Mar 27 2020

Staying Holistically Well

In a very short period of time our whole world has changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly altered our daily lives.  We now find ourselves in survival mode.  We have been forced to take drastic actions just to stay safe.  I hope that you are doing what is necessary to avoid the virus.  Washing one’s hands, practicing social distancing and self-quarantining should go a long way in helping one to stay safe.  Our goal, however, should not just be staying safe; we should strive for wellness too.  Our mental, emotional and spiritual health are just as important as physical health.  I hope you are doing what is needed to stay healthy in each of these areas.

For a lot of us getting outdoors and experiencing the beauty and wonders of God’s Creation plays an instrumental role in maintaining holistic health.  A couple of weeks ago I did a photo trip to the Everglades and this did wonders for my health.  I’m glad I got to go when I did as many national and state parks are now closing as a result of the coronavirus crisis.  It may be a while before we are able to find refuge and solace in these places once again.

What are we to do in the meantime?  This is a great time to start paying more attention to what we have right around us.  From our own yards and neighborhoods we can still observe the sun and moon, the clouds overhead, the birds flying around, the trees budding and the flowers blooming.  What we find close to home might not be as dramatic or beautiful as what we find in national and state parks but there is still so much to see, hear, smell and touch.  My friend, Rob Sheppard, is currently in the midst of a project where he is using his iPhone to record a picture each day of some natural wonder around him.  Even though he is not able to go far right now, he’s still producing beautiful images of nature and posting them daily on Facebook.  I think that’s a wonderful idea.

As I continue to take walks in my neighborhood I’m trying to pay closer attention to the natural world around me.  Doing so is good for my mental and emotional health.  It is also good for my spiritual health.  I’m currently reading Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ.  Throughout the book are reminders that God reveals Himself through the natural world.  At one point he writes, “When you look your dog in the face…I truly believe you are seeing another incarnation of the Divine Presence, the Christ.  When you look at any other person, a flower, a honeybee, a mountain—anything—you are seeing the incarnation of God’s love for you and the universe you call home.”   Who among us does not need to experience an “incarnation of God’s love” at this time?  Well, the truth of the matter is such incarnations are all around us.  I urge you to look for them and to find comfort in them.  Doing so may just be what we need to get through these trying times.


Aug 30 2019

America’s Holy Ground

Anyone who knows me well knows I love our national parks.   Hopefully they also know how important my faith is to me.  Recently I came across a new book that encompasses both of these loves.  It’s called America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks.  The book was written by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer and was published by Chalice Press.  Knowing that many of you who read this blog share my love for the national parks I thought I’d share with you a bit of information about the book.  America’s Holy Ground covers all sixty-one of our national parks.  Although you will find valuable information about each park, this book is not a field guide.  Instead the authors offer a brief devotion or “reflection” on each park. Most parks receive four pages of coverage, some only receive two.  For each park a scripture passage is given and Lyons and Barkhauer choose a one word theme.  Here are some examples of the themes they chose: Grand Canyon—“Grandeur,” Death Valley—“Life,” Crater Lake—“Reflection,”  Big Bend—“Borders,” Great Basin—“Adversity,”  Petrified Forest—“Time,”  Yellowstone—“Faithfulness,” and Yosemite—“Trust.”  Sometimes the themes chosen seem obvious, at other times not so much.

At the conclusion of each devotion the authors give a series of questions for reflection.  For example, after writing about Everglades National Park (theme—“Preservation”) they ask “In what ways have you participated in the preservation of creation?  Did such an action feel sacred?  Does it change your behavior when you realize the world is an interconnected web of meaning in which you cannot affect part without impacting the whole?”  Most of the questions raised truly are thought-provoking.   Many remind us that we are all called to be good stewards of God’s Creation.

America’s Holy Ground includes nearly 200 color photos.  Many of these were taken by the authors.  The photographs illustrate the parks well and leave you wishing for more.  How do you adequately illustrate a park like Great Smoky Mountains or Yosemite with just two or three photos?   You can’t.

The book closes with a “Benediction,” a collection of spiritual sayings connected to nature.  Among those quoted are Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Wendell Berry, Mary Angelou, Thomas Merton and Theodore Roosevelt.  Following the Benediction there are a few pages for the owner of the book to journal in when visiting the parks.

If you are a person of faith who loves our national parks, this book is for you.  My only complaint about the book is that I wish I had come up with the idea first.:)


(I took the first picture at Mount Rainier National Park, the second at Yosemite National Park, and the third at Joshua Tree National Park.)

May 29 2019

Reflections on the Smokies Via John Muir

John Muir once said everyone needs “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  For most of my life the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina has been one of those “places” for me.  I recently had a chance to spend a week in the Smokies.  It truly was a healing experience and brought “strength to body and soul alike.”  John Muir never sauntered through the Great Smoky Mountains but he did come relatively close on his 1000 mile walk to the Gulf.  I’ve often wondered how he would have described the mountains that have come to mean so much to me.  I don’t mean to put words in his mouth but I feel what he wrote about other places precisely describes my experience in the Smokies.  For example, writing of his beloved Yosemite Muir wrote: “One seems to be in a majestic domed pavilion in which a grand play is being acted with scenery and music and incense, …all the action so interesting we are in no danger of being called on to endure one dull moment.  God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm.”   Muir may well have written these same words about the Smokies had he visited them.

Speaking about one of his favorite places, Muir said “The glory of the Lord is upon all his works; it is written plainly upon all the fields of ever clime, and upon every sky, but here in this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals.”  These too are words I could have written about the Smokies.  Like Muir, I believe that the glory of the Lord is visible in all of Creation, but there is something special about those ancient mountains that make up the Great Smoky Mountains.  I marvel at the vast species of flora and fauna that make their home there.  I relish time spent alongside its countless streams.  I receive inspiration from its many breathtaking vistas.  I love watching the sun rise and set from its mountain peaks.  Yes, the Smokies is a place where “the Lord has written in capitals!”  The fact that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is this country’s most visited national park, leads me to believe there are a lot of people who feel the same way about it as I do.

Actually I love all of our national parks and am so grateful they exist.  Muir once said “Wild parks are places of recreation, Nature’s cathedrals, where all may gain inspiration and strength and get nearer to God.”  I agree.  Our parks have so much to offer us.   There are a number of parks that are extra special to me but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just feels like home.  What park feels like home to you?  Which one, in particular, brings you nearer to God?


Jul 18 2015

Thank God for Parks!

_DSC6560I have had the chance the past couple of days to spend time wandering around and photographing Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This amazing park is located just south of Cleveland, Ohio. I visited here a couple of years ago and jumped at the opportunity to come back when I had to come up this way for our denominational meeting. This national park started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974.  It was made a national park in 2000. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural area. It has a river that runs through it, marshlands, forests, waterfalls, lakes and lots of wildlife. The area also has a rich cultural history.

_DSC6674One of the things that I’ve been impressed with on this trip is the many ways people make use of the park. Lots of people make use of the Towpath Trail. This wide path follows the historic Ohio and Erie Canal route. On it you’ll find people of all ages running, riding a bike, or just taking a leisurely stroll. There is also a train you can ride through the park. In some of the park’s lakes I saw people fishing. I’ve also noticed a number of horse trails. And then, of course, there are folks like me who find the park a great place to capture images of God’s beautiful and awesome Creation.

_DSC6695As I’ve traveled around the park the last couple of days I have found myself giving thanks that we have places like this in our country. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of our national park system. I have spent the last twenty-three years visiting and photographing as many of them as I can. A lot of our national parks are located in isolated areas and people have to travel a good bit to get to them. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it is located in an urban area. This park is easily accessible to a large number of people. From what I can see, lots of people from this part of the country take advantage of this treasure. Good for them!

On the official park map/brochure there is a quote by James Snowden Jackson that says, “I have admired the rugged fiords of Norway and the bald peaks of Yosemite. But I gain strength each day at home from the beauty of our own Cuyahoga Valley.”  For some reason this reminds me of my favorite John Muir passage: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  I’m sure there are some that would have preferred to see the Cuyahoga Valley developed instead of preserved as a national park but this area and our country is richer because it has been set aside and protected.

_DSC6838Obviously not every community can have a national park nearby but thankfully most cities and towns do have local parks, or perhaps even a state park close by. I feel very blessed to have John James Audubon State Park just a mile from my home. The city of Henderson, Kentucky, where I live has a number of delightful parks and Henderson County does as well. These parks are not just places for recreational activities, they are as Muir indicated, places where we can spend time with God and experience nature’s healing powers.  More and more studies are revealing the health benefits of just being outdoors. I believe there are spiritual benefits as well.

If you have a park close to where you live I hope that you will take advantage of it and visit it frequently. If you don’t I hope you get one someday. Wherever we live, regardless of whether there is a park nearby, we can all find ways to enjoy the outdoors. We can even create our own mini-parks right at home. The important thing is to find a way to reconnect with nature and with the One who has so graciously provided it for us.


(The pictures shown here are ones I’ve taken the past few days at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)

Oct 9 2013

The Shutdown’s Other Cost

Mammoth Cave formations 2 hAt least once each day I go to to check the news.  These days when you do that one of the first things you see is a running counter estimating the cost of the government shutdown.  As I post this right now that number is listed at $2,582,110,975.00 and is increasing at a rate of twelve and a half million every hour the shutdown continues.  I have no idea what all goes into these calculations but needless to say that is a lot of money.  The shutdown is obviously costing our country and its citizens a tremendous amount of capital.  I would argue, however, that this is only part of the cost.  Not all the costs from this shutdown can be calculated in terms of money.  In more than one way there is also a spiritual cost.

_CES4202Due to the shutdown our national parks and national wildlife refuges are now closed.  Children from my own community had to cancel a scheduled trip to Mammoth Cave National Park last week.  One of my dearest friends, Bill Fortney, was supposed to do a photo workshop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park this week.  The group has been forced to look for other locations to photograph.  With fall foliage peaking in a number of areas across the country a lot of people planned vacations right now to national parks to enjoy the wonderful display of color that comes this one time of the year.  Those vacations have had to be altered.  I’ve already booked a flight for next month to photograph in one of our national wildlife refuges in New Mexico.  Will I be able to go as planned?  Time will tell.

_CES9869At this point you might be wondering where the spiritual cost is I mentioned previously.  I believe that all those who are kept from going to our national parks and refuges are being forced to pay a spiritual price by what they are missing out on.  As noted countless times on this site, for many of us our nearest and dearest experiences with God occur in places of extraordinary beauty.  By being blocked from these places we are also being denied the chance to see God and experience His presence.  I certainly realize that there are plenty of other places where we can experience beauty and God in Creation other than our national parks (hopefully state parks are seeing an increase in visitation) but who could deny that our national parks and refuges are special?  Most of them were established because there was something unique present—landscapes, flora or fauna—that warranted their protection and preservation.  For these same reasons these places offer us unique opportunities to experience God.

Bosque-4B0043John Muir wrote long ago that everyone needs “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  Our national parks and refuges have helped fill this need since 1875.  We have come to rely on these places not just for our recreational needs but for our spiritual needs as well.  The loss of access to these places comes at a cost too.  You can’t put a price tag on wonder, peace of mind, or an experience of God in nature, but if you could that cost would be very high.   And for that reason it is not just for economic grounds I hope the government shutdown soon ends.  The spiritual cost may just be as high, or higher, than the economic one.


(I took the first image at Mammoth Cave National Park, the second image at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the third image at North Cascades National Park, and the fourth image at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.)

Editor’s Note: Today’s entry marks the 500th post by Seeing Creation!

Apr 28 2013

Writing Straight With Crooked Lines

CV4316I love America’s national parks! They truly are one of our country’s “best ideas.” This weekend I had the chance to visit one that I had not been to before, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is located between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and has only been a national park for thirteen years. It has the reputation of being a wonderful autumn location for photographers but I found early spring to also be a great time to visit.

CV4352The word “cuyahoga” means “crooked river.” A river that bears this name does, indeed, run through the park and lives up to its name. This unique name got me thinking about a sermon John Claypool preached many years ago about the biblical character, Jacob. Claypool makes the point that despite Jacob’s devious ways God still used him to further His plans for Israel. The primary point I remember from reading this sermon was Claypool’s insistence that God can “write straight with crooked lines.”

CV4228I believe that this is an important point and that any number of biblical characters could be pointed to as examples–Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Certainly a lot of non-biblical examples could also be cited. It’s just true; God has this amazing way of using imperfect people to accomplish His will for the world. I find that incredibly comforting because I am quite imperfect myself. I often wonder how God can use someone like me, someone with more faults than I could begin to count. At the same time, I know He does use me and that is both humbling and exciting.  It is also indicative of just how awesome God is.

None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Bad decisions or sinful actions can lead to apparent disaster. But the Bible declares, “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve seen this happen in my own life and join John Claypool in assuring you that God can, indeed, write straight with crooked lines. Your life may seem to you as crooked as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio but God has the ability to bless and use you nonetheless. This seems to be His speciality and I, for one, am thankful it is.


(I took the three pictures shown here this weekend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)