The Draw of God

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  (Psalm 19:1-4)

Looking across Yellowstone Lake at the snow capped mountains and seeing the last quarter moon, I am awed by the beauty of creation.  I can make myself aware that I am also looking at astronomical phenomenon, as well as viewing history, meteorology, geology, biology, chemistry and physics.  And while I can do all of this without any reference to God the Creator, as a believer, the physical cosmos also tells me about the glory of God.  Obviously nature has no words to speak of, but the believer hears its voice, and knows the words and understands the revelation (see Psalm 19).

Science views all of this ‘neutrally’ – it sees nothing but the empirical world, whereas for the believer the physical world is a sign pointing to a greater reality and to a Creator.  For the believer, the world is not neutral, but is a gift from God to us, not just a thing or things, but a gift that reveals the love of the Giver, and that the Giver of the gift is in fact, Love.  It is a gift that we are given to care for and for which we give thanks to the Creator.  The physical world speaks of the spiritual world for they are the same reality, and it invites us to see beyond the mirco- and macro empirical worlds which are the limits of science and to see into the infinite and eternal.

(Psalm 65:1, 5-13)
Praise is due to you . . .  O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.

By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. 

Creation and nature are not ‘neutral’ in their relationship to us, for they do proclaim the glory of God.  They draw us to God, which is what God created them to do.  They all do God’s will naturally, and invite us to do the same.  Creation is not indifferent to our knowing God but rather tells us of God’s glory so that we will embrace our Creator.  Creation draws us to our Creator – a strange reversal of roles in the world of the Fall, for we were created by God to be the mediator bringing all creation to the Creator.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:19-23)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  (Romans 1:19-23)

We can find similar sentiments in the writings of the philosopher Lucretius who died about 50 years before the birth of Christ.

” . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . .”  (De rerum natura, bk. II, lines 991–97)

More of my photos can be viewed at Cincinnati Zoo 2018-6.

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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:

Picturing Psalm 104:23-28

Previous Post:  Psalm 104:16-22

People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the sea, great and wide,

creeping things innumerable are there,

living things both small and great.

There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.


These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;

when you give to them, they gather it up;

when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

Next:  Psalm 104:29-35

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

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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Two of Every Sort of Animal

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The story of Noah taking the animals in the ark mentions at one point taking two of each kind of animal with him.

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But the Noah narrative is actually made of two versions of the story woven together in one tapestry and makes no effort to harmonize the two versions.  The other version mentions taking seven pairs of clean animals and birds.

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When the animals follow Noah into the ark as if he is the chief shepherd to all animals, it is the first time in Scripture that the animals are said to follow the dominion of humans.

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The story portrays humans and animals in a harmonious relationship with humans having proper dominion over the animals.

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Inside the ark itself the story suggests another paradise with humans and animals living peaceably together, though outside the ark the raging waters will threaten death to all.

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“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive.

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Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”  (Genesis 6:19-21)

The ark was to be a protective storehouse of plants and animals that God would keep safe from the chaotic torrential downpour that would inundate the world.  As destructive as the deluge might be, God was preserving all the species on earth.

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What a menagerie of animals was brought together – just like in Paradise.

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“… they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind,

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and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.

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And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. ” (Genesis 7:14-16)

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All of the above photos were taken at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  You can view all of my photos from there at SDZSP 2018 .   Photos from a previous visit are at SDZSP 2012.

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The Blessing of Wind

In January, we bless water in the Church as part of our celebration of the Theophany of the Lord.   All of creation was given to us by God to be a blessing for us.  We acknowledge those blessings in the many & varied prayer services of the ChurchSt. John Chrysostom  reminds us that the wind is also a blessing from God.

“Truly the winds are also for you–for we are going back again to the beginning of our discourse–to fan worn-out bodies, to purge away the defilement from mud and the heaviness caused by smoke and furnaces and other exhalations,

to attenuate the heat of the sun’s rays, to relieve the stifling heat, to make seeds grow, to strengthen plants, to travel together with you at sea and to be servants of agriculture for you on land–in the first place, conveying ships more swiftly than arrows and making the voyage easy and convenient,

and in the second place, clearing off the threshing floor with you, separating the chaff from the grain, and lightening the hardship of the work–to make the air light and gentle for you, to give you delight in different ways–first whistling pleasantly and gently, and then softly striking the plants and shaking the leaves of the trees–to make your sleep in spring and in summer more pleasant and more delightful than honey.

They also act on the surface of the sea and on the waters of the rivers, and lift up their surface in the same way as with the trees, thus providing you with a great deal of enjoyment from seeing it and, more importantly, also rendering you a great service.

And in fact, the winds are useful to waters in another way: not allowing them to stagnate and go bad, but rather, continually setting them in motion and stirring them up, rendering them fresh and at their best and more suitable as sustenance for creatures that swim in them.” 

(On the Providence of God, pp. 65-66)

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)

Peregrinating in Late Autumn

You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him.  (Deuteronomy 13:4)

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I do so appreciate God’s creation, and the chance to walk in it.  Because of my spinal stenosis, I consider walking a gift.  After three spinal fusions, even the doctor thinks my walking is a miracle.  Many of us avoid walking as much as possible – take the car, find the closest parking spot.  Walking is a joyfully eucharistic experience for me.  Quite literally, I can’t do it enough.

For you have snatched me from death,

kept my feet from stumbling,

That I may walk before God

in the light of the living. 

(Psalm 56:14)

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These days I stick to the level paths.  Neuropathy from the stenosis and surgeries makes all walking an adventure.  It limits where I can go, but I still can enjoy the unexpected in creation.  The above two photos are actually reflections in pond water.   Scenes reflected in water are, to me, artistry of a mystical kind.  The artist is God, reflecting on creation and maybe enjoying His creation as much as I do His natural art.

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In the tangle of branches, relieved of their leaves, a female cardinal is hidden, as is the God who created them all.  Sometimes we get glimpses of those mysteries normally hidden from our eyes.  If we cultivate the eyes of our heart, we sense the world in a totally different way.

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Also hidden is an old wooden fence – once it set a boundary, but long since has been abandoned.  Nature reclaims its territory.  Both sides of the fence are now the same as they were before it was constructed.  We spend a great deal of time and energy in our lifetime to set up fences some made of wood, or even barbed wire, but others are social and many are psychological.  They too will pass away when the earth reclaims us.    Maybe that tells us we put way too much energy building things that will quickly pass away, and will be of no value to us or others in this world or the world to come.   The field is naturally full of lessons for life.

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It has been a fairly mild and warm autumn for us so far this year.  Many people commented that they thought it also was not a colorful fall season.  The earth tone hues were there, but the vibrant colors of the leaves were missing.  In any case autumn is a season of colors passing away.  It is a reminder that life itself is fragile and fleeting.

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I saw this goose stretching its wings.  Perhaps, evolution in process as it already has its bipedal stance.  Or maybe the goose was conjuring up an orchestra to sing praise to the Creator.  Or, like me, just enjoying the day, taking a walk.

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One evening, I observed the sun, partially hidden behind some clouds with leafless trees in front of them.  It really did look to me like Japanese art.  Simple and natural.  Perhaps missing the crowned crane.  Nature can transport the perceptive viewer to anywhere in the world.  God gives the sun and the rain equally to all.

Life moves on, and if we are able we keep walking.  Autumn and evening are harbingers for those who are aware of their age.  But, neither represents the end, but only a temporary, but necessary stage leading to new life.  There is a beauty in them which is both fading, and calling to mind the unfading Light of Christ.

 

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10)