On Recreation

Sunset over the Grand Teton mountains

Even the desert fathers believed it necessary to rest and recreate.  Below is story about St. Anthony defending his fellow monks when they once were observed jesting and enjoying themselves by a man who disapproved of such behavior among monks.

So vacations are time to have some fun while enjoying the blessings of God’s creation, even things millions of years old or extinct!

Some have been brought back from near extinction as humans realized we really can have a negative impact on creation or a positive one – human choices and behavior matter.

Even if God takes millions of years to form things, He has all the time in the world to bring His will to fruition.

The animals themselves seem to enjoy frolicking in God’s creation.

So too we humans enjoy God’s creation and each other’s company.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Though it was June and we saw plenty of snow, not everything white is ice or snow.  The hot springs make beautiful formations from the minerals they spew forth.

Sunrise at Cooke City, Montana, facing west.

From the desert fathers:

“There was somebody in the desert hunting wild animals and he saw Abba Anthony jesting with the brothers.  The elder wanted to convince the hunter that he had to come down to the level of the brothers from time to time.

He said to him: ‘Put an arrow to your bow and draw it.’  He did so.  He said to him: ‘Draw again,’ and he drew.  Again he said, ‘Draw.’  The hunter said to him: ‘If I draw beyond its capacity my bow will break.’  Said the elder to him: “So it is too with the work of God.  If we draw on the brothers beyond their capacity, they will quickly break.  So it is necessary to come down to the level of the brothers from time to time.’

The hunter was conscience-stricken when he heard this and went his way greatly benefitted from the elder.  The brothers withdrew to their place strengthened.”  (GIVE ME A WORD,  pp 33-34)

You can see all the photos I took on my tour of Yellowstone and environs at  2018 Yellowstone Vacation (just click on any icon to view the set of photos).  You can see a select few photos at Yellowstone Favorites and Vacation Favorites.  Meanwhile, back home our best friends awaited our return:

Images Not Imagination

A picture is worth a thousand words, or at least wisdom claimed this at one time.  Here are three images that caught my attention.

First from the Dayton Art Institute which recently had an origami art display.  A piece entitled “Twisted Holy Book” by  Miri Golan (2014):

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The holy book is opened and there is an outpouring from the book as the meaning of the words expand beyond the limits of the book itself.  The words have life in them and a force like the living water Christ mentions – they are moving, flowing, interacting with the reader of the words who in turn gives them life, an incarnation so that they can be observed by others who cannot see the book.  If the words remain print on a page, they are lifeless, but when they flow from the pages into the world, into our hearts then they expand in a divine way – eternal and infinite.  We, the readers, of course, have to be willing to allow the pages of life to enter our lives.  We have to be looking for the living God on every page to see beyond the ink into the infinite.  When we move beyond the words on the pages, we come to experience the Word of God to whom the Scriptures bear witness.

The second I saw in the Indianapolis Museum of Art was painted in 1864  by Frederic Edwin Church and is called “Our Flag”:

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The year it was painted America was in the midst of the Civil War, a depressing time for the country with a lot of hopelessness, and yet the artist still had a hope in “The triumph of America.”  The country was completely divided by the partisan politics of the day, by the evil of slavery – and the division sometimes pitted family members against each other.  Yet, America still symbolized something – an ideal, a goodness that could rise above the turmoil, above the fray.  And perhaps even the darkness was needed to make people want to find the light – to help them understand there is a light beyond the immediate controversy which can shine on us and through every darkness.  It might give us hope that America is greater than what the extremists on the left and right push for and refuse to compromise on.  Maybe the ideal will be the unifying factor that will enlighten and inspire our politicians to work for the common good, not for a political party when we realize the ideal is multifaceted and we may just be looking at it from different sides.

The third work I saw at the Denver Art Museum, entitled “Peace: The Beauty of Friendship Overcomes the Beasts of War” by Steff Geissbuhler (1986):

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This one brought a smile to my face as Godzilla and King Kong, mortal enemies in the movie hold hands and share an ideal.  The beasts of war are in our heart – individually but also collectively as a nation.  We can overcome and tame those beasts, humans actually can rise above their passions if they choose.   We as creatures in God’s image can rise above our mere animal nature.   If we understand that we are a small piece of the big picture which is unfolding, and that we are not God, not even Godzilla, but are human, capable of soothing the beasts within ourselves, capable of opening our hearts to allow the God who is love to dwell in us.   We may disagree but our warfare need not last forever.

The Beauty of Holiness

“From earliest times man called sacred or holy that which he perceived as the supreme value, demanding reverence, acknowledgement, awe, and thanksgiving; which at the same time attracted man to itself, inspiring familiarity and intimacy. We speak of the sacred feeling of homeland, of the sacred love towards parents, of sacred awe in the face of beauty, perfection, wonder. Thus, the sacred is that which is higher, purer, demanding all that is best: the best sentiments, the best efforts, the best hopes in man. The peculiarity of the sacred is precisely in the fact that it demands from us an inner awareness of self-evident and free desires; yet not simply an awareness, but action and life consistent with this awareness. The awareness that two times two makes four, or that water boils at a specific temperature leaves us neither better nor worse; such an awareness belongs to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the ignorant and the intelligent, the genius and the simpleton. But if we experience a sacred awareness in terms of beauty, or moral perfection, or a special intuition about the world and life, then this awareness immediately makes some demand on us, effects some change in us, invites us somewhere, captivates us, seduces us.

How simply and beautifully Pushkin described this in his famous poem, “The memory of a glorious moment….” The poet forgets the “vision,” the instruction of “disturbing storms,” the dispersion of “previous hopes,” and writes,

…my soul was stirred

And once again you came,

A passing vision,

A glimmer of beauty pure.

In fullness beats my heart,

Feeling once again

The resurrection of divinity,

And inspiration, and life,

And tears, and love.

Here is the description of the sacred as beauty. This experience changes life in its entirety, fills it, in the words of Pushkin, with meaning, and inspiration, and joy, and the divine. “

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Our Father, pp. 26-28)

God Contains the Sea

Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.   (Genesis 1:9-10)

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.  (Psalms 33:6-7)


I placed the sand as the bound for the sea, a perpetual barrier which it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.   (Jeremiah 5:22)

“Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?   (Job 38:8-11)


You have made heaven and earth with all their adornment. You have bound the sea with Your word of command.    (Prayer of Manessah)

Picturing Psalm 104:16-22

Previous Post:  Psalm 104:11-15

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,

the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.

In them the birds build their nests;

the stork has its home in the fir trees.

The high mountains are for the wild goats;

the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.


You have made the moon to mark the seasons;

the sun knows its time for setting.

You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.

Next: Psalm 104:23-28

Picturing Psalm 104:11-15

Previous Post: Psalm 104:1-11

giving drink to every wild animal;

the wild asses quench their thirst.

By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;

they sing among the branches.

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,

and plants for people to use,

to bring forth food from the earth,

and wine to gladden the human heart,

oil to make the face shine,

and bread to strengthen the human heart.

Next: Psalm 104:16-22

Picturing Psalm 104:1-10

Bless the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD my God, you are very great.

You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,


you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,

fire and flame your ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.

You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.

At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.

They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.

You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,

Next: Psalm 104:11-15

Unseasonably Springing

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We have had a cold spring in our area.  Winter has held on to the temperatures and brought us snow flurries, while the song birds are heralding spring in trees which are budding while flowers have appeared in fields and flower beds.

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So when the day seemed even remotely springlike, I took my camera and walked the paths at Cox Arboretum.   The weather may not be springing, but I tried to put a little spring in my walk.

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I did see my first caterpillar, ant and  (my favorite) bee of the season – welcome signs of spring.

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In the Orthodox Church we frequently pray for “seasonable weather” which perhaps in our modern minds shaped by media weather reports translates into average or normal weather, though in our hearts we want it to be at least fair weather, preferable good or nice.

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But there is an old Arab saying which has it that “All sun makes a desert.”  We need the rain, clouds and cool weather to make our gardens grow.

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“Unseasonably.”  This to me is a strange word in the vocabulary of media meteorologists.  In the middle of winter they might say on the coldest night of the year that it is “unseasonably cold.”  They seem to mean it is below average in temperature, but in what other season except for winter would we have those bone chilling temperatures?

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We seem to have had an unseasonably cold spring this year, though I don’t know if the weather data would affirm that or whether we have been well within what is normal for this time of the year.

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A little ditty, I remember from my youth:  “Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, it’s not a matter of weather or not.  Whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.”   Searching on the Internet, I see that limerick has many avatars, none of them exactly as I remember it.

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You can find all of my photos from my walk at  2018-4-26 Cox Arboretum.   Despite the weather, the birds keep singing every morning.

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2017 A Few Favorites

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While most people published their favorites lists for 2017 weeks ago, I’m just now getting around to sharing a few of my favorites from among the photos  took in 2017.  Above:  nature itself shows us that creatures are competitive in survival.  No “Disneyfication” of nature.  I love watching the birds at the feeder in winter, but love is not the default mode for them.  They compete for survival.  Only humans are capable of the Christian love which takes us beyond our genes and self-preservatoin into the realm of free will and choice and love.  Self-denial turns out to be a key in what it is to be human.

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Even as the storm approached at sunset, I could see beauty in the world.  It was early spring and the leaves were not yet out.  There was a chill in the air – but the colors were eye catching.  I enjoyed the moment – literally the moment, for many things pass away quite quickly in life even when we feel they last for a long time.

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Spring comes and I am glad for it.  I am not a winter person.  Spring bursts forth with life and hues and scents, all speaking of life and the Creator.  I’ve paid far more attention to these details since having a camera.

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Sunrises and sunsets are stunningly wonderful to observe.  They can be awe inspiring, and yet because they are a daily occurrence, they seem invisibly mundane to so many.  No wonder the ancients felt dawn and dusk were hours of prayer.

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From the smallest of creatures comes great things.  We forget how dependent we are on insects for example to pollinate plants for our food.  We stomp on them for the fun of it, and otherwise ignore them thinking we could live without them.

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There are human wonders as well at which I marvel.  Humans have been gifted to do marvelous things through math, science, engineering, art and architecture.  We are capable of great works and of creating things not only pragmatic, but beautiful.

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And I often just enjoy whatever it is I am blessed to see on a given day.  Nothing special, and yet everything is special.  You can view all of my favorite 2017 photos at Fr. Ted’s 2017 Favorites.  Favorites don’t necessarily mean “best” –  they are personally the ones I enjoy the most.

Take Delight in All Things

Your own of Your own we offer to You on behalf of all things and for all things.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

… when You open Your hand, they are filled with good things.”  (Psalm 104:28)

“Take delight in all things that surround us.  All things teach us and lead us to God.  All things around us are droplets of the love of God –

both things animate and inanimate,

 

the plants and the animals,

the birds and the mountains,

the sea and the sunset and the starry sky.

They are little loves through which we attain to the great Love that is Christ.

Flowers, for example, have their own grace: they teach us with their fragrance and with their magnificence.  They speak to us of the love of God.

They scatter their fragrance and their beauty on sinners and on the righteous.”  (Elder Porphyrios, WOUNDED BY LOVE, p 218)