The Cosmos as Scripture

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, you lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels.

All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards you and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists.

The power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of your laws, who reveal the depths of your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of you.

How great are you in your creation! How great are you in man! Glory to You, showing your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.

Glory to You, for all nature is filled with your laws. Glory to You for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.

Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.

Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind. Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.

Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

(Akathist: “Glory to God for All Things”, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church , kindle Loc. 2642-54)

Autumn Colors (2)

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The Bible does not focus much on nature for nature’s sake.  Most often in Scripture, creation speaks to us about the Creator and nature serves God’s purposes, so it allows us to know what God intends or is doing.  I still find the autumn color change to be awesome, and  worthy of showcasing in photos (see also my post Autumn Colors 1).  I don’t have to travel far to see the beauty in creation.

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Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.

(Psalms 96:12-13)

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So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long,
from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the air
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the animals of the field
gave birth to their young;
and in its shade
all great nations lived.

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It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant water.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
the plane trees were as nothing
compared with its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
was like it in beauty.

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I made it beautiful
with its mass of branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden
that were in the garden of God. 

(Ezekiel 31:5-9)

 

You can find all of my fall color photos at Autumn 2019.

Autumn Colors

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The Bible doesn’t mention autumn very much nor our beloved fall color change.  In fact, trees are not overly featured in the scriptures.   They are treated as more utilitarian – mostly fruit trees are mentioned, but trees do give shade and wood as well.  Trees still are a favorite of mine and I’ve been out photographing the autumn color change.

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The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.   (Genesis 1:12)

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On the first day you shall take  …  boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…   (Leviticus 23:40)

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Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever. 

(1 Chronicles 16:33-34)

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All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the LORD.   (Ezekiel 17:24)

See also my post Autumn Colors (2).  You can find all of my fall color photos at my Flickr page: Autumn 2019.

 

Music: Harmony With God

St. John Climacus, remarked that true beauty is never profane:  ‘When we hear singing,’ he said, ‘let us be moved with love towards God; for those who love God are touched with a holy joy, a divine emotion and a tenderness which brings them to tears when they listen to beautiful harmony, whether the songs are profane or spiritual’ (The Ladder, 15th step).”  (Olivier Clement, On Human Being, p. 105-106)

As we rejoice in the “Akathist: Glory to God for All Things” –

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is Your call we hear.

In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music,

in the glory of the works of great composers, You lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels.

All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards You and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Chlorophyll Breaks Down

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“But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process.

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The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.

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At the same time other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments.

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Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.

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The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns.

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All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.”  (College of Environmental Science and Forestry)

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The autumn leaf color change can be given a description both prosaic or poetic and scientific or sentimental.   The beauty is neither hard to picture or imagine.  The season comes with its own unique scents and has a particular climatic feel to it.   The year is winding down, nature is getting sleepy,  getting ready for its blanket of snow.  The burst of color is a delight to the eyes, even if its scientific cause is a bit dull.

You can find other photos I took of the fall color change at Autumn 2018 or Early Autumn.

Creativity: Revealing the Truth or the Self?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after . . .
to behold the beauty of the LORD…  (Psalm 27:4)

Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw . . .   (2 Kings 6:17)

In 2008, I decided to purchase a camera for myself.  I certainly had no ‘philosophy’ of photography which was driving me.  I wanted to take pictures of things I enjoyed looking at, and my first interest was the trees.  I was then and am now a walk-by shooter.  I take photos of whatever catches my eye.  Excuse the pun, but I have no focus in my photography.

I discovered however that photography changed me.  It made me pay more attention to nearly everything – from color to light, from the smallest of things to the big picture of landscapes.  I became more alert to sounds and smells as well as shapes, shades and sizes. Patterns interested me and texture, and I realized that sometimes photos told stories.  I realized that unlike language which one has to know to communicate, photos are a somewhat international language which people can understand and appreciate no matter what their native tongue.

I’ve never even risen to the level of being an amateur photographer, for the root of that word means “a lover of …”.   And I know that while I have enjoyed photography, I’ve not loved it so much as to study it or learn how to improve my skills.  I do a lot of trial and error and don’t remember the lessons.

I read Jan Phillips’ book, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, with the hope of gaining insight into how to be a better photographer, but realize I probably will always be the walk by shooter and will never take the time to learn the art of photography or the science of the computer which the digital camera is.  I was intrigued by Phillip’s comments on art and creativity, somewhat because I do not share a lot of her values or experience about life, art, photographs or photography.  She writes:

“A creative act is a process of conjuring up something visible from the invisible, of transforming a thought or experience into a form that can be perceived or encountered by another.  Creativity is a universal human urge.  We each yearn to express our experiences in such a way that others can know them vividly and sense their significance.  Art emerges out of this urgency to share our lives, our visions and voices, fears and passions, and every work of art reveals something intimate about the artist.

Her words above are different than my inner life.  I remain an introvert and shy.  I have no yearning to express my inner experiences, no urge to be creative and show off my ‘art.’  I’m amazed when anyone pays any attention to what I’ve written or photographed.  My works are not original, but trying to frame what I see and hear and read – things that stand out from the world around me and all created by someone else.  I find her image of “conjuring up something visible from the invisible” intriguing, but see myself only drawing attention to what is visible, but perhaps overlooked.

Phillips writes:

When I look into a mirror, I see my face, my body, the form of my being.  When I look into my images, it is my soul that I find reflected, parts of myself that cannot be revealed in language.  I could tell you about myself in puffed-up words, exaggerating my abilities, emphasizing my strengths, leaving out my flaws and failings, and you would walk away with a certain notion about who I am.  If, instead, I handed you a box of my photographs and said, ‘This is the essence of who I am,’ your understanding of me would be truer, undistorted by language and interpretation.  My photographs are a direct line to my inner world.  They are the shortest distance between my soul and yours.

While I believe what she says is true, my photos do say something about me, I don’t see them as revealing me as much as they show to what I pay attention.  I’m far more interested in the world outside of myself.  Every one of my photos is an enigmatic photo of me exactly because I’m not in them.  I like to be invisible and so prefer being the photographer than the photographed.  And unlike Phillips, I think even photographs are interpreted so they are always seen through the lens of the experience of the beholder.

Again Phillips writes:

Even more important, my photographs are a direct line between my soul and me.  As much as an image speaks of the things seen, it speaks also of the person who photographs it.  In Photography of Natural Things, Freeman Patterson writes that ‘the finest images- the images that stir our souls- combine documentation of natural things with a sense of what they mean to us.’  My take on a desert dune or a redwood forest is not only different from any other photographer’s but reflects where I am emotionally and spiritually on the day when I’m shooting.  If I am feeling fearful in the face of an oncoming storm, my image will contain a sense of that.  If I am standing on mountain top, awed by the grandeur, my awe will be reflected in the photograph I make.  I listen for what my subject is saying to me, and once I know that, I can make a photograph that expresses both what it is and who I am as I see it.

The above comment is definitely one way in which I fall short as a photographer.  I don’t always think about what the subject or the scene means to me or what I feel about it.  I’m certainly guilty of allowing myself to view life only through the camera and not enjoying or experiencing what is right before my eyes.

I don’t try to capture awe or fear in my photos though I think the idea is right.  I am not as convinced as her that my take on a subject is all that different than others.  I’ve seen the photos of my family members of a given place or event which we all experienced.  We often focus on the same thing, though granted there can be variation on what each was trying to capture in the moment.

Minor White said that the goal of the serious photographer is ‘to get from the tangible to the intangible, to render the image in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for something else- usually the photographer’s state of mind.'”  (Jan Phillips, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, pp 91-92)

I wonder, can I see myself in my photography?

It seems to me that for Phillips “art” as just an expression of what is in the person, individualism, the person creates the art.  My sense of art is that it reveals what is there to be seen, especially the beauty.  Is that just another dandelion – another pesky weed, or is there something beautiful that we can see?    Can we see beyond the visible to the invisible Creator of beauty?  I think we can.

The difference in how we see the world is the difference in understanding  between a Transfiguration in which Christ suddenly reveals His divinity like a nuclear blast to His disciples, or one in which the disciples are the ones transformed  – everything that prevents them from seeing reality is removed from their eyes and now in the transfiguration they finally see Christ as He always is.

Phillips in her book writes about “self-discovery” and what a thing or the the thing she photographs “means to me“.  I think what art is really about is discovering the other, the not-me, so that I find my place in the world, in God, my relationship to all that is, because all that is is not my creation or just a way to find me or just what it means to me.  In discovering the other, I learn to think beyond the self, to open myself to love – loving the other and being loved by the other.  I realize their is an entire created order which I did not create but has a real Creator.  Self-discovery can quickly disintegrate into self-love which is the opposite of love, which is always oriented  in the full meaning of that word – exactly other directed or directed toward the other.  Love gives us direction, it orients us!

The beauty of photography is not what it reveals about me, but that it reveals beauty is beyond me, not limited by my ideas, but a window into the eternal Creator which can be seen by all.  The photograph gets me to stop for one second and realize the beauty of truth and the truth of beauty.

Natural Goodness

The Elder always said that evil does not exist in this world. Everything was created by God and he saw that everything is “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Evil exists when we make wrong use of the things God granted to us for our benefit.

It is not bad for someone to have money, but it is bad to be avaricious. Drugs are not an evil thing, when used to relieve the pain of people who suffer. They are bad when used for a different purpose. A knife is a useful utensil, when we used it to cut bread. However, when it is used to hit someone, it becomes a deadly weapon. In this case, it is not the knife which is evil, but the inner disposition of the murderer.

Therefore, we must use everything in the right way, the natural way, not abuse them and go against nature.

Since we are weak by nature, when we are inclined to give in to a passion, we should try to avoid anything that makes us feel vulnerable. We should also be aware that the reason we avoid the causes of our passions is not because they are evil themselves; but rather, because our ill inner disposition does not permit us to use them correctly.

Since we cannot benefit from them, it is better to avoid them, so they do not harm us. At the same time, we should glorify God for His gifts, and blame ourselves for abusing them and this provoking the evil.

(Priestmonk Christodoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp. 112-113)

Christ Jesus – The Epitome of Human Beauty

“In continuity with the Old Testament passage in which “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you’” (Gen 12:1), Jesus encourages His disciples to seek detachment. Following Him implies a reversal of our values. It means going in a direction other than the way of the world, which advocates the acquisition of every kind of possession: money, power, possessions and property, with every sort of passion they entail: ambition, greed, envy and hard-heartedness. In a world where wealth is idolized, Jesus warns against laying up treasures for oneself (Mt 6:19). Instead, He preaches dispossession, abnegation and sharing: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20). It is well worth reading the passage of the temptation in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11), in which the Prince of this world appeals to a possessive instinct which Jesus strongly condemns. If we realize that every form of greed stems fundamentally from a mental condition, it becomes easier to understand the efforts of the great ascetics, which consist in focusing their minds on their repentant hearts.

In the same way that our disorders, loss of inner harmony and personal disintegration can lead to similar conditions in the world around us, those who are truly “in Christ” can shape and nourish science, culture and humanity as a whole.

The audience for whom the following words of Dostoevsky‘s were intended seems to be growing day by day:

You who deny God and Christ have not even considered that without Christ, everything in the world would be impure and corrupt. You judge Christ and you dismiss God; but what sort of example do you yourselves offer? You are petty, debauched, greedy and arrogant! By eliminating Christ, you remove from humanity the epitome of beauty and goodness, you make Him inaccessible. For Christ came precisely for this reason: that humanity might know and recognize that a true human spirit can appear in this heavenly condition, in the flesh and not merely in a dream or in theory – that it is indeed both natural and possible.

Christ’s disciples proclaimed His radiant flesh to be divine. Through the cruelest of tortures they confessed the blessing of bearing this flesh within themselves, of imitating His perfection, and of believing in Christ in the flesh (Carnets des Demons, Belov An VI, 281, 155).”

(Michael Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon, pp. 229-230)

Although some Christians deny that humans descended from the apes, Christianity’s real message is that humanity’s true origins and fulfillment come in the God-man Jesus Christ.  The Fathers didn’t deny that humans live an animal life – one according to biology, the flesh – rather they admitted and lamented it.

“Therefore, if we want to know why we, since we were created for honor and placed in Paradise, became finally ‘compared to the beasts that possess no understanding and were made like to them’ (Ps 99:12, 20), having fallen from the pristine glory, know that we, by transgression, became slaves of carnal passions.”  (4th Century monk Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES AND THE GREAT LETTER, p 160)

However, we were created in God’s image and we find our destiny in Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Each human is created capable of bearing the radiant beauty of the divine.  We don’t deny our animal nature, our claim is that God grants us the potential to rise above a merely animal nature, to share the divine life.  As Jesus Himself said of humanity:  “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?”   (John 10:34)  The true human condition – the one for which we humans were created by God to have – is to share in the heavenly glory.   Whatever our relationship to other animals, to an animal ancestry, God created us with the ability to rise above all animal limitations and to realize our full potential which is in God.  We are not predestined by our biology, rather we are destined by God to attain our full potential which is to rise above any genetic or biological predetermination.  God Himself became incarnate, took on our animal nature, and united flesh and blood to the divine.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God…    (1 John 4:2)

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.