Wednesday, January 31, 2024

From My Nature Journal: Is Creation Still Happening?

Sure, the typical default of us who believe that it truly was God who created all things is this sense that God did so at some point in the past, Genesis 1 and 2 and all. But I wonder about that sometimes. I like to think that creation is still happening. 

The deeper and deeper we go into the faraway cosmological mysteries of the universe and the nearby complexities of the human brain, for example, the more we seem to see how these things just eventually have a sense about them that we only discover a little at a time. To me, that is the revealing and unraveling of the creation story. And if that cannot be considered by some as creation still happening, perhaps it is at least simply God still creating something in us, and that not just for those with spiritual eyes (Matthew 13:13-15).

I watched the move Oppenheimer a couple nights ago. One cannot help but be impressed with humankind’s ability to garner previous knowledge in multiple disciplines and bring it to bear on a new creative challenge in crisis situations. Of course, what was created in that circumstance was a weapon of mass destruction with a checkered history since and an unpredictable and nerve-wracking future. Nevertheless, what was said could not possibly be done was done. What was not understood to make sense eventually made sense. We ‘discover’ things that border on or cross over into the realm of the unbelievable, but then, in time, they become not only believable but even logical. The imponderables become ponderable, then in turn plausible, comprehensible and finally understandable.

I recently read of a ‘new discovery’ of an enormous ring of galaxies reported to the American Astronomical Society. The laws of cosmological physics as we know them cannot account for such a thing as a ring of galaxies. The cosmos is relatively random, obeying known laws of nature such as gravity and inertia. It is supposedly just not possible for a ring of galaxies to exist, and this discovery challenges what seems to be known of the cosmos. Yet there it is a gazillion miles away.

And this is the way it seems again and again – not only in scientific cosmology but in medicine, technology, biology and the other sciences, sociology, exploration, you name it. 

Maybe even faith. Forgiveness given and received. Impossible? Relationships restored. Preposterous? Peacemaking. Outlandish? Healing of mind, soul or body. Absurd? Humans have the capacity to create monstrous things, but we also have the capacity to join in on what God creates for our good.

The Christian reformer Martin Luther once said, “God made the world out of nothing. It is only when we become nothing that God can make something out of us.”

Maybe creation never quits. 

For God chose… things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:28-29)

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… All things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

~~ RGM, January 31, 2024

Sunday, July 16, 2023

From My Nature Journal: Call it Bloggers’ Block

Call it bloggers’ block or writers’ block or whatever, but anyone who regularly follows my blog has found that I haven’t posted during this calendar year. It certainly is not due to a flagging of interest in observing and celebrating God’s incredible creation. That is part of me. Appreciating nature is as strong a spiritual pathway for me as it has ever been. We get out into God's garden almost daily, hiked even today picking wild huckleberries along the way. 

So I’m not exactly sure what it is. Perhaps it’s what has seemed an unusual busyness of late, perceived or real, or the lack of motivation to do the work it takes to write. Both have likely impacted my inspiration. 

But I feel in my gut that what I am experiencing is just a hiatus. I’ll get back to it. Lord knows I have a thousand writing ideas I’ve gathered over the years tucked away in my files. Meanwhile, if you are missing it (as actually I am), of the 250 posts I’ve shared over these ten years, 60% of them are well-indexed. (I stopped that sometime back as well, and may choose to complete indexing before I begin writing again.) As your interest dictates, hit the index tab under the masthead and check the variety of subjects I’ve covered. I enjoy browsing them myself. 

And, by all means, get outside and take in God's Masterpiece.

~~ RGM, July 2023

Friday, December 30, 2022

From My Nature Journal: Flow

I stand atop a rickety footbridge, under which swiftly flows from the Canadian Rockies into its eastern foothills a cold and shallow but fairly wide stream, the Ghost River, northwest of Calgary. I have come to help lead a contemplative retreat for pastors who are in seasons of change or discernment, seeking direction and renewed vision from God. One cannot lead these kinds of retreats without also being moved to do much personal reflection and contemplation of their own. At least that is always true for me. 

The Ghost, at least in the fall season, runs through a fairly wide and open valley. The rocky streambed is easily four or more times the size of this late September flow. It must be quite a spectacle in the fury of spring runoff. But for now the river is completely contained beneath a small bridge, which may be moved into place on wheels over wherever the stream has finally chosen to make its path that particular summer. Crystal clear and certainly no more than a couple feet at its deepest, it runs swiftly, yet, because of the lack of large boulders, also quite smoothly, allowing the stream bottom to be almost plainly seen. It makes me feel I am soaring over the water, or even walking on it. 

Facing upstream, quickly on the flow comes. Then turning easily and facing downstream, quickly away the flow goes. I cannot help but think about the passage of time, coming and going, allegorically called to mind. Having done a pretty good job convincing myself that a person in his 60’s is not old, I cannot for the life of me convince myself the same as the next decade looms, now not far away. 

What seems to be flowing toward me as I face upriver? Aging, obviously, and what always seems the very speedy passage of time. Physical limitations will be coming on; that’s what older bodies do, something my doctor has been telling me since my thirties! Then there’s change, personal and corporate, local and global, always flowing toward me in one way or another. Cultural changes also come on steadily, some that delight me, others that surprise me, and a few that just plain make me mournfully sad. Unknown new relationships are coming my way. Yes, there are even new ministry opportunities that may flow to me that I cannot yet conceive. Heck, even death is certainly getting nearer, though hopefully not imminent, as unstoppable as the Ghost River. Of course, then, my heavenly reward is also nearing, though I confess I don’t think much about heaven, content with the fullness of life God gives me now and the ongoing mission God has called me to. And finally, my ultimate legacy flows toward me, where everything I have labored toward will be behind me, all of it tested for ultimate value; whether it will show itself as ‘silver, gold and precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble’ (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-12) remains to be known. 

These are the things that flow toward me. 

Turning around, what seems to be flowing away from me? Certainly ministry as I have heretofore known it these near fifty years. Similar to above, time always drifts downstream, along with my virility. Definitely. In some ways, my progeny seem to be rushing away, as well they all should, on into their own lives and futures. Thankfully, some of the the ‘wood, hay and stubble’ of my lifelong labors I can already see fading in the distance, some of them things I thought so important at the time. And then there’s culture again; it seems also not only to be rushing toward me but moving away, as I have a more difficult time keeping up with it all. And lastly, of course, old dear ones are flowing away, passing, people whom I have loved profoundly; yet by faith they are also in my future, me flowing strangely toward them. 

Still, no matter what is flowing toward me or away, coming or going, I find myself in a settled place. Perhaps this particular Ghost is Holy. 

An old hymn text occurs to me…

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace, 

Over all victorious in its bright increase:

Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day; 

Perfect, yet it growth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed, 

Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

~~ RGM, September 29 2022

Friday, November 25, 2022

From My Nature Journal: Rejoicing at God’s Wonders

Three weeks ago today, Gail and I had the ‘blessing’ of the season’s very first snowfall while battening down the hatches to abandon for the winter our little cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula woods. I use quotations because that blessing certainly can be mixed, as it was this year. Whenever we stay through to the last half of October we often will experience the first snow, but it typically comes in flurries or a good dusting, coating the conifers with a crystalline beauty that takes breath away. Not this year. It was a bona fide storm, thrilling for our visiting grandchildren on fall break from school; after snowmen and snow angels, they even got to eat dinner and go to bed during an end of the day power outage, which made it feel like a true Little House in The Big Woods experience for them. But six inches of snow did indeed put the permanent parking brake on the fall raking yet to be completed, and just served to complicate the closing in general. Still, it was better than the blizzard during which we left several years ago. That one made loading the car a real treat.

I admit the result of the storm was beautiful, though. It had been a gorgeous fall in full color. Many trees were still holding on to some of that, so the mixture of the pristine white with all the reds, golds, oranges and forest greens made one’s heart sing. But very warm days leading up to that pre-winter weather event left a lot of warmth in the ground, especially the gravel roads; so though the woods and yards were a thick snowy blanket, the road was wet but relatively clear. 

About halfway through the snowfall I went out for a walk on that road and discovered dozens of these magnificent little snow sculptures where leaves had fallen. You may identify the maples easily. How did you do with the birch and large tooth aspen? In all my comings and goings over the years, I did not recall seeing anything like it before. The conditions must have been just perfect for it, and it reminded me how often a naturalist sees things they’ve never seen before nor ever may again. I love that part of being a nature observer, but it always takes me a little by surprise. (Continued below photos.)

The Northumbria Community of the U.K. has a lovely blessing that is part of the morning liturgy in their book Celtic Daily Prayer, a prayer blessing I have loved for years and offered over many. It goes like this:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you.

May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.

May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.

May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our (or his) doors.

The wonders God has shown me… I see them every day, large and small. I hope you do as well. They’re out there. I am grateful. 

Gitcha some outdoors.

~~ RGM, November 7 2022

Monday, October 31, 2022

From My Nature Journal: Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Nursery Stump

Well, not everything. But, with a head nod to Robert Fulghum, there is sure a lot about the Christian life one can learn from a nursery stump. 

First off, you may ask, “What’s a nursery stump?” It’s the stump left after a tree is either cut down, or breaks and falls naturally due to wind or age. Over ensuing years, that cleanly cut or jagged stump softens and begins to rot, holding moisture nicely even in drought, providing a near perfect medium for windblown tree, shrub and herb seeds to take root and thrive. What can often happen is that a tree seedlings’ roots can spread through or over the stump and down to the actual ground, and as the stump itself rots away over the decades, a strange impression can result that the remaining newer tree (or trees) has legs or stilts, as if the tree has jumped several feet off the ground and frozen in that position.

Of course, there are also nursery logs, as the downed trunks of trees, some a 75 feet or more in length, can also offer such a medium, but more rarely, as they’re not as welcoming to seeds as a stump. Water runs off the log, and its bark takes much more time to soften. Still, one can sometimes in a natural forest spot several young or medium-aged trees that seem to have been planted in a row straight as an arrow. Such is the effect demonstrated by a nursery log.

But I have always loved coming across a good nursery stump. Above is one of my younger favorites, perhaps fifty yards north of our little Michigan cabin’s driveway in the midst of the Ottawa National Forest. My guess is that the stump is remnant of the majestic and numberless white pines that used to fill these woods before the heady Upper Peninsula logging days of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the lumber from which built Chicago and other great cities of the northern states. But note not only that three different trees have taken nourishment and root from it, but also that these three are of three separate species – in this case, paper birch, yellow birch and black spruce – a curious and beautiful diversity.

Here is an example of a ‘tree that jumped out of the ground’ as mentioned above, an aging
yellow birch the nursery stump of which is long gone. As you can see, it is probably four feet off the ground. 

One of the most striking nursery stumps I ever saw I noted years ago close along the south side of U.S. Highway 2 as we drove between Seattle and Wenatchee. West of the Cascade divide, it was enormous, 12 feet or more in diameter and eight feet high, likely a Douglas Fir logged out years earlier, with another large tree growing from its top. Every time I’ve driven that highway since I have watched for it to get a photo, but have yet to come across it again. It’s possible it was removed as a hazard by the highway department, but I doubt it. It perhaps is/was a landmark beloved of many. 

This one shown here is not quite as large, about ten feet in diameter and eight feet high, one I just saw last week while driving with some friends on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula along U.S. 101. Yup, that’s another large fir, about fourteen inches in diameter, growing out of its top. Note the straight cut along the top of the stump; that is remnant of the two-man (likely men!) handsaw that took the tree down. You can also see the hole marks on the right side where the loggers wedged a board to stand on to cut it at that height, typical of the process with such large trees. 

And below is another not far from our Coupeville home on WA State Hwy 525, a photo taken yesterday in the rain. The four-foot-diameter stump is also likely an old Doug Fir, logged many years ago; note again the straight cut, a bit less obvious. But what a great proliferation of roots coming down the decaying trunk from a Western Hemlock growing atop! This one will really be a curiosity once the whole stump is decayed. I’m glad it is in clear view from the road, very worth a drive-by. 

Plain and simple, nursery stumps and logs are not only a beautiful curiosity, but give of
themselves for the nourishment and betterment of something else, a medium for another’s growth and flourishing. Now, of course, it might be easy to anthropomorphize here (though it’s not absolutely impossible, you know, that creation has some rudimentary awareness of its Creator – God could do that), but this is not the point. The point is that the follower of God exists to act ‘for God’s glory and neighbors’ good,’ a phrase from the history of my denominational tribe, the Evangelical Covenant Church. God’s glory and neighbors’ good. It’s a great foundation for living whether one is a church-goer or not. Nursery stumps do both, beautiful to God’s glory and existing for the blessing of others. So could all God’s children be. 

Imagine Jesus saying, “You are the nursery stump of the world…” I like that. 

~~ RGM, October 12, 2022

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

From My Nature Journal: “You’ll Put your Eye Out with that Thing”

Isn’t that the father’s warning about the BB gun his son so coveted in the classic Christmas movie? Sometimes I wonder the same about the population of hummingbirds that encircle our little cabin: an exceptionally combative bunch surrounds us and we at times imagine ourselves becoming collateral damage in their battles.

Now don’t get me wrong. We love hummers and we’ve long enjoyed setting out nectar. At our neighbors’ places the various family groups seem to get along just fine, with a dozen or more pleasantly and peacefully circling or settling to their feeders. The constant motion is enjoyable to watch, sometimes even giving the impression of a gentle lava lamp!

Not so here. Far from it! There’s constant bickering, male and female alike, the tiny aeronauts plunging off their spying perches on nearby hemlock branches to attack another daring to encroach upon ‘their’ feeder. Sometimes they’ll even t-bone the intruder broadside with such force they’ll knock them into the windowpane behind which the feeder hangs, like little hockey players over-aggressively checking an opponent into the glass. Occasionally one checked thusly falls stunned to the porch before gathering its wits about itself and reentering the fray. Most entertaining (if fights can be entertaining) is when they go after each other in the air like WWI biplane pilots, circling and diving and juking and jiving forward and backward up and down such that their nearly inconceivable flying skills are on full display, sounding like Star Wars lightsabers in action. Males will flex and flash their red-orange throat patches (called gorgets), with females splaying their striped tails as widely as they can so the tiny critters can present themselves as large as possible. It is truly a sight. They can fight for minutes at a time, with one chasing another off into the woods before a third sneaks back to feed, constantly raising its head to look back over its shoulders to be sure it’s not about to get hammered silly. 

‘Pugnacious,’ say the field guides. Yeah. 

But since the feeder sits about eight feet from the nearest porch chair, we do sometimes get in
the way and might even duck for cover if it didn’t happen so fast. At any moment two loud hums can come whizzing by within a foot of our heads, sounding like they’re flying in one ear and out the other. Earlier this week one came back after chasing another into the woods and stopped in between my face and the book I was reading. It wasn’t but ten inches in front of my naked (and very vulnerable) eyes, looking me over back and forth as if to say, “You ninny, would you please get out of my way?” Back to the Christmas classic, I had to refrain from instinctively covering my eyes! And I was glad I refrained, mesmerized as I was the five to ten seconds or so it hovered there. Amazing little creature.

These hummers are the Ruby Throated species, common in their summer breeding range in every state north to south from the Dakotas, Great Plains and Texas east to the Atlantic. Migratory, they will winter in south Florida, Mexico and Central America, with some flying the 900-mile span of the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. Not sure how the little things have enough fat reserves to accomplish that exertion, but it is one of the many, many wonders of bird migration. They have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with a heartbeat of over 1,200 beats per minute (20 a second!) and a breathing rate of 250 per minute, even at rest! The only bird that can fly backwards, wingbeat in hover flight is up to 80 per second. Incredible. And all this from the smallest birds in the world: some species can weigh less than a dime, if you can even imagine this feisty little flying machine that slight of weight. (Over the years I have held one on two rescue occasions; if I had closed my eyes, they would not have even seemed there.) Nectar is not its only food, lacking protein as it does; they are also insectivores, catching them both on the wing and plucking them from plants. Their beautiful nests (only two of which we have ever found) are the size of a golf ball, secreted on the exterior by lichen, lined with thistledown, and bound with spider webs. (In fact, one of my rescue efforts was to free a bird wrapped up in too much web in the garage window.) Finally, in nesting, two eggs are typically laid, one or two broods per year, and the young leave the nest in eighteen to twenty-two days. 

But back to our diminutive local avian friends, I wonder why they fight so. It is long past nesting and fledging time, so there’s no longer any need to be territorial. There’s always plenty of food in the feeder. Is the fighting worth it? Doesn’t the constant chasing and fleeing and battling expend exponentially more energy than it would to simply share the feeder patiently, even collaboratively, like those at our neighbors’? I don’t get it. Maybe these hummers nearby are further back in evolutionary time, regressed like some humans these days. Our regional and national politics and silly culture wars are no better. Pugnacious. But worse.

Still, it is perplexing, especially when there is plenty to go around for all. The scarcity mentality does goofy things to animals. And people.

Surely my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

~~ RGM, August 22 2022

Thursday, June 30, 2022

From My Nature Journal: When the Curtain Draws Back

There is so much going on around us in the natural world of which we are unaware.  I have often advised budding naturalists, especially children, how important it is simply to pay closer attention to one’s environment in order to see God’s creation reveal its rarities, secrets and mysteries, but a couple experiences these past two weeks brought this home to me yet again. 

Several months ago I finally got around to downloading a newer feature of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s “Merlin” app to my phone, its bird identification by sound tool. I have always wanted to learn to better identify birds by their songs or calls and have watched for an app such as this for a long time. (Get it! It’s amazing!) But there it sat on my phone these many weeks without getting to it. Finally, on a quirk while I was doing something else a couple weeks ago, I heard a call that I had always wondered about: dzee-zee-zee-zoo-zee. I impulsively turned on the tool for a few seconds and, when the bird called again, a photo popped up in a heartbeat of a black-throated green warbler. What? I don’t know warblers at all, and to my memory had never even identified one. All these years I’ve been listening to a warbler? Well, I got hooked. Or perhaps a birder would say, “I got netted.”

Sometimes now I’ll just go out on our deck early in the morning, turn on the app and see what’s out there. I never fail to be stunned. I had no idea so many species were nearby and identifiable amongst what often seems to me the confusion of overlapping birdsong. Even a song I assumed belonged to the ubiquitous robin ended up being something else, in this case a black-headed grosbeak, and I am now learning by experience to distinguish them from each other. ID’ing by sound is helping me to ‘see with my ears,’ giving me cues and clues to more easily spot the bird by sight when I am able. 

So that’s example number one of the reality that there is much going on around us of which we can be unaware. 

There is so much going on around

us in the natural world of 

which we are unaware…

Example two. I met my friend Mark for coffee yesterday. He nearly came out of his seat (and me mine) as he regaled me with a recent whale-spotting experience. In spite of our living near the ocean for over five years here in Washington (can’t see it but can hear and smell it!), Gail’s and my whale sightings have been pathetically few, and that not for wont of watching. We watch the water all the time! But Mark knew something special was up: he could see the water not far offshore disturbed with something, as a stirred area suddenly became very popular with gathering and crying gulls, dipping and diving, then harbor seals surfacing, and finally minke whales spyhopping and fluking, taking advantage along with the others of the herring school or whatever school it was that was in session near the surface that day. The whole thing did not last long but Mark was mesmerized. Then he said, “Isn’t that amazing? There are things like that going on below the surface all the time but we never see them unless they manifest themselves.” 

We never see them unless they manifest themselves. 

So true, in so many ways. God’s actions are so often below the surface rather than blatant. Spiritual realities can hardly seem real. I truly wish God would manifest God’s self more often, openly for anyone to see. Don’t you? It’s something the people of Jesus’ day seemed to ask for often, in spite of the miracles Jesus performed from time to time in their very presence. Amazingly (and frustratingly), Jesus always seemed to refer them (and us) to the ways God was manifesting God’s self all the time if they just observed the signs, if they just opened their awareness to the irrational possibilities rather than only the presumed certainties. 

Once in awhile, like a furtive bird one had no clue was even nearby, like a whale fluke that seems to come out of absolutely nowhere, just when we thought nothing was happening, God manifests God’s self; a veil is opened, a dimness brightens, a path appears, a curtain draws back, and we glimpse something that near takes our breath away.

I’m not a tattoo guy, but if I ever were, I’ve always thought my ink would either be a Celtic cross or a whale tail: the cross for obvious reasons, but the whale tail because a view of one has always reminded me there is nearly always something fantastic, something astonishing, something perhaps even miraculous going on underneath what’s apparent.

~~ RGM, June 22 2022