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

Monday, May 30, 2022

From My Nature Journal: The Ephemerals Part 2

Some time ago, I wrote of an encounter with early spring wildflowers we had never seen before in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Though we had arrived to open our little cabin in the woods at the normal Memorial Weekend timing, winter had conspired that year to hang on for dear life, so that ice-out on the lake did not take place until the second week in May, the ground held its winter frost abnormally, and the normal early wildflower ephemerals we had typically missed were quite late in blooming. We saw for the first time Trout Lily and Hepatica, Wintercress and, my favorite, Dutchman’s Breeches, along with the more familiar-for-the-date Skunk Cabbage, Marsh Marigolds, Trillium and Spring Beauties. 

This year is the first since our move to Western Washington several years ago that we have been able to enjoy a long spring without needing to be away from our Whidbey Island digs. As a result, we have been able to enjoy a brief but lovely season enjoying this habitat’s ephemerals. Of particular delight are the Coastal Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, that bloom almost absurdly pink, huge and showy in the dark and wet coniferous forests (about which I have also written earlier). But of additional delight are also the rarer prairie plants at a unique historic prairie remnant quite near to our Coupeville home. On property owned by Pacific Rim Institute, a Christian faith-based environmental organization, it’s just down the road from us on land that formerly housed of all things the Washington State Pheasant Hatchery. Somehow a small backset tract of five acres here have avoided the plow over the last 170 years on this intensely but carefully farmed stretch of twelve thousand or so acres of natural prairie on central Whidbey, a habitat very rare to western Washington. It’s that same immediately-plowable prairie that brought permanent European settlers to the area in 1850, one of the earliest non-native settlements in the Oregon Territory in spite of it being an island. But back to the unique remnant: as a result of it never being tilled, this small parcel contains native prairie plants long stewarded by first nations peoples, and one of PRI’s tasks has been restoring area prairie habitat by protecting native blooms and collecting seeds, propagating them for replanting in other places. 

Breathtaking are the huge but short-lived spring stands of the bluish-purple Camas Lily, a plant not currently threatened but still surprisingly rare compared to its former profusion. Native Americans dug camas tubers soon after their flowers dried, and ate them raw, roasted like potatoes, or dried and ground to make bread. (Such were ‘enjoyed’ by the Lewis and Clark expedition, though its final impact upon its Anglo members was recalled as less than pleasant!) Another spring beauty is the intensely yellow Spring Gold, aka Foothill Desert Parsley. Closely related to the almost-always-nearby Barestem
Biscuitroot, a bloom that for all the worls  world looks to me like exploding fireworks, both are members of the biscuitroot genus, which also gives indication of their indigenous use. A special favorite of Gail and mine (we’ll leave you to guess why) is the Chocolate Lily, a species in the state’s sensitive category, with its unusual brownish-purplish petals. How often do you see a flower with brown petals?! And no, it doesn’t taste like chocolate, though like Camas it is edible. But the real spring showstopper on this prairie remnant is the rare and deeply-hued Golden Paintbrush, said to be growing naturally in only thirteen places in the world, nine of which are on Whidbey Island. This is the plant that Pacific Rim seems almost to be bringing back from extinction’s doorstep, so much so that it has been able to be downlisted from endangered to threatened status in the state. Gail and I always loved the prolific orange and red-orange paintbrush of Colorado’s high plains and foothills when we lived and hiked there, so this seems like coming across its rarer cousin, its ‘brother-from-a different-mother,’ or, in this case, its Creator!

(Above photos, in order: a camas patch; spring gold and camas; barestem biscuitroot; camas, spring gold and chocolate lily; golden paintbrush patch; paintbrush close-up)

Western Washington’s forest and prairie ephemerals seem to last somewhat longer than those we have found in the Midwest’s northwoods, but one still must be ready to get out there pretty quickly to enjoy them before they’re gone. And the very term ephemeral gives us a clue to this reality. As I mentioned in one of those earlier posts, ephemeral is from the Greek ephemeron, which means ‘liable to be cut short,’ a good descriptor for a bloom that might last in some cases only a few hours or days. Understandably, ephemeron is from the same root as the common Biblical word daily, the word we use in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If I remember correctly, I think it is also the word used in Exodus 16 in the Septuagint (an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), when the Israelites are told to daily gather manna sufficient only for a single day, in other words, to trust God that God will continue to daily provide for them again the next day. Thinking about and meditating on this Biblical word has added a lovely meaning and deeper appreciation to our early spring wildflower-gazing and identification. Give us this day our daily blooms as well as all our daily needs.

And speaking of ephemerals:

As for people, their days are like grass. They flourish like a flower of the field, for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103:15-18)


Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field which is here today and gone tomorrow… will he not much more care for you…? Therefore, do not be anxious… (Matthew 6:28-31, portions)


The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

May you and I be completely and ephemerally assured of the blessing of God’s daily care.

~~ RGM, May 26 2022

Saturday, April 30, 2022

From My Nature Journal: The Proof is in the Pudding

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? What does pudding prove, after all? If you know your metaphors, however, you know its simple meaning: if one wonders the nature of a thing, that thing has simply to be experienced. 

Etymologically, it is first found roughly in English in the 1300’s without reference to an author, going this way: Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng. By 1605 a first named source is found, British historian William Camden, who has it: All the proofe of a pudding’s i’ the eating. And we’re not talking about Jello pudding or a tapioca here. The common meal among the English was something called a pudding, which was most often a savory, even meaty dish, constituting the main or sometimes the only course. Of course, there were also some sweet ones, and many of us have even ordered it from time to time without knowing it or even knowing what it is. ‘Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,’ indeed.  In the case of our phrase, it could be paraphrased like this: Don’t judge the dish by its looks or even by what the cook says. Take a bite.

But here’s another way the phrase is used: if something is distrusted or unknown, just look at its evidences. I had cause yet again to think about this recently in relation to such an enormous subject as the existence of God, of all things, and this in a text in The Apocrypha. Okay, okay, as an evangelical Protestant, I must say I’m not greatly familiar with these intertestamental Christian writings found in Roman Catholic and a few other traditions’ translations. Most of the main Protestant translations don’t include these few ‘books’ written in between the historic times of what Christians call the Old Testament (the history and faith of Israel pre-Jesus) and the New Testament (the life of Jesus and inspiration of the early church). I’m not sure why this is so, likely just the traditions of the various reform movements of the 16th and 17th Centuries. 

And frankly, I cannot even remember where I ran into this passage. Was it on the Jesuit Pray as You Go app I listen to daily on my smartphone? They occasionally use an apocryphal text as the passage of the day. Or was it in some other ecological reading I did somewhere? Anyway, there it was, this surprisingly firm yet still lovely text about the proof of God in God’s creation. Here it is, from The Apocrypha’s ‘book’ called Wisdom, chapter 13 in its entirety (the bolding is mine):

1 For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the One who exists, nor did they recognize the Artisan while paying heed to his works;

2 but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.

3 If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the Author of Beauty created them.

4 And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the One who formed them.

5 For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

6 Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him.

7 For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.

8 Yet again, not even they are to be excused;

9 for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?

Wow, that’s a pretty strong text. It reminds me of two others in the Bible versions I am much more familiar with. First from Job 12:7-10 (bold again mine):

Ask the animals, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;

    and 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

    and the breath of every human being.

And then from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, 1:19-20, which has it this way in the
Christian New Testament (I am using Eugene Peterson’s creative translation, The Message, and, again, the bold mine):

But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. 

Back to our pudding, sometimes it just needs to be said: If the reality of God is still at best a stretch for you, look at God’s creative and loving evidences. Go ahead. Take a bite. The Master Chef is eager that you do that. Or, as the Bible says elsewhere, “Taste and see…” Have patience with the possibility that God is not only real, but that God desires to be known and even makes that a possibility for all willing to consider it.

~~ RGM, April 30 2022

Thursday, March 31, 2022

From My Nature Journal: Crows... And the Power of Hope

One of the things I greatly enjoy is volunteering at our local historic lighthouse, Admiralty Head Light on the Admiralty Inlet into Puget Sound. Whenever there and the going is slow (which isn’t very often, even on bad weather days, as the lighthouse tends also to be at times a warming house for cold or wet state park visitors!), I always pull a good book from the giftshop shelves and while away any spare time there may happen to be. There’s a lot there on natural history, so I’m never disappointed.

Am reading lately a delightful book titled Crow Planet by Lyanda Haupt, subtitled Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. Originally published in 2011, it was revised just last year. As the two titles imply, there is much here specifically on crows, what Haupt considers the wild creature most available to urban nature observers, and deeply interesting to boot. Indeed, many of us have our unique crow stories! But the book also contains a great deal of fine philosophizing on the study of nature in general and the importance of earth stewardship (what many of us prefer to call creation care) for us urban and non-urban stewards alike.

I particularly appreciate her positive approach, and wanted to highlight with this blogpost an excerpt from one of her early chapters. 

We all know dour environmentalists (or perhaps we are one), wringing their hands while myopically bemoaning the disasters to befall the earth in the near future. Why, when we know that they are right, do we want to spill organic cranberry juice all over their hemp sandals? Because they are no fun, for one thing. And, more important, because they will suck us dry if we let them. But we don’t have to let them. There is a way to face the current ecological crisis with our eyes open, with stringent scientific knowledge, with honest sorrow over the state of life on earth, with spiritual insight, and with practical commitment. Finding such a way is more essential now than it has ever been in the history of the human species. But such work does not have to be dour (no matter how difficult) or accomplished only out of moral imperative (however real the obligation) or fear (though the reasons to fear are well founded). Our actions can rise instead from a sense of rootedness, connectedness, creativity, and delight…

Haupt then goes on to emphasize in the book that urban dwellers, who think they may have less access to nature than those who are blessed to live more immersed in it, and thus may feel less motivated to activism, actually often have more access to it than may first appear if they are simply diligent and creative in their observation. (Take crows, for example, who somehow have made their sassy yet cautious peace with humans in nearly all settings.) But I also deeply appreciate at least her head nod to the spiritual sensitivities and creativities that can motivate all people, especially people of faith, to be active in creation care. 

Secular naturalists often lay earth degradation and exploitation at the feet of the church, very unfairly IMHO (which is too frequently not so humble). But it has become clearer to many Christians (especially in the younger generations) that we can no longer stand on the sidelines of these efforts but rather take a leading role. Thus, it gives older people like me great joy to see organizations springing up like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and Circlewood

But key to effective Christian involvement in this cause will be our spiritual sensitivities first to the classic faith practices of lament and repentance. Lament, of course, is Godly sorrow, a sorrow that matches God’s sorrow. But repentance, as you who have studied it know, is not only about Godly sorrow, but about a Godly turnaround, in short, a change of action, a new and better approach, a leaving behind of the old bad habit or behavior and a taking up of a new or renewed practice of a redeemed comportment in a moral and holy manner. 

However, something additional to these is also needed. Hope. Though Haupt does not use that word in the excerpt I shared above, her book is a tribute also to the hope that will be necessary as we work to redeem centuries of creation misuse. Hope will be indispensable to ongoing earth care. Despondency will not help. Indeed, the Bible assures us that hope has the power to keep us from despondency, “…Hope does not disappoint us… (Romans 5:3-5)” 

So check out the book. I think you’ll enjoy it, may even come up with some amazing crow stories to add to your own. 

But on the subject of creation care? Work hard. And never stop hoping. 

~~ RGM, March 31, 2022

Saturday, February 26, 2022

From My Nature Journal: "Hellooooo, Plant!"

A just for fun post… 

With a headnod and a smile at the thought of Ed Norton in the old Honeymooners series ‘addressing his golf ball’ (check it out here), I title my post today. Seems like scientists are finding further veracity in talking to houseplants, both for the talkee and the talker. 

It’s not a new concept. For me, it goes back to an experience with my next-door college dorm friend and future biologist Bruce urging me nearly fifty years ago to talk to my plants, something I’ve taken somewhat seriously over the years. Why not? In fact, the idea goes back in science at least to the mid 1800’s when a German botanist by the name of Fechner published to this end. And now, what do you know? A British publisher has produced a book of bedtime stories to be read to plants, scientifically based. I guess it was bound to happen, though I don’t anticipate going that far. Still, all the bedtime stories or talking in the world won’t help if watering and feeding is neglected.

Jesus talked to a plant at least once. Course, it wasn’t good news for that plant (Mark 11:12-25), but he was trying to get a point across to his followers about faithfulness and fruitfulness. 

And this subject of talking to plants catches me because I have been thinking a lot about plants lately. Several years ago, Gail and I gave away all our houseplants, some that we had even had our whole forty-year marriage. Our ministry work and personal interests were taking us away from home more often for weeks and months at a time, and we were finding it increasingly difficult to care for them. So after putting aside several to bring to a daughter we were going to drive to see soon, one day we put all those remaining out on tables in our driveway and emailed our Shadow Ridge Road neighbors to come help themselves. There was joy on faces as they were carted away, and I daresay a little grief on ours. These plants had become friends over the years.

And such our home has been ever since – plant free – nary a plant to address, and we’ve been missing something as a result. But a brainstorm occurred to me several days ago. We’ve got some invasive English Ivy growing in our woods that I need to get pulled one of these days. Some of that would easily keep and grow here in the house in a jar of water, and wouldn’t require any care over the time we may be gone in the months ahead. So I’m going to get out and collect some cuttings to bring indoors. It’ll at least give me something to talk to when Gail is not around!

And while I’m thinking of it, perhaps something easy that could be said to plants by any of us is, “Thank you.” They are God’s living creation after all, and I have written often before of the power of gratitude when it comes to spiritual and emotional health, here for example. Of course we give thanks to God the Creator for natural beauty, but I do not think it incongruous at all to express gratitude also to the created thing itself. A bit animistic? Some might think so, but I don’t agree. And it looks like we’re seeing a growing body of science to attest to it. Now even bedtime stories. 

So my new ivy cuttings? May they all live (and grow) happily ever after. 

~~ RGM, February 26, 2022

Saturday, January 29, 2022

From Someone Else’s Nature Journal(!) -- "The Last Sparrow in the Last Forest: Communities of Faith Must Lead the Rescue"

It has been quite some time since I have shared a guest on my blog, but my great friend, entomologist Bill Matson, is writing for his Lutheran church in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and I asked if I could share this. 

Bill is the activist I wish I was! He’s also brilliant when it comes to God’s creation. He and Sheri are fast friends and it seems the times we spend together always go by way too quickly. 

I share here a recent column he posted in his church newsletter. With fine writing like this, and its crucial message, I hope their church at least has the ability to share his work with their larger diocese. I agree with him wholeheartedly that faith communities must take the lead on earth’s stewardship. God calls us to it. And if we leave earth care only to those without faith, its Gospel foundation can be lost – the truth that it is part of God’s redeeming work to transform all of God’s creation. So here we go…

The Last Sparrow in the Last Forest:

Communities of Faith Must Lead the Rescue

Our blue planet has always been in continuous change, even before humans arose from harmless obscurity.  However, as our populations and technologies exploded over the last forty millennia, so did our impact. Today, the consensus is that we have driven the world to a precipice of disaster. Decades of science have warned that we humans are triggering a snowballing catastrophe of mayhem and death.  It’s now especially acute in nature where there have been alarming losses of life-supporting organisms like bees, birds, trees, and ocean fish. Already, millions of displaced humans are desperately seeking refuge because of the unprecedented flooding from melting glaciers, ocean thermal expansion, and storms, as well as from record-breaking droughts and forest fires.

Lutherans strive to live by the mantra of God’s Work, Our Hands, dedicating our church body to care for others.  But, humanity’s recklessness reveals that too many hands are desecrating creation, not caring for it.  Will it come down to the last sparrow in the last forest before we can discern our grave mistakes?  A many decade’s old popular song summarized our predicament in its lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Rector Ragan Sutterfield in the Christian Century magazine (Sept 2021) asserts that fixing the planetary crisis requires that we must first reconcile human life with all of creation. This demands radical transformations in life styles and governance from top to bottom. Big money and technology alone will not rescue us.  Rector Sutterfield urges that the Church step forward to become a leader of the rescue.  Planetary healing, he argues, can arise from a united effort by all communities of faith, where green, healing ripples will emanate from hundreds of thousands of green parishes. Ripples can become healing waves spreading into communities, and beyond. 

At least five, step-wise changes are recommended at each and every parish (abbreviated here):  Withdrawal to stillness, contemplation, discussion, and then to prayerful action.  Cast aside business as usual. Think deep transformation. Ecological Neighborhood Awareness is the establishment of a parish’s ecological footprints, its place in the local ecosystem matrix that sustains it.  Congregants will learn about its flora and fauna, becoming real partners with all of our brethren.  Sanctuary is the idea of every parish, every parish member creating sanctuary, sacred refuges for God’s creation in private and public spaces.  Skill and Tool Sharing means that congregants share their essential knowledge, skills, and tools so that all consume less and create life’s essentials locally. Think of growing/canning food; repairing, not discarding.  Mercy and Grace are generously offered balms badly needed in the midst of coming social and ecological upheavals.  

The aforementioned are merely the early seeds of transformation.  All of us must engage and offer our gifts.  Let us pray that all communities of faith will unite, renew and transform themselves and claim their crucial roles in the rescue and healing. God help us. There is work to be done.

~~ With thanks to Bill, 

RGM, January 28, 2022

P.S. An idea: where I live in Washington state, I am occasionally able to take part in a group called Greening Congregations Collaborative, a group of folks from several area faith communities who are meeting together monthly to resource and inspire each other to shared earth stewardship projects in their churches. Shouldn’t every church have a ministry team of some sort, official or ad hoc, that keeps earth care before its congregants as a discipleship practice? Mightn’t it be a great help to share these ideas between churches? Think about it. “The earth is the Lord’s… (Psalm 24:1),” and we are the Lord’s stewards.