Sunday, April 22, 2018

From My Nature Journal -- Celebrating Earth Day by Praying through the Creation Story: Day 1, Enlightened

Introduction: The ways people pursue God, or even pray, can be as different as the very people who pursue God. Spiritual writers and mentors have long appreciated these varieties of pathways that pilgrims have followed in their prayer journey. For example, many are led to deep devotion through such things as music, contemplation or activism, but others have found that it’s the beauty and mystery of the natural, created world that leads them to a humbling encounter of praise and prayer with their Creator God. Of course, the pathways mix to varying degrees according to our personalities and interests.

Those who find nature an important spiritual pathway can see their own faith story unfold in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 in the Christian and Jewish Bible. Being mindful not to worship creation but only the Creator, a consideration of the natural world not only helps them do that, but also guides them in their stewardship of what God has created. Each day this week we will look to the ‘seven day’ creation story from these first two chapters of the Bible’s very first book. All references are from the Bible’s New Revised Standard Version.

Day 1: “Enlightened” -- Then God said, “Let there be light…” (Genesis 1:3)

Reflect: In the most dramatic act in the history of everything, God created the heavens and the earth. At a time when all was formless and empty, God created light, light for us. That was only natural, because God is light (1 John 1:5).

Prior to this, the scriptures say that “…a wind from God swept over…” the pre-creation formlessness. The Hebrew word for ‘swept over’ can also be rendered ‘hovered’ or ‘brooded.’ What does it mean to brood? Well, to brood can be to think about something, for good or ill, and to brood can be, literally, to incubate, as do birds upon their nests. God did both of these before creating the most basic of all necessities, light.

How we need light! In Acts 9, we are given the account of Saul’s encounter with God on the Damascus Road before he became a follower of Jesus Christ. Verse 3 says, “…suddenly a light…” Knocked to the ground by a blinding brilliance, he heard a voice. And in a single, momentary, dazzling flash, the entire prior direction of Saul’s life was revealed to him as a complete and utter mistake. Can you imagine? I can.

It was light that made the difference, for the Holy Spirit had been brooding over Saul as well. And by the time the experience was over several days later, Saul himself would have some brooding to do before the light fully came.

Often, to pray well is to brood well, bringing our circumstances completely before the Lord. You and I often find ourselves in unexpected places, places we never planned to be, places we perhaps never wanted to be.  In critical times like these we must do as Saul did, allow the light to penetrate, illuminate and guide us. Like him, we will find in the process that Jesus Christ is all the Light we’ll ever need (John 1:5). For God broods over us, too.

Observe: Go to the darkest closet or cupboard in your home and open the door or spread back the curtain. What happens? Does the darkness come creeping into the room in which you stand? No, the opposite holds. Light prevails over darkness. Always has, always will. Thank God for this.

Pray: Lord, I need your light. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for creating it, not only the light by which I see but also the spiritual light by which I can understand. Help me to walk always in the light of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn for the Day: “When Morning Gilds the Skies”

~~ RGM, April 22, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Faith Sees

Eyes see the January-barren tree.
Faith sees spring’s leaf buds and blossoms, tastes autumn’s fruit.

Eyes see the storm.
Faith sees life-enhancing rain that refreshes and supples the land.

Eyes see the small, inert-looking speck.
Faith sees all of that tiny seed’s fertile potential.

Eyes see the trail’s steep grade, effort and toil.
Faith sees the panoramic view at trail’s end.

Eyes see flames consuming, ravaging.
Faith sees warmth, light, nutrients and purification.

Eyes see wilderness’s danger and foreboding.
Faith sees its ability to produce recollection, thoughtfulness and intention.

Eyes see glitz, neon lights, goods, attractions, and amusements.
Faith sees their prospective power to damage the spirit.

Eyes see geese in chevron flight moving south for the long winter.
Faith sees a spring return on pacific breeze.

Eyes see little, scanning quickly over natural beauty.
Faith sees the good pleasure of the Creator, and lingers.

Eyes see death, stark and brutal.
Faith sees resurrection, hope springing eternal.

Eyes fail.
Only faith sees.
Marvelous redemption.
Blessed Easter Tomorrow, 
RGM, March 31 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Above, Upon, Below, Within

As Gail and I continue our efforts to make peace with Pacific Northwest weather (hit this link to be taken back to a blogpost on this subject), it is no surprise today that I am thinking again about precipitation. A rainy week is being followed by the weekend before us that actually looks pretty good, and I am eager to get out and enjoy it, sans spiffy new raincoat. Ebey’s Landing Bluff Trail? Rhododendron or Kettles Trail? Fort Casey State Park? Perhaps all of them. So many trails, so little time…

But as I think on it, it occurs to me that rain is only one of the four kinds of freshwater sources found in the natural world – water from above, water from upon, water from below, and water from within. All play their interrelated part in the order of nature. Water comes from above to replenish what is upon, below and within. And in a magnificent, even miraculous cycle, water from upon, below and within circulates back to what again comes from above. This cycle even makes scientists shake their heads in wonder at the specialness of our third rock from the sun.

Now, stick with me for a little theology here, for perhaps the same is true in the spiritual world. First, above. From the Spirit of God ‘above’ comes what the Bible calls the ‘early’ and ‘latter rain.’ Though their literal rendering refers to the early planting rains which soften the ground for seed sowing, and the latter ones which sustain the crops, a spiritual rendering is possible as well -- that which first brings spiritual life and that which sustains it over time, a refreshment that even places the exclamation point on a life in God. Further, just as literal rains fall and water the earth from above, so surely, the Bible says, shall God’s Word be, coming ‘down’ from above and accomplishing everything for which it is intended.

Second, upon: just as there are oceans, lakes, rivers and streams (in other words, water that is upon), so the Bible says there are such things as streams whose reviving presence ‘make glad the city of God.’ Again, though this may have a literal rendering in such things as a public utility work pulled off by a Judean king who tapped a spring stream from outside Jerusalem’s walls and brought it by a herculean engineering feat under the wall and into the city center, its spiritual rendering is also obvious: there’s that refreshing, reviving, spirit-enlivening water again. And besides, one thing of course is clear from the Garden of Eden: a river ran through it.

Third, below, water from below, springs and artesian wells, an interesting combination of pressures and water sources from another place that produce a mysterious flow elsewhere. These were the watercourses that were truly mysterious to the ancients. Some envisioned great oceans of water somehow below the surface of the earth, perhaps even upon which the land floated. And most mysterious of all were the springs that rose in odd places, unexpectedly generating a stunning vibrancy of life, both flora and fauna, in the harshest of spots. Think of desert oases. The spiritual theme still holds.

But finally, water from within? There are some rare places on earth with no apparent natural water sources, but where creatures still manage to live, a place like Anacapa Island, among the Channel Islands twenty miles off the California coast. No apparent water source? No problem. The few small animals that are there get all the moisture they require from within plants that have taken it from the air. In the spiritual realm, this is the most extraordinary, even supernatural, of waters. Jesus called it an innerspring that can well up, gush, jump up to eternal life. Water from within… It’s the refreshing rain Jesus promised the Samaritan woman at the well, who came there seeking for more life, more refreshment, than could be held in a water jar.

Lord, send your rain from above, and bring us ‘times of refreshing from the Lord’ (Acts 3:19). Cause us to come to your river (Psalm 46:4), the water that is upon, and to come often. Give us to drink from the water ‘that becomes a wellspring of life’ (John 4:14). But most of all, grant us the waters from within, those of which you said, “From their innermost being shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).”

Our shared request is the same as the woman at the well: “Give me this water always (John 4:15).
~~ RGM, March 8, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Making Peace with Western Washington Weather While On the Road to Rhodies

Okay, it’s time. I’ve been here long enough and I’m done bellyaching about Western Washington weather. And though it’s stretching me, I may even be ready to begin making peace with it.

No, Colorado, that doesn’t mean we don’t still miss you desperately, and the utopian weather we’d relished all our years with you. Your year-round nearly predictable sunshine was a hiker’s delight, and this Vitamin D deprived region could use a bit more of it. Oh, weather is predictable here from October to May, too, if you want to call ‘rain and within six degrees either side of forty-two’ predictable. It’s just that it’s about time I stopped moanin’ and groanin’ about how much we dislike the rain here. They said it would take a year for us to get accustomed to it. They lied. We’re still not used to it. That being confirmed, it’ll take an act of the will to make that happen.

And so, as an expression of that will and a symbol of my new resolve, Gail and I went to REI a few days ago and I outfitted myself with some serious Gore-Tex raingear, inaugurating it yesterday with relative success. No, I’ve never paid that much even for a Minnesota-worthy winter parka, or maybe even the three winter jackets put together that I’ve owned in my entire adult life. Still, though I can’t yet say that I LIKE hiking in the rain, at least I’ve made a start of it.

But in addition to my brand-spanking-new orange raincoat, there’s another thing that is motivating me these days: we’re coming up on rhody season here in the Pacific Northwest. Yup, the Pacific Rhododendron -- the Washington state flower -- is about to make its annual showing. Our little acre here in the woods outside of Coupeville, in fact ALL the wooded areas in the region, are nearly covered with the dazzling things, and we can hardly wait to see them in bloom, yes, even while we hike in the rain. In fact, it’s going to take a hike in the rain to see them, rhodies, among the loveliest of state flowers.

Rhododendrons are found in numerous places around the world. In fact, a thousand of these evergreen species are known in Europe, China, Australia and North America. Besides, horticulturists have cultivated many hybrids for garden plantings over the last two hundred years. But the wild Pacific Rhododendron, rhododendron macrophyllum to be precise, may be one of the most beautiful, especially in the context of its natural environment. A leggy, understory shrub that can grow to twenty feet and more while it reaches for light beneath towering conifer groves, its large, showy and prolific light pink to purple blooms stand out refreshingly on gray, misty days, particularly amid the dark, wet trunks of enormous Douglas Firs nearby. Made prolific due to toxins in the plant that make them unpalatable and unbrowsable to deer, it is that aforementioned rain combined with the acidic soil beneath those gargantuan conifers that make conditions right for the rhody to thrive.

And those trees themselves present another ambience unique from my more familiar Midwest haunts: on wooded trails snaking through giant fir groves, it might be upwards of fifty feet from the forest floor to the lowest branches, leaving a cavernous, auditorium-like opening akin to a large room, one full of flowering bushes. R. macrophyllum, which literally means ‘rose-tree large-leafed,’ stretches from southern British Columbia to northern California, and is variously known as the Pacific, California, Western, Coast or Big Leaf Rhododendron, or the California Rosebay. It was first described for science by famed botanist Archibald Menzies, who collected the plant in Washington while accompanying the Pacific Northwest exploration of British sea captain George Vancouver in 1792.

So back to the rain. The Bible says that God causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), inferring that his manifold blessings are heaped upon both those who revere him and those who have not yet learned to do so. I am grateful for wild rhododendrons, how they will beautify the forest under dark and rainy skies. My new raincoat and I are ready for them now.

“Consider the lilies,” Jesus said, “how they grow. They don’t toil or spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as one of these. But if God so clothes the grasses of the field… can you not trust God to care for you?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

~~ RGM, February 26, 2018