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.)

Dec 8 2013

Where’s the Peace?

e_CES0897Today is the second Sunday of Advent and the theme is peace.  I had planned to preach a sermon this morning called “Where’s the Peace?” but a winter storm got in the way.  Since I knew we would have a small crowd with all the snow and ice I decided to save that sermon for another time and do something different this morning.  Still, tonight I find myself still thinking about the question, “Where’s the Peace?”  Peace is something we’re called to think about every Advent season.  There are lots of songs using the words “peace on earth” and a lot of the Scripture passages we hear read, from both the Old and New Testaments, mention peace.  It’s obvious that there’s supposed to be peace in the world due to Christ’s coming but in many places it’s missing.  The absence is not just felt between warring nations but in places of business and a lot of homes as well.  It’s absence is likely felt even more often within individuals.  I’m not sure there are a lot of people today who can honestly claim they are at peace in their heart.  I know it is often missing in my own.   Present circumstances beg the question, where’s the peace?

e_CES0424I know I’m supposed to have the answer.  I realize I’m expected as a Christian minister to say peace is found in Jesus Christ but I’m learning it’s not as simple as that.  I’ve already confessed my own lack of peace and I see its absence in family, friends and churches.  Lots of people who profess and follow Christ are still missing the “peace that passes all understanding” and find it hard to relate to the angelic message of “peace on earth and good will to men.”

e_CES0534Where’s the peace?  I cannot answer that question for everyone but these days I tend to find it most in the world of nature.  When the winter storm hit Henderson this weekend I headed to the woods with my camera.  In the woods things were quiet and still.  There was no hustle and bustle, no arguing or fighting, no tension or stress.  I typically find a sense of calm and peace in the outdoors that I do not experience in the busier parts of my life.  When I posted pictures I had taken over the weekend on Facebook a number of people said they looked “peaceful.”  When people use that word I think they often do so with a sense of longing.

Now please don’t read into anything I’ve written today that I’ve lost my faith.  The truth is I feel more peaceful in the outdoors because that is where I tend to feel Christ most present.   I think the constant noise, distractions and busyness of my everyday world makes it hard for me to experience the peace Christ offers.  Perhaps that’s a sign of weakness for me.  Maybe I should be able to experience the nearness of Christ at all times and in all places.  I know there are great Christians who claim that’s been true for them.  It’s just not true for me, not at this point in my life anyway.

e_CES0748After the worship service this morning a woman came up and asked me where I had been photographing the snow.  I told her that I had spent most of my time at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.  She then said, “We’re lucky to have that sanctuary nearby.”  The force of her words spoken to me in our own church sanctuary struck home.  The places I had been spending my time the past couple of days truly are sanctuaries for me.  They are places I felt God’s nearness and experienced peace.

In the end I cannot answer the question “where’s the peace?” for everyone but I can affirm for me it is out in nature communing with the Maker of heaven and earth.  I thank God for this other sanctuary and hope that somehow, someway, somewhere, you will be able to experience the peace of God in the coming days.


(I took the top picture at John James Audubon State Park and the bottom three at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A. this weekend.)