with us.  Later this evening my wife’s niece and her daughter will arrive.  In between these two family visits we’ve had a good bit of other company; the kind nature provides.  A few days ago my wife found a baby mockingbird that had decided to leave its nest sitting in one of our bushes.  It was a beautiful little specimen and we enjoyed spending some time watching it.  There’s also been a rabbit that’s been paying regular visits in our back yard.  Yesterday two mourning doves settled in on the railing of our porch deck.  I spent quite a bit of time with them and immensely enjoyed their company.  And then there’s been another frequent guest.  We haven’t seen him because he always stops by while we’re sleeping but this raccoon has decided our trash can has some of the best leftovers in the neighborhood.

Not all of our guests the past couple of days have been fauna.  We have also had several beautiful flowers pay us a visit.  There’s a rose bush with a few blossoms on one side of the house and some pretty yellow day lilies on the other side.  My favorite floral guests, however, have been the numerous magnolia blossoms that have popped up on the tree beside our driveway.  Every day a new guest arrives.  It’s been wonderful!

I truly do feel blessed by all the company we’ve had.  Whether they have been family, flora or fauna, they have all added much enjoyment and beauty to my life.  They keep reminding me of the wonders of God’s Creation.  Long ago the Psalmist declared “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (139:14)   I, too, recognize “full well” that God’s works are wonderful, but I keep being amazed by just how wonderful they are.

A number of times I have shared with you quotations from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.  Mary teaches through her poetry the importance of paying attention to what is around us.  This is something we all need to work on.  Many times we fail to notice that which is close by or, even worse, right in front of us.  We ought to be more observant.  In fact, I believe God expects us to be.

Maybe we could learn to become more observant and attentive if we started viewing both the people and things around us as guests.  Most of us do a good job of paying attention to the guests who visit our homes.  We typically do not ignore them, so why should we ignore our non-human guests? There’s no reason to be rude to them.  I want to encourage you to be a good host to all the guests God brings your way.  Pay attention to them.  Learn from them.  Enjoy their company.  It will make a difference, I promise.


(All of the pictures above were taken in our yard over the past few days.)

Jan 30 2011

Look For The Details

magnolia leaves 239As you may or may not know, my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, has another wonderful site you can find at www.natureandphotography.com.  This past week Rob wrote a delightful entry called “Finding Photos When Nature Is Filled With Stuff.”  His main advice to photographers is to “go for the details” when they find themselves looking at a scene where there’s lots of “stuff.”  I think his advice is also pertinent to those who seek to find God through His Creation.

The Bible clearly teaches that God makes Himself known through what He has made.  That’s good news but it can also be overwhelming.  If God reveals Himself in Creation where in the world do you start to look?  There’s so much to see!  Sometimes for me it is the overall scene or my surroundings that make me aware of God’s presence but at other times I find it helpful to look for the details.  This calls for a more deliberate approach to “seeing Creation.”

magnolia leaves 234I was thinking about all of this yesterday when I was walking in my back yard.  This time of year things are kind of drab around here.  My initial thought was “there’s not much to see right now.”  Then I was drawn to our magnolia tree and the light reflecting off the tops of the leaves.  I drew closer and took a good look at the glossy leaves and studied the patterns that can be found on each if you look close.  I then turned a leaf over and was reminded how very different the underside of a magnolia leaf is.  It is a completely different color and not glossy at all.  Each side is different but both are beautiful.  Unfortunately, most folks would likely never take the time to turn a magnolia leaf over to see its other side.

For those desiring to see more of nature–and God’s handwriting in it–I have two words of advice.  First, slow down and look for the details.  Pay more attention to what is around you.  Draw closer.  You might even want to carry a magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars with you.  Be willing to explore more.  Exercise your curiosity.  Be adventuresome.

Second, ask God to help you see what is around you.  A friend of mine recently reminded me of a wonderful line from C. S. Lewis’ writings: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  This is similar to words penned by the Psalmist, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”  (36:9)  I am convinced that I see more in nature, as well as God’s hand in it, because I’ve asked Him to help me see more.  I believe that God honors our desire to see Him in what He has made so don’t be afraid to ask Him, in the words of the popular hymn, to “open my eyes that I may see.”   There’s no telling what He will show you…


(I photographed the magnolia leaves seen above in my yard this afternoon.)

Jun 6 2009

As White as Snow

magnolia-4481A large magnolia tree grows in my backyard.  It is a southern magnolia, a widely recognized symbol of the South.  Despite the fact that the trees’ leaves have to be constantly raked and have a knack for finding their way into our swimming pool, I’m glad the tree is there.  The tree is a beauty to behold and each spring and summer its flowers remind me of an important spiritual lesson.

Even though I have been a Christian for 43 years and a minister for 33, I am still a sinner.   Maybe it’s because I am a minister who feels like he should know better, but when I do sin I feel really guilty.   If I’m not careful I can get quite discouraged and let my guilt drag me down.  Thankfully I find some reminders in nature that help me to recall a greater reality—my forgiveness. 

In Isaiah 1:18 God says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”   It is indeed my conviction that because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).  The beautiful white magnolia blossom (like the one pictured here and photographed yesterday) is for me a symbol not just of the South but of God’s amazing grace.  It, like snow, is there to remind me of my true status before God—I am a sinner saved by grace!  To quote the late Jerry Clower, “Ain’t God good?!”

–Chuck Summers