Monday, August 26, 2013

QOTM...*: Wendell Berry

(*Quote of the Month)

…The woods has many doors going in and out. It is full of rooms opening into one another, shaped by direction and viewpoint. Many of these rooms are findable only once, from a certain direction on a certain day, in a certain light, at a certain time. They could not be returned to either now, after years, or then, after an hour. Windows open in the foliage, through which, maybe, we could see a hawk soaring or a distant treetop suddenly shaken by a gust of wind. Sometimes these rooms and vistas seem arranged for us, for our pleasure, as in a human garden. But these, of course, do not constitute the woods, which is not a garden, and is not understandable and foretellable so much as a garden is. We come sometimes into a place of such loveliness that it stops us still – and holds us – until some changing of the light seems to bless us and let us go.
(Wendell Berry)       

One of our favorite places in the world is a small bit of woods in the middle of the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We have spent many years going back there, and over that time have spent uncountable hours combing that bit of woods and the expansive woodland that surrounds it. We know its colors and contours, its clearings and swamps, its rocks, plants, animals and, yes, its trees. And many times, many times, we have seen the ‘rooms’ of which Wendell Berry writes. Many we remember to this day.

The woods has many doors going in and
out. It is full of rooms opening into one
another, shaped by direction and viewpoint.

Berry (b. 1934) is a farmer, essayist, novelist, environmental activist and poet who embodies what I consider the best of an ecologist’s heart: a heart for God, a heart for people and a heart for God’s creation. Though many are acquainted with his writing through either his poetry or his incisive commentary on sustainable agriculture and the uses of appropriate technologies, it is his fiction that first captured my attention when daughter Sarah gave me his Jayber Crow, in which the above quote is found. Several of his novels and collections of short stories chronicle the intertwined lives of the people of the imaginary Port William, Kentucky; but the reader quickly comes to see Berry’s simple yet profound convictions as an environmentalist playing out in the character development and story lines of his fiction. Pick up a copy of his That Distant Land at your public library, and you will be introduced to a host of his characters over a century of time, many of whom are written of or referred to in his novels. This is no Father Tim of Jan Karon’s Mitford Series. These are characters in which you, like me, will find yourself, undergoing the normal challenges and pleasures of life -- strong characters, purposeful characters – yet in the midst of profound change and cultural shift.
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But back to the woods. We’re heading up that way again soon, you know, and are looking forward to going in and out of its rooms, enjoying the changing perspectives that sun, angle and atmosphere will present, receiving the blessing it always has to offer, and then moving along.

~~RGM, August 22, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: Some of those Old Covenanters were Nature Lovers, Too -- Like Carl Boberg



(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, prayers, scriptures, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me. I trust they will do the same for you.)



Courtesy of the good folks at the eclectic journal Pietisten, I just last week came across a translation of a beautiful nature hymn text by Carl Boberg (1859-1940), which I will eventually get to in this week’s blogpost. But first, you may ask, “Who in the heck is Carl Boberg?” Well, only the original author of one of the most famous Christian songs in the whole wide world! But there’s a story behind it…

You see, as a very young lay pastor in the Swedish Covenant in 1885, the year the Covenant Church was founded in the U.S., he also wrote this other hymn, “O, Mighty God” (in Swedish, O Store Gud) containing another fantastic text celebrating God’s creation. Swedish missionaries, ever the songsters, took Boberg’s hymn with them to Germany, where it was translated into that language. It then made its way in German to a colony of Russians, where it was again translated. Finally, the Russian translation found a way into the hands of an English missionary by the name of Stuart Hine, who rendered it from the
Russian into English. You getting it yet? Sounds like the old game of telephone, doesn’t it? Anyway, Hine’s version was titled “How Great thou Art.” This great song, voted the most popular in the world behind only John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” was a translation of a translation of a translation of the original Swedish straight from our Covenant heritage. Cool, hey? So with a nod to the late Paul Harvey, that’s the rest of that story.

Now I can get to my original intent to give you the other Boberg hymn text. It was written in 1911, when Boberg was fully twice the age he was when he penned “O, Mighty God.” This one is titled “In God, My Soul Rests as on Placid Water.” Catch the simple images from a man who must have been a nature lover himself:

In God my soul rests as on placid water
As does the swan who on tame seas might glide,
And though the storm this tranquil peace may scatter
Calm I’ll remain until the winds subside,
And though the storm this tranquil peace may scatter
Calm I’ll remain until the winds subside.

When nighttime skies by violent clouds are hidden
And thunder echoes over sea and land,
Yet will I find myself in God’s protection,
I’ll find my rest in God’s almighty hand,
Yet will I find myself in God’s protection,
I’ll find my rest in God’s almighty hand.
If God remains the 
author of salvation...
then shall my soul still find 
its consolation...
If God remains the author of creation,
His guiding plan behind all life below,
Then shall my soul still find its consolation,
All cares recede – my Lord has willed it so,
Then shall my soul still find its consolation,
All cares recede – my Lord has willed it so.

Though doubts of self become a heavy burden
It is not we, but God who leads us on.
Deep in his love an anchor will I fasten
And rest assured to wait the brilliant dawn,
Deep in his love an anchor will I fasten
And rest assured to wait the brilliant dawn.
(trans. Mark Safstrom, 2013?)

Hmmm… That is a great text, full of the confident assurance of God’s presence through both trial and peace. Curiously, it’s even in the same meter as “O, Mighty God,” known in hymn metrics as 11.10.11.10. with Refrain. I guess when you have a good idea you stick with it.

Before I let you go, though, I want to circle back for a moment to the better-known classic, and let you contemplate in further praise the Creator of our good earth. While I do, you might be interested in hitting this link to listen to a powerful rendition of the song by Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood -- Hollywood to be sure (or at least Dollywood), but beautiful just the same, complete with a lovely guitar interlude by Gill. The link hasn’t had twenty million hits in two years for no reason.

In the original Swedish lyrics, quite a long hymn text in fact (nine stanzas!), Boberg testifies in several verses to the majesty of what God has created, then goes on to give witness in several more to God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. (Boberg had just had an experience with nature that I’ll reference below.) Stuart Hine translated the nature verses this way:

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, how great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook and feel the gentle breeze,
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, how great thou art!

Wow, it’s no wonder the song is so well-loved! But the direct English translation of Boberg’s original lyrics put the nature verses like so:

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty wrought by words of thine,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining earthly life with love benign,
With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud:
O mighty God! O Mighty God!

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth,
With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud:
O mighty God! O Mighty God!
With rapture filled, my soul 
thy name would laud:
O Mighty God!
And when I hear the roar of storms and thunder,
When lightning cleaves the heavy sky in twain,
And rainbow fair, the sign of promise tender,
Reveals itself when ends refreshing rain,
With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud:
O mighty God! O Mighty God!

When summer winds o’er verdant fields are playing,
When flowers bloom by cooling waters’ edge,
When singing birds on every tree are swaying
And fill with melody each grove and hedge,
With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud:
O mighty God! O Mighty God!
            (trans. E. Gustav Johnson, 1925)

Yes, older language, but a strikingly beautiful love for nature being shown just the same. My old choir director and beloved friend, Covenant hymnologist J. Irving Erickson, even tracked down the story of the hymn’s creation:
Carl Boberg and some friends were returning home to Mönsterås from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon service. Nature was at its peak that radiant afternoon. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon sharp lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared. When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mönsterås like a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush. The church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the song.

I like that, too, have been inspired often in that way myself.

I’ve told you this before, and will likely need to tell you again: when a naturalist starts to write, he or she can become so wrapped up in their subject that they can spout on and on about the most simple of things. Forgive my wordiness this week! Maybe you have perceived by now through past posts that music can touch me as deeply as nature, so I guess this one was a double dip!

~~RGM, August 13, 2013

Saturday, August 10, 2013

POTM...*: Majesty

(*Photo of the Month)


"As the deer longs for streams of water, 
so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God." (Psalm 42:1-2a)

On our regular evening jaunt tonight, Gail and I paused from our hike on the East Plum Creek Trail to watch a handsome five-by-five mule deer buck prancing up a draw, right next to the trail. He was barely thirty yards away. We had no camera, as it was one of our more routine exercise hikes; but it was past sunset anyway so a photo would have been futile. As we had walked up to that time, I had been thinking about what I might use for my blog’s photo of the month. That experience inspired me to pull out this one, taken while we camped some time back down in the Wet Valley near Westcliffe.

I don’t know what it is about deer and elk: to me they are the most majestic of God’s creatures I have the pleasure of observing in the wild. And though I see them often, they never cease to cause me to stop immediately in my tracks, and just watch.

Mule deer here in Colorado are very different in personality than whitetails back east. They’re far more gregarious, sometimes have even curiously approached us to within ten feet as we stood stock-still. Our most favorite difference is that the bucks are almost as gregarious as the does, which allow us to see them up close. Whitetails are so furtive that it’s hard to get a good look at a large buck; they stay deeper in the woods and don’t show themselves very often. Not so mule deer. In fact, my son-in-law BJ, an avid whitetail hunter from Wisconsin, could hardly believe his eyes the first time he experienced ‘mulies’ on a visit out here.

Since many of my readers are from the eastern U.S. where whitetails predominate, I’ll mention some other differences as well. As could be imagined from their moniker, their ears are larger, but they are barely more related to a mule than you or I! (OK, OK, sometimes some of us might be more related to a mule…) They also tend to be a bit taller and weigh more on average, but I would characterize their difference in shape by saying that mule deer are somewhat more barrel-chested than a whitetail. Their tails are tipped in black and don’t show the obvious upraised ‘flag’ a whitetail does when it runs; and speaking of running, they also run differently, whitetails doing more galloping two-footed leaping, and mule deer more four-footed bounding and prancing. A difference less obvious, but a pure giveaway to those who recognize it, is their antlers: mule deer antlers fork into two distinct branches, whereas whitetail antler tynes rise (or sometimes fall) off a single beam. Finally, there are far more whitetails on our continent than mule deer, and though whitetails can often overpopulate in certain areas, for some reason mulies don’t tend to do that.

Colorado actually has populations of both, with almost exclusively whitetails in our eastern high plains and almost entirely mule deer in our foothills and mountains. Still, I have seen both on a lovely butte-top trail Gail and I often enjoy south of here, Spruce Mountain Open Space.

I’ll include three of our other photos here. Since they’re not my official POTM, I’ll attach them in a format smaller than that above, but click on the photo if you want to see them up more closely. Unlike above, the antlers of two of those shown here are still in ‘velvet,’ the photos captured early in the season when antlers are somewhat ‘hairy.’ Velvet is rich in blood vessels and essentially feeds the antlers’ growth, but once they have reached their maximum size for that year the deer work hard to scrape it off against trees and brush, revealing the shinier and more recognizable antlers people see most often. And did you know that antler size is not necessarily a key to the animal’s age? It has as much, sometimes more, to do with the health and diet of the animal as its maturity.

What do you see about the deer in the middle that is odd? I apologize for it being a bit out-of-focus, but I wanted to show it, as the animal is absolutely spectacular. Look closely and count the tynes on each side. It was a seven-by-five at this point, though you can be sure the antlers were still growing. What a beauty! Praise God for God’s wonderful works!

“God makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to stand on the mountain heights.” (Psalm 18:33)

~~RGM, August 9, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Resource: Stations of Creation

With this post, I am going to try something new on my blog. Over the last several years I have written several nature-based spiritual formation exercises, and I would like to share one from time to time. Eventually I will collect these resources under a new Resources tab above, alongside my Why this blog? and About the Author tabs. 

This particular exercise is called Stations of Creation. Modeled after the style of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, whereby a person prayerfully meditates upon the Good Friday actions of Jesus on the way to Golgotha (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 or John 19), Stations of Creation are a sequence of prayer reflections based upon objects observed in God’s natural world. Intended to enlarge both our gratitude and our stewardship, it has been my privilege to lead the exercise with groups large and small over the years.

I have found it most meaningful if it can be experienced outdoors in view of the objects stated, where possible. It may be celebrated individually or in a small group, but if the latter, a leader can be appointed to casually direct the journey, having done simple prior planning to map out a suitable route. In a group, it takes about forty-five minutes to an hour to complete depending on the route’s size. The exercise should be printed for participants to follow along and to have for personal use at a later time; if you have difficulty printing from this blog’s format, shoot me a message with your email address and I can send you a nicely formatted, printable PDF version, complete with instructions.

Each station makes use of:
               ~~ A natural object, to be viewed when possible
               ~~ A Bible passage, to be read aloud by a participant (if in a group) after stating the station’s 
                              title
               ~~ A word picture (if in a group), shared by a participant, that may bring others a spiritual 
                              application
               ~~ A prayer, brief and spontaneous
               ~~ A response, sung if possible; I usually use the last line from the hymn For the Beauty of 
                         the Earth, printed here. The Doxology or Kyrie Eleison may be used instead, or even 
                         a contemporary song such as Indescribable or God of WondersI have often found it 
                         works well to sing the response on the way to the next station. Upon completion of 
                         the exercise, the entire song may be sung.

So with thanks to my friend Helen who inspired me with the idea, here it is, the Stations of Creation. It will be longer than my typical post!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stations of Creation

Earth
Scripture: (Instruction if in a group: A reader states the station title and reads the text aloud.) The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. For God founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.   ~~Psalm 24:1
A Word Picture:  (Instruction if in a group: “Think of an image that conveys a spiritual truth about this item. For example on this first station, who remembers seeing that first photograph taken of the earth from the surface of the moon? In spite of the earth’s enormous size, its complexity and its problems, how fragile and vulnerable it looked to us in that photograph. How different things can be from God’s perspective.” Instruction if done individually: the participant may simply meditate on the scripture or call to mind an experience that brings personal application.)
A Prayer (Instruction if in a group: A participant will volunteer a spontaneous prayer.)
A Response: (Instruction: The line may be sung or stated.)
Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Sky (instructions as above)
Scripture: O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth, Who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens! When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! …Your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the skies, and let your glory be over all the earth.   ~~Psalm 8:1, 3-5; 108:4-5
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Light
Scripture: Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years." And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night. He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.         ~~Genesis 1:14-19
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Wind
Scripture: A tempest arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but Jesus was asleep. And they woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"   ~~Matthew 8:24-27
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Water
Scripture: God wrought wonders before our fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; And He made the waters stand up like a heap. Then He led them with the cloud by day, and all the night with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths. He brought forth streams also from the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.   ~~Psalm 78:12-16
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Fire
Scripture: But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old and as in former years.   ~~Malachi 3:2-4
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Rock
Scripture: And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." And He answered and said, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!"   ~~Luke 19:39-40
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Tree
Scripture: There was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew large and became strong, and its height reached to the sky, And it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it.   ~~Daniel 4:10-12
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Crop and Climate
Scripture: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   ~~Isaiah 55:10-11
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Food and Drink
Scripture: Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? ...Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.   
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Beast
Scripture: Ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; speak to the plants of the earth, and they will inform you; even the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing, even the breath of all humankind.   ~~Job 12:7-10
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Woman and Man
Scripture: So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." …And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.   ~~Genesis 1:27-28, 30, 31
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Decay
Scripture: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.   ~~Ecclesiastes 3:1; Isaiah 40:6-8
A Word Picture
A Prayer
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.


Faith, Hope, Love and a New Creation
Scripture: You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence... Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.   ~~Psalm 16:11, 1 Corinthians 13:13
A Word Picture
A Prayer (A closing prayer may be prayed to bring the experience to a conclusion.)
A Response: Lord of all, to You we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise.

~~RGM, August 3, 2013