Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.


Apr 13 2014

The Gifts of Gratitude

_CES2860Gratitude is the very heart of the spiritual life.  Meister Eckhart once said “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude connects us both to God and His Creation.  This morning I read a brief passage in Joan Chittister’s book, The Breath of the Soul, that does a nice job of making this same connection.  She writes: “When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good.  We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves.  We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God.  Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

_CES8139Whenever I am out photographing nature or just walking outdoors I find myself regularly saying the words “thank you.”  My gratitude is typically generated by simple things—the sun on my face, the wind blowing through my hair, a bird singing nearby, a squirrel climbing a tree, a flower found in an unexpected spot, a cloud shaped like something familiar.  Simple things like these make me smile and cause me to express thanks.  So do the kindnesses shown me by others—a word of encouragement, a cheerful hello, a telephone call or text message, an invitation to a meal, a handshake or a hug,  a gift or even a funny tale.  Watching children play, listening to good music, and reading an interesting book are still yet other things that illicit words of gratitude from my heart and lips on a regular basis.

_CES0461All of these things I see as blessings that ultimately flow to me from my heavenly Father.  James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  It certainly helps to live one’s life with the recognition that the good things that come our way are gifts of the Creator.  There are, indeed, many benefits to remembering that God is the giver of all good gifts and saying “thank you” often.  Chittister says, “Without doubt, unstinting gratitude saves us from the sense of self-sufficiency that leads to forgetfulness of God.”  I encourage you to pay attention to the many gifts God is providing you each and every day.  Not just the big ones, all of them.  Practice gratitude on an ongoing basis and notice how the giving of thanks only leads to the recognition of even more blessings and the goodness of God.  Make gratitude the “alleluia to existence” and “the praise that thunders through the universe.”  I promise you it will make a difference, all the difference in the world!


(I took the top image at Big Spring in Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, the middle image is my great niece Braelyn, and the squirrel at the bottom I photographed here in Henderson, KY.)

Nov 17 2013

Enwrapped in Love

_CES1488I try hard not to sound preachy on this site.  I’m sure there are times I do not succeed but since I am a preacher I guess one could expect that.  If today’s entry does sound preachy there’s a reason for it.  This was part of the message I preached at my church this morning.  The sermon was called “Can God Love Someone Like Me?”  I spoke of three places where we find evidence of God’s love for each of us—the Scriptures, Creation, and in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross.  Below is the section on Creation:

_CES7636“In addition to the testimony and promises of the Bible, we might also note that the world is filled with signs of God’s love and acceptance.  All around us in God’s Creation are hints and evidence of God’s love for us and His desire for us to be full of joy.  These signs show us that God’s love surpasses what we can comprehend.  If we look at these signs closely and meditate upon them, not only will we find ourselves saying with the Psalmist, ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’ but we would also cry out, ‘How great thou art!’

Long ago Meister Eckhart said, ‘Every creature is a word of God and a book about God.’  I’m convinced he is right and that the subject of those books is love, God’s incredible love for you and me.   Another great Christian writer, Julian of Norwich, said ‘Everything is enwrapped in love and is part of a world produced not by mechanical necessity but by passionate desire.’  If only we had eyes to see we would recognize that we are surrounded by a beautiful world which is literally filled to the brim with the evidence of God’s love.  Everything—from the singing birds to the babbling brook, from the tiny acorn to the majestic oak, from the smallest flower to the tallest mountain—yes, everything that God has created reveals His love for us.”

_CES1364I wish more people realized just how much God loves them.  I say that because so many people do, in fact, wonder if this could possibly be true.  For me the evidence is overwhelming; God does indeed love each of us more than we could ever imagine.  That love is not based on our behavior at all.  It is instead a gift bestowed upon us because it is God’s nature to love.  You and I can love others but we can also choose not to love.  God, however, cannot not love us.  Why?  Because “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  Furthermore, the apostle Paul declared “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

_CES0629I am very grateful for God’s love.  We all should be.  I hope each day you will open yourself up to the unconditional love of God.  Julian of Norwich said “The greatest honor we can give to Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”  With that in mind I encourage you to embrace the love of God and live gladly.  Recognizing that we are lavishly loved by the Maker of heaven and earth, how could we not?


(I took all four of the images above over the past few days here in Henderson County, Kentucky.)

Jul 8 2012

“And Would We Be Dumb!”

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you.” –Job 12:7

The Irish monk Columbanus once said, “If you wish to know the Creator, come to know his creatures.”  Meister Eckhart echoed this thought when he wrote, “Every creature is a word of God and a book about God.”  Other Christians over the centuries have made similar claims.  There is this belief that since God made all the other creatures that inhabit this world, we should be open to the fact that He might have something He would like to teach us through them.

After noting in his volume, The Book of Creation, that Eriugena claimed every creature “can be called a theophany” or manifestation of God, Philip Newell goes on to write: “This is not to say that what is shown in a creature is the essence of God, for God is essentially unknowable.  Rather, what is manifested is an expression of God’s essence.”  Newell adds to this, “God, therefore, is not simply in every creature but is the essence of every creature.  At heart, creation—including our creatureliness—is a showing forth of the mystery of God.”   In everything that God has made we can perceive something of God’s nature and goodness.

In the passage from the Book of Job noted above we are reminded that the animals and birds that surround us can, in fact, teach us about God and His ways.  In order for us to learn from them we must first be humble enough to acknowledge that we do not know it all and that their existence may unlock some of the mysteries of God for us.  Once we have taken that first step we must go on to be good students.  This means learning all we can about the creatures God has made and paying close attention to those we have the privilege of seeing.  By being open to their instruction and through careful observation we may well be able to unlock some of “the mystery of God.”

In the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of hymns and prayers from the Celtic tradition, one woman declares, “Every creature on the earth here below and in the ocean beneath and in the air above was giving glory to the great God of the creatures and the worlds…and would we be dumb!”  One of the things we can learn from our fellow creatures is the necessity of giving glory to the God of Creation.  The animals and birds around us are constant reminders that we, too, are called to worship God.  If we’re looking for lessons to learn, this might be a very good place to start.


(I took the image of the moose above in Alaska, the raccoon in Kentucky, and the wood duck in California.)

Sep 28 2011

Sacramental Eyes

I mentioned last week that I’m leading a study group through Philip Yancey’s book, Rumors of Another World.  The chapter we looked at this past Monday had a lot to say on the subject of “seeing Creation” so I thought I’d share some of its insights with you here today.  One of the things Yancey does in this chapter is encourage people to “make daily life sacramental.”  The word “sacrament” literally means to keep the sacred (sacra) in mind (mental).  Yancey says we are called “to seek a mindfulness—a mind full—of God’s presence in the world.”

Another insight I found intriguing comes in Yancey’s discussion of the importance of Creation in God’s revelation of Himself.  He quotes Meister Eckhart who said, “If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created.”  I had never thought of the necessity of Creation in this way.  Eckhart’s words, however, have other implications.  Yancey says “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.”  Then he adds, “Clearly, modern society is not treating creation as God’s work of art.”

This morning I took five of my photographic prints downtown for an exhibit that will be held tomorrow night.  They are five of my favorite prints.  I’m excited that people will be able to view them at the Artisan Alliance of Pikeville/Pike County. I am hopeful that people will like what they see.  I hope they will also see in the images manifestations of God’s glory.   A part of me would be hurt if people did not like the pictures.  What would be even more disturbing would be if someone spit on them, marked on them, or in a fit of rage smashed them.  I can’t even imagine how upset I would be if something like this happened.

If I feel that way about my own art work, I can certainly see how God could be upset with us for the way we have treated His art work—Creation.  It has to hurt Him when we do not show admiration for His handiwork.  It must anger Him when we harm or destroy what He has made.  Surely we would all take better care of Creation if we stopped and considered how our actions affect God.  Surely we would take better care of Creation, and appreciate it more, if we learned to view it with sacramental eyes. 

I encourage you in the days to come “to make daily life sacramental.”  As you view the beauty of autumn remember that what you see is God’s handiwork.  Be open to ways that God may make Himself known to you through His art work.  Find ways to express your admiration for what you see.  Remember your calling to be good stewards of what He has shared with us.


(Above you will find three of the images that will be on display at the exhibit tomorrow night.  The top one is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The middle one is from Kingdom Come State Park here in Kentucky. The bottom one was taken at Dallas Divide in Colorado.)

Apr 25 2010

Seeing God’s Goodness

possum 736Today was Earth Stewardship Sunday in my denomination.  In our service this morning we sang songs related to Creation and I preached a message emphasizing the importance of being good stewards of Creation.  In my message I used a quotation from Thomas Aquinas that I’d like to share with you.  Speaking of the created order Aquinas said God “brought these things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone the whole universe participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature.”

I find this line of thought fascinating.  According to Aquinas, one reason we find such a variety in Creation is because it takes all that God has made to help us understand His divine goodness.  This gives value to everything that exists.  It also creates a mandate that we do everything we can to preserve all that God has made.  When we destroy Creation or cause plant and animal species to go extinct we actually eliminate ways we might have experienced God’s goodness otherwise.

Meister Eckhart once said “every creature is a word of God and a book about God.”  I believe this is true, even if I can’t tell you just what the baby possum I photographed last week (see above) says about the Creator.   Part of me wants to say it shows us that God has a sense of humor but really all I have to do is look in the mirror to be reminded of that.  I suspect if I just took the time to study possums, or spend more time with them, I could discern divine truths.  But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  It takes time and effort.  How many of us are willing to take the time to try and figure such things out?  If we could somehow remember that experiencing a greater comprehension of God’s goodness is at stake perhaps we would be more willing to put forth the effort.

God’s goodness is waiting to be seen in His Creation.  Are you looking?