Nature

Interpreting the Text of a Wildfire

For the last couple weeks, my life has been lived in the smoky shadows of “the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.” And while the media has inflamed the story of this inferno (our whole town did not burn), it truly has been a horrifying experience.

It was just two weeks ago that my family and I walked out of Chipotle after lunch to witness the horizon split in two by a ribbon of smoke trailing skyward. Our hearts sank. Another wildfire, and a close one at that. Half an hour later, the smoke was billowing, darkening the sky above our heads. With record temperatures predicted for the next week and no rain in sight, I felt sick. I could only pray, God, have mercy.

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Red Tooth and Claw
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There is a large park in which I like to hike within the city where I live. The park becomes less and less wild as the city closes in and the ecosystem changes, but a few years ago I had the good fortune of watching a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks raise a baby.

Each day I would walk near enough to the nest to see a little of what was going on and notice how much the baby was growing. It began as a yellow ball of fluff. Later it started shedding the fluff as mature feathers took its place. I missed some of the baby’s growing up by a couple of weeks because I had to travel out of town on business. When I took up my hiking again, I discovered the baby was now close to being a full-grown bird. What amazed me was that this cute ball of fluff now had a fierce-looking hooked bill and commanding eyes. It was a stunning creature. And this raptor was ready to hunt and catch prey and join its parents’ pattern of living off rabbits, mice, and other small animals in the park.

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Returning to Paradise
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On a recent trip to North Carolina, I camped with friends in the Pisgah National Forest, near this beautiful creek.  The smooth rocks, cool clear water, and luscious rhododendron trees along the banks instantly had a calming effect on my soul. This was paradise. Weeks of stress melted away as we sat on the rocks and breathed the fresh air. For my friend Randy, however, this creek was not just calming – it was inviting. An avid rock climber, Randy started hopping from rock to rock, making his way upstream. Following him, I discovered that the scene pictured here repeated over and over as we ascended this gradual waterfall.  For two hours we skipped from rock to rock, waded through knee-deep pools, and climbed across slick stone walls polished by centuries of flowing water.  Paradise was no longer a place to sit and rest – it was an invigorating challenge to never-ending ascent.

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Garden Prayers
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My garden has been one of the settings where I “read” the Second Book.  I call it the Garden of God’s Goodness.  So many metaphors have come from my work in the garden, but even more than metaphors, when I sit on the front porch in the early morning light and watch the sunlight dance on the daisies and iris, listen to the Colorado birds sing for pure joy and smell the freshness of the morning, I experience a purity of Presence that orients my body and mind for another day.

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The Second Book

Since the early church fathers and mothers, nature has been considered the “second book” by which we can see and know our good and loving God. Scripture, the “first book,” is God’s clearest and nearest revelation to us. But, if we watch and listen attentively, we can learn of God through His Creation.

For the month of July, we’ve asked our bloggers to consider that Second Book, and how their relationship to it has shaped their formation and their relationship with God. When we set this topic, nearly seven months ago now, we had no way of knowing what a tumultuous time many in the United States have experience with heat waves, power outages, storms and raging forest fires. Creation is indeed groaning, and we groan along with it.

As I mentioned here, I and my family evacuated our house because of the fires last week. We are grateful to have returned home to very little damage, but we are less than 1,800 feet from the nearest damaged structure, and so close to the 346 families who have lost their homes completely. As you may imagine, I was a bit distracted last week by these events. A few wonderful posts by some very talented bloggers got missed in the melee. So we’ll be taking this first week of July to post a few more entries on the topic of how music has formed our souls as well. I suspect the two topics will play together better than we could have planned.

So, let’s open this book together this month. From the glory of waterfalls to the grandeur of mountains, from the detail of the tiniest flower to the intricacies of a spider web, from the power of hurricanes to the heat of fires, from the cycle of the seasons to the consistency of the skies, let’s read of God’s power, glory, goodness and grace—even when it seems hidden or lost.

I invite you, join the conversation this month.

A Hummingbird and A Hawk

Last month, a participant in a day retreat I led for a ministry board had an experience in solitude that reminded me of an almost exact experience twenty years ago. Here is an excerpt from my April 1991 solitude journal:

I’ve set aside another day to be alone with God. Sitting in the hills above Chatsworth, I see a hawk soaring out in front of and above me. Without one flap of his wings, he circles higher and higher with ease because of the power of the wind here.

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God’s Handiwork in Nature
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In Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Award winning novel, “A Wrinkle in Time,” one of the protagonists’ first teachers is a garden snake that lives in the stone wall near her home. Meg is surprised by this idea, as was I the first time I read it. In a science fantasy, one expects creatures from outer space to show up but to have a humble garden snake as a wise and important character seems almost too fantastical.

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God’s Glory on Tour Everyday

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  (Psalm 19:1, The Message)

The Bible is clear that creation reveals a part of the heart of God. We see his glory in his children, yes—but we also discover him through nature. The Bible tells us so.

That being true, nature can become an ally and companion on our long walk towards heaven. There are things in creation that we cannot get in rooms lighted by fluorescent bulbs and floors covered with synthetic carpets. We need nature’s help. We need nature itself. Nature does what technology cannot do. We long for the creator because of the creation. My keyboard does not make me long for Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  But when I walk the trail near my house and see the golden hawk swirling in cloud covered skies, I ache inside and my ache points me towards God.

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The Goodness and Greatness of God
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The first time my brother-in-law saw the red rocks of Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, he said, “It reminds me of both the goodness and the greatness of God.” Now I think of that phrase every time we visit the park, driving through its entryway of prehistoric rocks.

The informational placards at Garden of the Gods tell me the park is different each time I visit. Wind, hail, sun make their marks every day, twisting the rock into imperceptible new forms. God’s goodness in the beauty, the unnecessary color. God’s greatness in the height, breadth, majesty of these unconquerable stones.

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The Birds and the Bees

I was reading a Psalm on our deck early one Sunday morning when I heard a buzzing sound over my head. Since I am seriously allergic to insect stings, I nervously looked up to see where a bee might be planning an attack on not only my tranquility, but also my immune system. To my surprise and delight the source of the tiny vibration was not a bee but a humming bird poised to alight on some flowers a few feet away.

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