Aug 24 2011

“The Re-Creating Stillness of Solitude”

Last night I returned to a book I’ve been reading off and on lately, Gardening Eden.  In one of the chapters I read the author, Michael Abbate, writes about creation care as worship.  He says, “The creation should drive us to our knees.  Not to worship it, but to worship the One who made it happen.  His genius, His power, His wisdom.  All of which combined to cause creation’s beauty, creation’s diversity, creation’s order.  But really seeing the creation takes awareness on our part; we have to pay attention.”  Abbate goes on to list a number of steps along creation’s path to worship.  The first of these is something you read about a lot here on this blog—“opening our eyes to see the real beauty that exists in the world around us.”  It is the second step he mentions that I want to focus on today.

The second step Abbate lists is solitude. Here he makes this interesting claim: “Being able to see the beauty in the world around us requires that we open our eyes, but observation is even more powerful if we are alone with our thoughts.”  I have long been familiar with solitude as a spiritual discipline but have not necessarily connected it to seeing Creation.  Abbate makes a convincing case for this.  He says “Solitude can enhance our appreciation of the environment.  Time spent alone can be a powerful way to remove the distractions that commonly prevent us from approaching God in a fully yielding, open way.  Spending time alone in creation allows our minds to reflect on the majesty of creation and the omnipotence of the Creator.  Our minds can be re-created, refreshed, and recharged.  Richard Foster calls this ‘the re-creating stillness of solitude.’”

Later in this section Abbate notes that in today’s world replacing noise with stillness is a challenge.  That is undoubtedly true.  Earlier this week I was reading the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  One of the articles that caught my eye is called “Tech Detox: Unplugged at Church Camp.”  The author, Andrew Scott, writes about how difficult it is for teenagers—and their counselors—to go to Christian camps during the summer and give up their cell phones and ipods.  So many people have become addicted to these.  As noted in the article, “the problem is not the technology itself but the culture of multitasking and instant communication that makes it hard for campers to pay attention to what is happening at camp and to be fully present with one another.”  In this article Scott also quotes camp director Rhonda Parker as saying, “Living life is so much better than watching it.  To be attentive to the world takes time, and that can’t be cultivated by looking at a two-by-three inch screen.”  Another camp director added, “Technology is an addiction, and there is something good about the isolation of a wilderness experience.  Camp is the last place where kids can reclaim an intentional space of connection, and it’s almost a revolutionary idea.”

Both kids and adults can benefit from time alone in Creation without their phones and other devices to distract them.  If it is our goal to worship the Creator we should be disciplined enough to “unplug” and “go it alone” from time to time.  For many this will not be easy but I learned a long time ago that the things in life that really count rarely do come easy.  Another lesson I’ve learned is that great rewards often come through the path of discipline and sacrifice.  And since I know of no greater reward than the opportunity to experience and encounter the Maker of heaven and earth I would think spending time alone with God in nature would be well worth whatever sacrifice that might entail, be that at a summer camp or wherever else you might find solitude in God’s Creation.


(The top image, which symbolizes solitude for me, was taken at Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The bottom two pictures were taken at Disciple campgrounds in Kentucky, Camp  Wakonda-Ho and Camp Kum-Ba-Ya.)

Dec 12 2010

Snow, Silence & Joy

snow in backyardOn this third Sunday of Advent it is snowing once again in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  The theme for this particular Sunday in Advent is joy.  Although the joy is supposed to be for the coming of Christ at Bethlehem long ago, I have a feeling there are lots of kids feeling joy right now realizing it is unlikely they’ll have to go to school the next few days.

I know snow can be messy and dangerous but I love it.  It is so beautiful!  Things are rather dreary around here unless it snows so I look forward to times like these.  We are supposed to get several inches of snow over the next couple of days.  Like the kids I’m hoping we get lots, just for different reasons–I love photographing in the snow!

Several years ago I remember reading a sermon where the writer talked about how snow does its work silently.  You can go to bed at night and wake up the next morning with several inches of snow on the ground but it is unlikely you would have heard a thing.  You would have had no warning.  Snow works quietly.

In the spiritual life there is much need for quietness.  In fact, the prophet Isaiah said “in quietness and trust is your strength.” (30:15)  Noise and lots of action tends to characterize most of our lives.  Certainly there is a time and place for both, but there is also a great need for us to spend time in silence and being still.  God himself says to us, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)  I think the reason He told us this is that it is next to impossible to get to know God unless we do take the time to practice stillness in our lives.  In times of solitude and stillness we find the strength we need to live the spiritual life.

The snow that is falling outside my window now offers me a needed reminder—even in this busy and hectic time of the year I need to find time to “be still” and quiet so that I might experience God more fully and find my strength renewed.  By doing so I suspect I will also discover joy.


(I took the picture above at my home last week.)

Jun 6 2010

Hurry Sickness

Center Creek“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

In Sunday School this morning we talked about “hurry sickness.”  This isn’t a disease you hear much about today but it is both serious and incredibly prevalent.  Hurry sickness is the condition of always being in a hurry.  It comes from getting caught up in this fast paced world we live in.  Hurry sickness drains our physical energy, causes us to be irritable, and does considerable damage to our relationships (we end up being too busy or tired to give ourselves completely to those we love).  Hurry sickness can be deadly!

The antidote for hurry sickness is slowing down.  Somehow, someway, we have got to learn to slow down.  The book we’re studying suggested that one way we can do this is by practicing solitude.  We all need time away from the rat race.  This can be done in small intervals each day.  Hopefully we can also find a way to practice extended times of solitude on a weekly or monthly basis. 

I think many people would benefit from spending time alone in God’s Creation.  As a general rule, the pace of things seems so much slower in nature.  The plants and animals we see there do not tend to get in a hurry.  Here God’s Creation can serve as our teacher.

Yesterday I took my friend, Steve Ausmus, over to Breaks Interstate Park.  We hiked in the Center Creek area.  After walking a while we both made our way down to the river.  Soon we separated and both of us found rocks to sit on.  This gave us each a chance to experience a bit of solitude in a very beautiful location.  Personally, I find such experiences most refreshing and satisfying to the soul. 

Periodically Jesus would call his disciples to “come apart” for a while.  He realized that his followers did not always need to be busy or doing something.  Things have changed a lot since that time.  Our lives are busier and more hectic than ever.  The need to “come apart” and slow down, however, has not changed.    As a wise person once noted, “if we don’t ‘come apart’ we will come apart.”  If you are suffering from hurry sickness, this would be a great time for you to find some solitude in God’ healing Creation.


(The image above was taken yesterday at Breaks Interstate Park in Kentucky.)

May 9 2010

Seeing Creation With Others

Rob 044

“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

I enjoy solitude.  For me there are few things better than being alone out in God’s wonderful Creation.  I was reminded this past week, however, that being with a friend outdoors can be just as wonderful.  For that I have to say thanks to Rob.

This past week Rob Sheppard and I spent a great deal of time together exploring the natural wonders of southern California.  It was fun being with my friend but also highly rewarding for a number of reasons.  I always learn new things about photography when I’m with Rob but, in reality, when we’re together we don’t talk that much about photography.    We spend more time talking about two of our other loves, God and nature. 

On this trip we both took much delight in the things we saw and marveled at the wonders of God’s Creation.  We were both constantly pointing at things, calling for the other to look at something that had caught our eye.  For this reason I saw far more than I would have had I been alone. 

Rob knows a lot about the natural world.  He has purposely set out to learn as much as he can about the state he now calls home.  He especially enjoys the native wildflowers of California.  He speaks their names as though they are old friends.  Had I been alone, I would not have known the names of the flowers we saw and photographed. 

MNP barel cactus in desert 581Even though we were together for the week, when it came time to photograph we both did our own thing.  Rob is a far more deliberate photographer than I am and seems to stay put in one general area.  He accuses me of being more like a rabbit because when I photograph I’m constantly on the move.  This difference in style allowed me to have the solitude I treasure while still being with another.  But what I would have missed had I been alone was the excitement and joy he expressed over the things he saw when we got back into the car. 

When it comes to seeing Creation there are times when having a friend with you can be invaluable.  Thanks, Rob, for a wonderful week! 


(The top image is one of Rob photographing the Pacific coast not far from his home in southern California.  The other image was taken in the beautiful Mojave National Preserve.)

Feb 17 2010

Solitude and Lent

bison 154In a number of instances we are told that Jesus went off by himself to pray.  The one who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” realized that he could not do what he was supposed to without time alone with God.  This is something we should all recognize.

In observing wildlife over the years I’ve noticed that frequently you will find animals that are typically found in groups or packs all alone.  I’m sure there is some pragmatic reason for them doing so.  We have a pragmatic reason as well; our souls need solitude.  We may have been created social creatures but we still need time away from others and time alone with our Maker.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  We start today a 40 day (not counting Sundays) journey to Easter.  For centuries Christians have been encouraged to use this time for introspection.  We are called to remember our sins and our need for a Savior.  Most of us would prefer to forget our sins, and  many don’t like to be reminded that they can’t save themselves, but the season of Lent demands that we do so.  

Someone once said, “We must come apart or we will come apart.”  The season of Lent is a good time for us to make time for solitude.  It’s a  lonesome pine 852good time for us to slow down and look within.  The discipline of examining one’s sins is not meant to be a demoralizing experience; it is meant to bring us closer to the One who died for our sins and rose again the first Easter.

I would suggest you consider using the Psalmist’s prayer in the coming weeks: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)  Find some time alone each day to offer this prayer and to enjoy being in the presence of the One who made you (and the rest of Creation) and loves you most.


  (The images above were made on my recent trip to Yellowstone.)