Aug 3 2014

No Ugly Landscapes

_DSC2766Last night I came across the following quotation by John Muir: “God never made an ugly landscape, so long as it is wild.”  Muir’s words made me smile.  In the past couple of weeks I have stood in the presence of a variety of landscapes.  I’ve looked up at 700 foot tall sand dunes and down into a 565 foot gorge.  I’ve driven through the high Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains and across barren desert flatlands.  I have photographed wildflowers in the sloughs near where I live and wandered amongst some unique geological formations in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest.  The landscapes I have beheld in just this short time have been amazingly diverse and just as amazingly beautiful.

e_DSC3572e_DSC3572RGG3572I’m convinced Muir was right; “God never made an ugly landscape.”  Now there was a time when I would not have said this.  When I was much younger I was quite prejudiced concerning landscapes.  They had to be green or I didn’t like them.  Needless to say this gave me some trouble when I visited the desert.  I also loved  mountains and found it hard to appreciate any landscape that did not include these.  This is another prejudice I’ve been able to overcome.  Once you take the time to visit and truly get to know the various forms of landscape that exist you cannot help but come to the same conclusion as John Muir, there are no ugly landscapes.

All landscapes bear something of the beauty of their Creator.  Admittedly, that beauty is easier to find in some places than others but it is everywhere if you have the eyes to see or are willing to take the time to let that beauty make itself known to you.  Just as we often discover beauty in people we never thought we would once we let go of our prejudices and spend time with them, the beauty of natural landscapes can become clear when we approach them with an open mind and heart and without rushing past or through them.  Since the Bible declares that God makes Himself known through His Creation it is very important that we learn to find the beauty that is present in all wild landscapes.

_DSC5600Some of the prejudices we have concerning landscapes seem to have been imposed upon us.  Many have no desire to visit Death Valley National Park in California just because its name seems to imply a horrible landscape.  That is hardly the case.  Death Valley is beautiful!  Some would not consider visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota because, after all, it is “bad land.” Wrong again.  In early and late light the beauty of the Badlands will take your breath away.  Titles like these are about as useful as the labels we give people.  They prejudice our thinking and keep us from exploring the beauty that is to be found in such places.

DV-986Muir believed that God made no ugly landscapes but he did not say there are no ugly landscapes.  The fact that he added the words “so long as it is wild” indicate that what ugly landscapes he had beheld were not made that way by God but by the hand of man.  Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed a number of those ugly landscapes myself.  I’ve seen the scars left from mountain top removal and the clear cutting of forests.  I’ve visited many places where natural beauty once was prevalent but now can hardly be found.  Perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen but that makes it no less sad.  In such places the glory God intended to reveal will not be found.

BL7199I feel incredibly blessed to have traveled as much as I have during my life and to have seen so many different types of beautiful landscapes.  Each one has led me to a greater admiration of the Creator and has also taught me things I needed to know about God and myself.  If you’re looking for a good reason to visit some new landscapes, I’m not sure there is a better one than that.


(I took the first image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the second one at Rio Grande Gorge, the third at Illinois’ Garden of the Gods, the fourth at Death Valley National Park, and the fifth one at Badlands National Park.)

Oct 27 2013

The Garden of God

GG9645This past Friday I had a chance to go to Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois to photograph.  This natural area is located in the Shawnee National Forest and is only a little over an hour from where I now live.  This was my first time to photograph this beautiful place.  I say it was my first time to photograph Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois but it was not my first time to photograph a Garden of the Gods.  There are at least three such places that use this name in America.  A few years ago I photographed at Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  It too is a beautiful place.  I haven’t visited Garden of the Gods in Hawaii but would like to one day.

CO-Garden-of-the-Gods-Siamese-Twins-077I’m not exactly sure why people have chosen to call these special locations “Garden of the Gods.”  Nor am I clear why it is “Gods” rather than “God” in the name.  As a Christian I affirm that there is but one God and that this God is the Maker of heaven and earth.  This God, interestingly enough, takes great delight in gardens.  The biblical story begins with the Garden of Eden and closes with a description of the New Jerusalem that is described as a city with many features of a garden.  In between there are lots of other references to gardens.

In the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery we’re told that in the Bible a garden is an image of both nature and sacred space.  The writer says “At a literal, physical level the garden is a place of life richly nourished, well attended to and appointed for the enjoyment of its human owners or residents.  As such, it is a touchstone of such motifs as provision, beauty, abundance and the satisfaction of human need.  Next to heaven, it is the preeminent image of human longing.” 

GG6892The word “paradise” is of Persian origin and referred to a walled garden.  I find that very interesting since we often refer to heaven as paradise.  When one of the thieves that was crucified with Jesus asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom he heard him reply, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)  The New Jerusalem, noted above, is a walled city with wonderful life-giving trees inside and a flowing stream. (Revelation 21)  Some have suggested that the Garden of Eden might have been walled as well since the Bible says that the entrance was guarded by an angel once Adam and Eve were expelled from it. (Genesis 3:24)  Though it may have been an enclosed garden it was open to God.  Genesis 3:8 speaks of God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”   The garden was where God met with and talked to His creatures.

GG9503Although God can meet us whenever and wherever He chooses, I know that many people, myself included, feel God’s presence and hear His call frequently in the natural gardens of the world.  I am not a gardener but I have heard many people say that gardening is a spiritual experience for them.  They sense God’s presence in their gardens and talk to Him there.  For me this often happens in our national and state parks or other places of special beauty.  Ultimately, however, we might be wise to view the earth itself as the Garden of God.  This is the place He has put us to live out our lives and to commune with Him.

In Genesis 2:15 we read that God told the first humans that it was their job “to take care” of the Garden.  Hopefully we realize that this is still our job.  When we remember how important gardens seem to be to God and realize that it is in the garden that He comes to visit us, we should find plenty of motivation to be good stewards of the Garden of God.  It is in our best interest both physically and spiritually.


(The second picture was taken at Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  The other three were taken this past Friday at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.)