Jul 29 2016

Experiencing God in Our National Parks

Yellowstone Lower FallsAmerican’s National Park Service will be turning one hundred years old in just a few weeks. Because I love our national parks so much I cannot let this occasion pass without offering the NPS my congratulations and best wishes.  Since taking up nature photography twenty-four years ago I’ve been blessed to visit most of our national parks.  I’ve also visited scores of other national park units such as national recreation areas, national monuments, national rivers and seashores, etc.  Each of them has had an impact on my life one way or another.  I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for our national parks.

I was introduced to our national parks as a small child when my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today I visit them as often as I can.  Just two days ago I was able to pay a return visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I keep going back because I benefit so much from them.  Our national parks are incredible repositories of natural beauty that move my soul.  They are places where I often connect to God.  In fact, when I think of some of the parks I’ve visited I think not just of the scenery or wildlife but of the spiritual connections I made there.  Let me give you some examples.

TN Great Smoky Mountains Spruce Flat FallsWhen I think of Denali National Park I remember “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” I have felt a peace there I’ve not quite experienced elsewhere.  When I think of Grand Teton National Park I recall how important humility is in the spiritual life.  Standing before that giant mountain wall I always feel small and humbled.  When I think of Yosemite National Park I think of worship.  John Muir referred to those majestic Sierra mountains as his “temples” and “cathedrals” and they became that for me as well.  I can hardly imagine walking through Yosemite Valley and not singing the “Doxology” or “How Great Thou Art.”  When I think of Yellowstone National Park I find myself reflecting on the mystery of God.  Yellowstone is such a mysterious and magical place.  As with God, there is no comprehending all its wonders.  And when I think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I associate it with love. There is a wonderful and abundant diversity of life in this park that is so dear to my heart.  That diversity symbolizes for me the generosity and goodness of God and it serves as yet one more reminder of the divine love that is the source of all that is good.

Yosemite ValleyI could go on making spiritual connections with the many different parks I have visited and photographed. They are all special and they are all important.  We are incredibly blessed to have these national parks and we should, by no means, take them for granted.  I would encourage you in this centennial year of the National Park Service to give them all the support you can.  Visit them as often.  Work to preserve and protect them.  Our national parks are far more than just beautiful and ecologically diverse places, they are special places where God resides and where God can be experienced in some marvelous ways.


(I took the top image at Yellowstone NP, the middle one at Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the bottom one at Yosemite National Park.)

Jul 4 2012

Our National Parks

Happy Independence Day!  This is a day when most Americans pause to celebrate and offer thanks for our country’s freedoms and blessings.  We truly do have much to be thankful for.  On this particular day I’d like to express my gratitude for our national parks.  I think anyone who enjoys “seeing Creation” would have to acknowledge that some of God’s most beautiful and awesome handiwork is found in these parks that have been preserved for us.  Wallace Stegner once said “National Parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best…” 

There are currently 58 national parks.  I have visited 38 of them so far.  In addition to these national parks, the National Park Service maintains numerous other types of units.  Some of these include national monuments, national preserves, national rivers, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national scenic trails.  There are hundreds of such units and I have had the privilege of visiting and photographing many of these.

I am so thankful that we have so many beautiful places preserved and protected.  What a rich treasure they are!  John Muir, who was instrumental in developing the idea of national parks in America, once said we all “need places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  The national parks have been such places for me.  In them I have been able to read God’s “other book” and been moved to worship the Creator who is “the Giver of all good gifts.” (James 1:17)

I cannot imagine our country without its national parks.  I’m glad that over the years people have fought long and hard to make sure that special places are protected from destruction and development.  I’m thankful that our parks are “absolutely democratic” so that all are welcome.  I’m thankful that those who will follow us will also have a chance to see the Grand Canyon, marvel at Yellowstone’s amazing geysers, look up at America’s highest mountain in Denali and down into its deepest cleft at Death Valley, view Yosemite Valley, and enjoy all the other wonderful sights, sounds and smells that await them in our national parks.

On this day we will likely hear many people say “God bless America.”   I’m convinced God already has.  I cannot think of any other nation that has been so blessed.  Our national parks are part of that blessing.  But with all these blessings comes responsibility.   We must be good stewards of God’s blessings and that applies to our parks too.  Our national parks deserve our support.  We would not be the same without them.


(The top image shows a picture I took of the Grand Canyon from its south rim.  The middle image is of “Old Faithful” at Yellowstone National Park.  I took the bottom image of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.)

Dec 7 2011

Losing Touch

Today I’ll be flying back to Kentucky. I’ve had a wonderful trip to New Mexico. Much of the trip was dedicated to photographing ancient Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) ruins in the northwestern part of the state. I have been reading a lot about the Anasazi Indians over the past year or two. I am fascinated by both their architecture and culture. We should give thanks that many of their ruins have been preserved and are now protected by the National Park Service.


As I’ve walked in the various locations this past week I’ve thought a lot about how close the connection was between the Anasazi and the land they inhabited. In both a literal and symbolic way they lived very close to the earth. Due to necessity they had to; their survival depended on it. Their close connection with nature appears, however, to have gone far beyond just using it to survive. They saw a spiritual element in nature as well. This is reflected in the petroglyphs and pictographs they left behind, as well as in the way they constructed many of their kivas or places of worship.

I’m afraid that in modern times most people have lost touch with nature. We live and work in buildings that do not depend on the sun for light. Our homes are climate controlled and we do not have to worry about where or how we will get our food. The Anasazi paid very close attention to the cycles of both the sun and moon. They were quite conscious of the changing seasons and how the varying temperatures would affect them. They struggled to grow their own food. The differences between their connection with nature and ours is immense.

When I was growing up both homes I lived in had woods nearby that I could play in and explore. I have a feeling that my time spent in the woods early on has made an impact on my love for God’s Creation today. My family would occasionally make camping trips when I was young and some of my earliest childhood memories include a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I believe this early exposure to nature was pivotal for me. I would even include these memories as part of my spiritual formation.

Having said all this, here is my concern. Most of the children I know today have little exposure to nature and the outdoors. Instead of being out enjoying and learning about God’s Creation they’re mostly indoors playing video games, watching t.v. and chatting on Facebook. Many kids today haven’t got a clue where their food comes from, how the tilt of the earth affects the seasons, or the names of the birds that fly by their windows. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s not much different with their parents.

We truly are losing touch with nature and we are definitely not better off for it. This loss of connection cannot help but hinder us spiritually. If God makes Himself known through His Creation, as the Bible says, then we are missing out on much when we fail to connect with the world around us. I hope and pray more  people will recognize this and begin to reconnect with the natural world. Perhaps you could help someone do just that…


 (The top image was taken at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  The middle image was taken at Salmon Ruins National Monument.  The bottom image was taken at Bandelier National Monument.)

Oct 12 2011

Three Missing Words

This past Sunday Pat O’Hara and I stopped by the visitor center at Acadia National Park. Along the path to the center there are a number of interpretive signs. One in particular caught my eye because it included my favorite saying by John Muir. (You can see a portion of the sign above.) As I read the quote I told Pat “There’s something missing.” For some reason the National Park Service chose to leave out the words “and pray in”. Those words belong where you see the “…”. Pat suggested we type the missing words and tape them on the sign. Perhaps we should have.


It does bother me that the the three words are missing. It bothers me because I feel just as strongly as John Muir did that the beauty of Creation is meant to lead us into communion with God. I feel that places of beauty are conducive to prayer. They certainly are for me.

This week as I have enjoyed the beauty of Acadia National Park I have found myself time and time again offering praise to my Creator for the wonders of nature. I have felt close to my Savior as I’ve walked the trails and stood upon the rocks overlooking the ocean. I have uttered the words “Thank you, Lord” countless times. Yesterday I spent some time at Otter Cove upon the recommendation of Rob. As I sat on the rocks I felt as though God were telling me that He was my Rock of refuge, my strong foundation, and the source of my strength. I was reminded that Christ is the “solid rock upon which I stand” and that “all other ground is sinking sand.” The beauty of Otter Cove ushered me into a sweet time of prayer.

There’s just something about natural places of beauty that move me spiritually, and I know I am not the only one. Muir was exactly right; we all need such places “to play in and pray in.” We need “places where nature
may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”
That is one reason why I am such a supporter of our national parks and wilderness areas. We need them not just to protect ecosystems, wildlife and unique geographical locations but so that we might have a place to retreat to–beautiful places where we can feel God’s nearness and pray.

I really don’t know why the National Park Service felt it necessary to remove the three words from Muir’s quote. Perhaps it was an effort to be “politically correct,” though I hardly think many, if any, would find the words offensive. Regardless, their omission did not lessen my inclination to pray in Acadia National Park and I would like to think that will be true for others as well.


 (I took the bottom two pictures yesterday at Otter Cove in Acadia National Park.)