Nov 11 2012

One Pixel

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Matthew 5:8

If you want to get a photographer’s attention, just mention the word “pixel.”  Pixels are what make up the pictures we take in the digital age.  A pixel is actually quite small which is why you hear people talk about megapixels.   Every digital photograph taken these days is made up of thousands and thousands of pixels. A single pixel will not capture an image but that does not mean that each pixel is not important or doesn’t play a role in the overall picture.  Why am I talking about that here?  There’s a reason.

A few days ago I had the chance to hear William Paul Young speak at the University of Pikeville.  Young is the author of The Shack, a story he originally wrote for his kids alone but that has gone on to sell 19 million copies worldwide.  In the midst of his presentation Thursday night he said something to the effect that “we are all one pixel that makes up the picture that is the face of God.”  Being a photographer, when Young used the word pixel it certainly did get my attention.  He was speaking my language.  By what he said, however, he did more than get my attention, the idea also captured my imagination.  I love the thought that you and I are one pixel that helps make up the picture of the face of God.  It is a reminder that every one of us is important and plays a vital role in the revelation of God.  You need me to fully understand what God looks like and I need you.  We even need those folks that we don’t like, or who may not look or think like us, to get the complete picture.

I think I would add to Young’s statement that everything that God has made should also be seen as “one pixel” that helps us see more clearly the face of God.  In doing so I’d hardly be the first person to suggest this.  Writing long ago Thomas Aquinas said, “No one species can attain to the likeness of God.  Neither can any single creature express the full likeness of God because it cannot be equal to God.  The presence of multiplicity and variety among created things was therefore necessary in order that a perfect likeness to God be found in them according to their manner of being.”  In The Imitation of Christ Thomas a’ Kempis echoes this thought: If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine.  There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.”

The Scriptures affirm that God is the Creator of all that exists.  Everything God has made is a work of art that bears His soul and reveals something about Him.  As Thomas a Kempis suggests, if our hearts were right we would recognize this and in the process we would come to see a much clearer picture of the face of God.  We would also come to realize that all that God has made is important and plays a vital role in Creation.  Yes, everything God has made is there for a reason.  We may not understand exactly what that reason is but that gives us no right to dismiss or minimize its importance.  If nothing else it is there to show us a clearer picture of the face of God.  To me that is reason enough to respect and appreciate all that God has made.  To get the clearest picture of God’s face we can we are going to need all the pixels we can get and that includes yours and mine.


(I took the image of Sandhill Cranes in flight in New Mexico, the pika in Alberta, Canada, and the banana slug in California.)



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

Oct 16 2011

A Spiritual Polarizer

There’s a wonderful filter nature photographers use called a polarizer.  Like polarizing sunglasses they cut glare.  This filter can be useful in a number of different situations.  They can make clouds stand out in a sky, make the colors of fall foliage look more saturated, and removed unwanted glare on subjects.  I used my polarizer to do each of these things on my recent trip to New England.  In the picture you see to the left I used a polarizer to cut the glare on the surface of a tide pool so that the items below would be visible.  Without a polarizer you would not be able to see the subject as clearly, as seen in the image below where the subject is only slighltly polarized. 

In this blog Rob and I talk often about the possibility of seeing God more clearly in Creation.  As I was photographing the tide pools in Acadia National Park I found myself thinking it would be nice if we had some kind of spiritual filter comparable to a polarizer, something that would help us see God below the surface of things.  Perhaps there is such a filter.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)   When our hearts are pure we are able to see through the glare created by sin or impurity and see God much more clearly.

I know it’s not a popular thing to talk about sin but the Bible reveals that sin affects each of our lives.  The apostle Paul said, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)  He also indicated that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)  It would appear that another one of sin’s “wages” is glare.  Sin keeps us from seeing God in both Creation and others.  It clouds our vision and prohibits a clear view God.

If we want to see more of God we can help ourselves by dealing with the sin we find in our lives.  We will also benefit by striving for a pure heart, one that is truly focused on Christ.  The result will be a truly “blessed” life, one where we are able to see God where we could not before. 


(I took the three images above last week at a tide pool near Otter Cove in Acadia National Park.)

Jul 6 2011

Paradise: Past, Present and Future

I have long been an admirer of the writings of Thomas Merton.  Currently I am rereading one of my favorite books by this deceased Trappist monk, No Man Is An Island.  Last night I came across a passage that I had forgotten about but that certainly speaks to those interested in “seeing Creation.”

At the conclusion to the chapter, “Asceticism and Sacrifice,” Merton writes: “All nature is meant to make us think of paradise.  Woods, fields, valleys, the rivers and the sea, the clouds traveling across the sky, light and darkness, sun and stars, remind us that the world was first created as a paradise for the first Adam, and that in spite of his sin and ours, it will once again become a paradise when we are all risen from death in the second Adam.”  Merton goes on to say, “Heaven is even now mirrored in created things.  All God’s creatures invite us to forget our vain cares and enter into our own hearts, which God Himself has made to be His paradise and our own.  If we have God dwelling within us, making our souls His paradise, then the world around us can also become for us what it was meant to be for Adam—his paradise.”

Merton gives us much to think about here.  He teaches us that all the natural world serves as a reminder to us of the paradise God created in the very beginning.  In the Garden of Eden everything was good and humans walked in fellowship with God.  Sin eventually marred Creation (and continues to today) but the Scriptures point to a day when there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” (Rev. 21:1)  This is a great source of hope for us—paradise will one day be restored!  But as Merton points out, even now heaven is “mirrored in created things.”  In Creation we experience a “foretaste of glory divine.”  Merton says even the animals around us call us to “forget our vain cares” and call us to move our hearts in the Creator’s direction.  It is in Him, first and foremost, that we experience paradise.

Another thing Merton teaches us is that a fellowship with God is necessary for us truly to find in Creation the paradise the Creator intended for both Adam and us.  He elaborates on this when he says, “if we seek paradise outside ourselves, we cannot have paradise in our hearts.  If we have no peace within ourselves, we have no peace with what is around us.  Only the man who is free from attachment finds that creatures have become his friends.  As long as he is attached to them, they speak to him only of his own desires.  Or they remind him of his sins.  When he is selfish, they serve his selfishness.  When he is pure, they speak to him of God.”  Here we are reminded that the person who longs to see God in His Creation must put God first in his or her life.  When our lives are focused primarily on Him then we will see God everywhere we look.  We will see Him in all that He has made.  Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” (Matthew 5:8) apply here.  The closer we are to God the more places we will see Him and the more we will experience paradise here on earth.


(Both of the images above were taken near Hazard, Kentucky.  I took the top picture at Buckhorn Lake State Park a few years ago.  The fawn was photographed a couple of weeks ago.)

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.)

May 18 2011

Seeing Jesus Everywhere

In the Old Testament there is a story where Moses is leading the Hebrews through the wilderness and they find themselves in great need of water to drink.  God tells Moses to strike a nearby rock with his staff.  Once he did out of the rock flowed life giving water. (See Exodus 17:1-7 for more details.)  In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth and he reminds them of this same story but he adds a significant twist.

In 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 he said “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”  Paul’s words are surprising because Jesus, as we know and understand him, was not present with Moses on that particular day.  It would be centuries before he would be born in the village of Bethlehem.  Still, Paul insists that Jesus was there, that he was the “rock” that provided life for the thirsty Hebrews.

Rob Bell, writing in his new book Love Wins, says “Paul’s interpretation that Christ was present in the Exodus raises the question: Where else has Christ been present?  When else?  With who else?  How else?”  Bell goes on to say, “Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere.”

I suspect Bell is right.  The great apostle did not look at the world quite as literally as most of us do these days.  He was able to see Jesus in places where we do not recognize him.  Does that mean Paul was wrong or perhaps even crazy?  I don’t think so. This coming Sunday I’ll be preaching a message on Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)   I cannot help but believe that Paul was able to see God in places we don’t because of the state of his heart or soul.  I also believe that Jesus’ words imply that as our own hearts are increasingly cleansed and purified that we will begin to see God in places we have not before.  Like Paul we can come to see Jesus everywhere—in the rocks and trees, in the person seeking a handout at the busy intersection, in the smile of a child, or perhaps even in the face staring back at us in the mirror.

Today my prayer is the words of the familiar hymn: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”


(I took the two images above during my recent visit to the Falls of the Stony in Jefferson National Forest.  The bottom image is Upper Falls.)