Category: Nature Writings

God Reviving Me One Morning

A photo I took on one of my walks on the river trail not far from my office.

Stressed, working hard to prepare books for publication in the midst of several life adjustments, one morning I knew I had to attend to my soul. I drank my coffee and read a devotional article that said: “Am I willing to continue yielding my life wholly to God? If so, there is power for me…. God promises help to accomplish the task toward which His Spirit points me.”

I wrote a list of the things on my heart that had become burdens, which I then prayed about and gave to God, again.

Then I read: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph.3:20-21,NIV) I prayed this scripture, inserting my name and then the names of our family members and generations. Assurance came.

Then, because I find solace and renewal in nature, I drove down to the nearby river trail. There my senses were immediately overwhelmed and filled with the sights and sounds and smells and textures of that lush spot where grassy farmland meets the river that flows down from the Rocky Mountains. Nature was burgeoning with life.

One thing my husband and I are learning as we live in this high place of Colorado—We are learning to appreciate and “seize” the moment. There is such constant change. Here on the river trail, if you don’t come down here for a couple of weeks, you hardly recognize the place next time. All summer, layer upon layer of grasses and flowering plants keep coming up, replacing the last layer, each a little higher than the last, reaching for the intense sunshine which often gives way to evening thunder clouds. In the early summer, wild roses were blooming under the giant cottonwoods. Later they had dried up and purple thistle had risen 5 to 6 feet tall, bright and stately. You might think them renegade weeds in your garden, but out here, they’re royalty. Clouds of foamy yellow flower heads will grow here and there, and every shade of foliage.

Bird songs abound! I recognize the sounds of killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, and others. I see the orchard oriole that was here last time, and the bullock’s oriole, the eastern kingbird, and many others. A rabbit hops near the river’s edge. Farmers are irrigating today, obviously, because the wet river banks and shallow water indicate most of the river’s flow here has been diverted to the canals. I watch several huge river-bottom fish, and their backs often rise above the water’s surface and I can see the golden eye high on their foreheads. They glisten in the sunshine and are too big for the six snowy egrets nearby to tackle. But if a bald eagle happened by, they’d be easy prey, so visible in the shallow waters. In a clearing on the other side I see prairie dogs with their young. They stand up straight above their holes and suckle their little ones who then lick their mothers faces. They’re cute. And they supply food for the many hawks and owls around here.

In the shady places under the heavy cottonwoods, myriads of butterflies float and flutter. I see one group that fly this way and that and round and round in sync as if propelled by a little twister wind. How do they synchronize their flight in milliseconds like that? The hot sun intensifies the scents of grasses mingled with damp river smells. Several cyclists ride by me, calling out “on your left.” Two lark sparrows perch on the fence and stay there watching me, showing off their harlequin faces, feathers glowing like polished bronze in the sun.

I’m thankful for this day, and this place, and God’s glory all around.

Back at my car, I give thanks to God. As I walk into the house, a CD is playing and I hear the words of a gospel song, “Morning by morning new mercies I see….Great is thy faithfulness.” Tears smart my eyes but I “seize the moment” and find joy in it, and in knowing God is in it!

Don’t Settle for Dormancy—Live Abundantly

Are you settling in to dormancy?

In November I’m reminded of nature’s cycles of dormancy and productivity. Here in Colorado, many trees have lost their leaves. Grass is gradually going dormant and turning brown.

Trees and shrubs have produced seed pods and cones; flower heads have released seeds that may sprout and surprise us in the garden next spring. Pumpkins have been cut open and seeds scooped out and roasted.

Author / scientist Carol O’Casey unwraps the wonder of seeds—using biology, literature, personal experience, and scripture—and applies this to the believer’s life of faith. In her book, Unwrapping Wonder, she writes, “Often times, in order for us to blossom into the abundant life God has in store for us, we must accept our own spiritual brokenness—just as germination requires the seed coat to be broken.”

Don’t settle into dormancy and stay there.

“Are you lacking the life-giving water necessary to initiate the germination process? Do you long for an abundant, seed-coat-busting life? Abandon your dry and routine life to [God]. Risk heat. Risk exposure. Risk growth. And take heart. Jesus tells us, ‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (John 12:24).

Even during the dormant season of winter, life is waiting in the seeds. Some plants will sprout surprisingly early, as soon as daylight hours start increasing. Meanwhile, wait in hope and expectancy.

“Allow God to unleash his power in your life. Dream big. Grow great.” Be ready to “sprout where you are planted. And live. Abundantly.”¹


1. The quotations above are taken from the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature by Carol O’Casey.

Wonder-cover-sm


Credit for photo of seed capsules of Strelitzia nicolai: Tatters/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/62938898@N00/4745843554

As the Leaves their Glory Hurl

Leafy Lament

I’m raking leaves and raking leaves,
scrape, scrape, scraping leaves;
reds and oranges, greens and yellows,
all the crispy, crunchy fellows
in soft piles under the big
Mulberry trees.

Leaves are falling all around me,
on my head, before, behind me,
making mockery of my raking,
all my nice green lawn o’ertaking.

It’s a leafy, leafy world
as the trees their glory hurl.
Oh, I need a vacuum sweeper
or a giant tree-leaf eater.

–Catherine Lawton

(Written a number of years ago before our neighborhood had leaf blowers. Extracted here from the book, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems)
Photo © Can Stock Photo, BackyardProduct

Animals in the Fires

Many pets were found with burnt feet and singed whiskers like this kitty.

Watching reports of the disastrous Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, California (our old hometown), last week, our first thoughts were for the people and their homes. Then I began to wonder about the pets, livestock, and wildlife of the area.

My sister went to bed unsuspecting, then a few hours later woke with a neighbor pounding on her door and yelling “fire.” The neighbor later told her they had pounded and yelled a long time. Her dog’s barking finally woke her. She hadn’t heard the police earlier who drove through the neighborhood with a bull horn telling everyone to get out now!

I thank God her dog barked and woke her up.

A friend was living alone in a house on the edge of the city. From her back bedroom, she didn’t hear the first responders ring her doorbell, and they assumed no one was home. What finally woke her was an annoying sound of scratching on the wood siding of the house outside her bedroom. She got up and looked out the window and saw racoons desperately trying to find shelter to get away from … fire! Fire just outside! The barn had already burned. She got out just in time but lost everything.

Did God encourage those raccoons to scratch there and wake her up?

Another friend lived high on a mountain road above Santa Rosa on a ranch where my son used to go exploring with friends when he was a boy. From his high vantage point this friend could see the fire moving closer. He chose to stay up there, alone, and worked hard through the night and day to save his home and some nearby structures as well. As he worked at the edge of the fire in the darkness, he says he felt wild animals brushing against him as they fled the burning areas. But he didn’t stop and neither did they.

The Forestry Department urged people, who lived near, but not in, the wildfire areas, to bring their domestic animals indoors at night and let the wild ones pass through. “Please put out buckets of water for them—they are scared, exhausted, and have also lost their homes—they need to refuel,” came the request.

Many people had to flee within minutes and had no time to find their cats. One woman said she was surprised that “leaving my cat was almost the thing that hit me the hardest.”

Some dogs panicked and ran and their owners had to evacuate and flee the flames without them. One report said someone tried to get their horses into a trailer but the frightened horses refused; so the people had to leave their horses.

Online, evacuees posted such announcements as: “We are looking for two donkeys that we had to leave. Do you know their whereabouts?” “Lost Dog: While her family was evacuating, she jumped out of their truck. They love this dog so much and are devastated.” “54 horses in dire need of transportation off a ranch.” “Cat found hiding under car. Whiskers burnt but she’s okay.” “Our husky slipped out of her collar while we were evacuating and ran off. Heartbroken.”

The re-uniting of people and animals brought mutual comfort and joy.

One person had left buckets of water out for the deer and birds that came by her front yard. When she was allowed to return briefly to her home she found a dozen turkey vultures and other birds resting on her lawn together. They didn’t even move when she went up to her door. They looked exhausted, she said.

All this reminds me of the stories of animals left behind in World War II Europe when Holocaust victims were forced from their homes. Jewish people had to leave behind beloved family pets to fend for themselves in hostile and harsh environments. Susan Bulanda collected many of the stories from men and women who were children during the Holocaust. The stories are told in the book Faithful Friends.

They tell how their dogs and cats suffered also, and how they provided comfort and courage, an emotional connection to happier times, and the encouragement to never give up hope.

 

Why Animals Touch Our Hearts

animals in a meadow

Photos of furry creatures … videos of cute animal antics … stories and movies of animal adventures. These are popular because they evoke feelings of wonder, memories of beloved pets, the joy and excitement of wildlife sightings, the sensory experience of a trip to the farm.

Have you ever noticed how many book covers feature pictures of animals? Evidently, animal pictures on covers help sell books. We have a few books with animals on the covers, ourselves. I looked inside each of these books today for some clues as to why animals trigger such heart responses in us. Here is what I found:

1.  Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.

God'sCreatures

God’s Creatures

In God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals, Susan Bulanda explains that God cares for his earthly creatures. He created them, blessed them, called them “good.” He saved the animals from the Flood, and he included “every living creature” in the covenant he made with us after the flood (see Genesis 9:9-17). Bulanda goes on to show that many Scriptures display God’s care for animals. Old Testament laws protected animals. Jesus’ parables affirmed and spotlighted them. Then, Bulanda asks:

“Is it possible that God has put the desire to care for all animals in the hearts of many people … God’s love for his creation showing through humans?”

and

“Could there be subtle lessons of love God gives us through our pets?”

2.  Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.

Walking-in-Trust

Walking In Trust

In Walking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog, Gayle M. Irwin describes an afternoon of companionship with her dog:

“Snow falls in large flakes outside my door this afternoon and a warm Sunday fire blazes in the wood stove inside the house. Sage has found a way to wedge herself into the over-stuffed chair. At first she lies quietly stretched out beside me. Then, as if she has an itch, she suddenly rises, turns herself around and lays her head on my chest. I pause from my reading to softly stroke her black and white fur. She sighs deeply and tries to snuggle closer. I pet her long muzzle and then scratch behind her ears, a favorite spot of hers. As I minister these gentle strokes, I tell her what a wonderful, loving dog she is. Sage closes her eyes, relishing the experience. I, too, bask in the tender moment. My hand rests lightly on her shoulder and we sit like this for hours—protected from the frigid cold outside—in comfortable, companionable silence inside our cozy house.” … “I learned more from Sage than she did from me: lessons about trust, courage, loyalty, contentment, and perseverance.” … “Sage’s visits and her life story encouraged many children to persevere in spite of the hardships and challenges they face. Through the life of a blind Springer Spaniel, I have learned more fully what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.” (p. 145 and 9)

3.  Animals teach us about the Creator and how to relate to him.

All-We-Like-Sheep

All We Like Sheep

In All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold, shepherdess Marilyn Bay Wentz writes:

“I continued cutting out the weeds, but the burdensome task was balanced with the delight I felt watching my flock. I knew the serenity of the scene could be broken at any time. Movement as mundane as a startled Cottontail rabbit jumping from behind a bush to hop across the pasture could send the flock running for the protection of the pen. … In that moment, the joy of the Lord, expressed by the psalmist when he said ‘We are his people, the sheep of his pasture,’ made perfect sense to me. God compares his delight in me and you to a flock of peacefully-grazing sheep. He could have compared his delight to another animal in his creation. Why not say we are his people, the horses of his stable? Horses (which I am partial to) are beautiful, strong and fast. Surely, the Lord delights in seeing the horses he created. Or, why not compare his delight in us to that of seeing a lion? Male or female, a lion is a powerful and awe-inspiring animal. Or, surely the Lord is delighted to see the soaring eagles he created. They are simultaneously fierce and beautiful. They can soar high and dive powerfully. Their outstretched wings are a wonder to behold. But, he says I am as pleasing to him as the sheep of his pasture. To please him we don’t need to be fast and athletic like a horse, powerful like a lion, or beautiful and awe-inspiring like an eagle. What pleases him is when we, like the skittish sheep, run to him for everything we need, trusting his sufficiency to supply all our needs.” (pp. 156-157)

4.  Animals provide metaphors of our lives.

Dangerous-Journey

Dangerous Journey of Sherman the Sheep

In his allegorical fiction, The Dangerous Journey of Sherman the Sheep, Dean Davis describes the Shepherd taking his flock to the “high country”:

“Their destination was a lonely valley deep in the hills and an ancient sheepfold with four high walls of stone. This became their home away from home, the place where all their journeys began and ended. Early in the year, when grass was plentiful, their travels were short, hardly more than outings. At dawn the Shepherd would open the gate of the fold, whistle for the sheep, and lead His flock to a nearby meadow with a pool of fresh spring water to drink. Then at dusk they would all return to the safety of the fold’s strong walls. But as spring gave way to summer, and summer to fall, the journeys grew longer and more difficult. They’d be gone for many days, camping beneath the stars or in caves. The meadows grew fewer and the water more scarce—and to find these, the flock had often to follow their Shepherd through dark, narrow canyons, where wolves or lions might be lurking in the shadows. … Yes, this was the dangerous time of year, a time when sheep could get hungry, thirsty, or even hurt. Needless to say, the Shepherd took such dangers very seriously. But as for the sheep, they simply trusted in their Master’s care. They knew that sooner or later He would give them rest, just as He always had. (And as for Sherman—well, for him danger was just another word for adventure; and adventure was the one thing Sherman loved best)!” (pp. 8-10)

5.  Animals represent elements of Mystery.

Gadly-Cover-for-LS

Gadly Plain: A Novel

In Gadly Plain: A Novel, J. Michael Dew uses the literary device of a talking donkey who has lived since the Garden of Eden. This donkey represents the victory of life over death, of God’s overarching purpose in human history. This same donkey had gone up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac, had talked to the prophet Balaam, joined the other animals in Noah’s Ark, carried Mary to Bethlehem and witnessed the birth of Jesus. Toward the end of the book, the donkey, who is named Amen, is on the Isle of Patmos with John the Apostle. Amen and John share this conversation:

“Amen,” John says one day. “I have a story to share, a new one as fresh as a spring blossom.”
“My ears, friend, are big,” says Amen.
“I have seen the end and the beginning, the omega and the alpha. I have written it on a scroll. There is something you should hear.”
Amen swallows what he has in his mouth.
Then John goes on, “He showed me. His voice was like the sound of rushing water. The end is terrible and good. The fibber will have his due.”
“I don’t like the fibber,” says Amen. “He is the enemy of hope.”
John says, “It will be a great and awful reckoning.”
“When?” asks Amen.
John just smiles. “Amen, you have been faithful.”
“I have tried to be led well.”
“It is better to be led than pushed,” says John. “You will be led some more, good donkey.” And John laughs so hard, he cries and tries to catch his breath.
Amen just takes another bite and swishes his tail to swish away a fly.
Finally, John scratches Amen behind the ears. “Amen, do you know why, of all the other animals, you were given the ability to speak to man?”
Amen says no.
“I’ll tell you,” says John. “As a donkey, you are well-suited to carry heavy loads. The load you carry now is a story: words strung together since the beginning, invisible cargo on the back of a humble beast. I have seen the end of this story. I have only seen glimpses of the next.”
“I am a storyteller?” asks Amen.
“Yes, and a guardian, too.”
Amen shakes his head hard at that.
“How am I well suited to be a guardian?”
“You are stubborn. You won’t forget. You won’t give in to time. You haven’t yet.”
Amen thinks about that for a minute, and then he asks, “But to whom? I have learned a lot about man. He can be a cruel master. There were times when I kept my words to myself. Some men only hear their own stories. And worse, some men only hear lies. I know a story that can free them from their torments. Who can hear it, though, with the fibber taking them for long walks in the desert?”
John rubs Amen’s withers, and it feels good. “Yes, yes,” he starts gently. “The fibber is persistent. But what is his persistence next to the truth you carry?”
“I know the strength of his tug.”
“You have also felt his release, unwilling though it was.”
“Thank God.”
“Yes, and praise.”
Amen he-haws, because whatever he thinks to say, it doesn’t work.
“My brothers and I aren’t the only ones charged with relaying the good news.”
“I am a donkey. I talk. You say it is to tell a story—one I’ve lived, one I carry.”
“Yes,” says John. “You have been entrusted.”
“Please tell me then: Who will listen?”
“Those who can.”
“Those who can?”
“Those who wouldn’t think it that strange or that impossible to hear a donkey speak.”

(adapted from pp. 171-173)

Good Friday Poem

April-Snow-on-Bulb

Snow on Good Friday

We grieve when snow falls

on Good Friday eve.

What about the greening,

the beginnings of spring? when

like manna fallen from Heaven—

“My body broken for you” into

flakes and crumbs—

soft, pure-white flesh

spread upon all that lies

both dormant and sprouting,

at morn reflects the rising sun;

except for rockiest places

saturates fallow and seeded,

both broken and wasted ground.

~Catherine Lawton
©2015

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Be Still and Know

During the month of April we are Celebrating:

  • National Poetry Month
  • Lent/Easter
  • and Spring!

Take time to experience, appreciate, and meditate on Re-awakenings and Renewal:

  • in Nature all around us;
  • in our Relationships to God and each other;
  • of our Spiritual Life and Eternal Hope.

    Reading inspirational poems can help you focus, “be still and know.”

Experiencing Wonder

carol-and-chickadee-web 

Carol O’Casey was born to be wild. As a field biologist, pastor’s wife, and author she says:

As soon as I could walk I toddled outdoors to watch tadpoles knit themselves into frogs and clouds quilt the skies. I was at home in nature. Connecting it all to God would come later. Much later.

Those childhood years as an amateur naturalist fueled my passion for nature and led me to pursue a degree in marine biology. Yet, somewhere in the middle of a hardcore science education, I met a man studying to be a pastor. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Suddenly my world of science collided with the world of religion. Little did I know I would soon become a biologist and a pastor’s wife.

While God doesn’t promise us a life of comfort, he does promise to walk beside us. So I navigated the road of the ministry, rough edges and all. Along the way, God provided rich rest stops that soothed my soul. I found hope in his gift of nature as I escaped the expectations of ministry and took a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I was transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experienced God’s presence.

What about you? Are you burdened with expectations? Do you feel drained from the demands of the day? God’s creation has the power to restore wonder. And wonder connects us with the divine.

Renowned agricultural researcher George Washington Carver experienced awe in his encounters with the natural world and exclaimed,

“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour and every moment of our lives, if we will only tune in…”

In a society obsessed with speed, we must slow down, tune in. How often during an average day do you tune in—or tune out? What daily distractions can scramble your signal?

Perhaps Moses, the ancient futurist, could be considered the pioneer of tuning in to the God frequency. Moses was a murder convict on the lam, wandering in the wilderness, when he stumbled upon wonder. He could have missed the whole shebang. I’m thankful he didn’t. Consider Moses’s journey en route to wonder:

Moses sees: To avoid murder charges and Pharaoh’s pursuit, Moses escapes to the wilderness. While tending the sheep on the far side of the desert (read: the middle of nowhere) Moses sees a sight that piques his curiosity: “Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up” (Exodus 3:2).

Moses slows: Moses moves into step two of his journey to wonder as he intentionally veers off course and investigates. In our frantic, time-starved lives, we often fail to notice what we are seeing. Not Moses. Moses, in the act of holy wondering, pursues this sight of wonder. This burning bush intrigues him and he desires to know more.

Granted, this is probably easy for him to do. After all, what else do you do in a desert in the days before Kindle, Internet, cell phones—conveniences that, while helpful on one front, distract us from the wonder of nature on the other. Moses entertains himself with the world around him—in this case, a burning bush that does not stop. I guess he had become tired of counting sheep (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Moses connects: Because Moses slows to see, he experiences step three on the journey to wonder: Moses connects in a conversation with the God of the universe. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look…” (Exodus 3:4). Whoa. Let’s just park there for a minute. Did you catch that? God was watching him the whole time!

God was watching and waiting to see what Moses would do with this wonder created to catch his attention. Imagine God, in eager anticipation, peering out from behind the curtain of his magnificence, waiting to see how Moses would respond. Would Moses look? Would he divert his attention from his everyday duties to notice this amazing sight sparked into existence especially for him? He did.

What happens next dazzles the mind. God calls to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And so begins a personal conversation with the Creator of the universe. How amazing. While Moses leads the sheep through a wasteland of wilderness, dutifully engaged in the ho-hum routine of life, the Creator of the cosmos calls to him. God calls to Moses the murderer, Moses the runaway, Moses the coward hiding in the desert.

Let’s be real. There is no hiding from God. When God wants us, he finds us. His presence goes before us, wherever we go. His presence waits for our attention.

Notice how Moses responds to God: “Here I am.” Three simple words. Honest. Concise. To the point. Through wonder, the burning bush is seared into Moses’s mind; God gets his attention and Moses is ready to listen. No excuses (those come later). Perhaps Moses is stunned speechless. I know I would be. What would be your response to such a call?

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). As a “wonderologist” (one who studies the wonders of nature), I delight in the details of creation. From the bumblebee that manages to fly on wings that appear too small for its ungainly body; to the dragonfly that rises from its waterlogged larval form and morphs to a powerful airborne adult; to the barnacle that literally stands on its head and snatches its meals with its legs, God entertains and delights us with the endless wonders he has created.

Now I confess, I’ve never seen a burning bush; but then, I’m no Moses. I’m a regular old child of God hiking through creation for a glimpse of the Master. Mind you, nature doesn’t solve my problems, but it does reset my “worry-ometer.” When I explore his wonders, I worry less. Care to join me? You don’t need a degree in science or a month in the rain forest to find wonder. All you need is a willing heart and a few minutes of time to intentionally see, slow, and connect with God and creation.

~Carol O’Casey

from the Introduction to the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature

 

Unwrapping Winter Wonders

Carol feeding finches by hand
Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder: Find Hope In the Gift of Nature is tuned to the wonders of nature and of nature’s God. But she says this backyard nature experience (wild birds eating from her hand) amazed even her. She says, “Chickadees are fairly inquisitive and bold, but both Goldfinches and Pygmy Nuthatches eating out of my hand is inexplicable. One of God’s blessings for sure.”
“Great are the works of the Lord. They are pondered by all who delight in them.” (Psalm 111:2 NIV)

Are you delighting in, and pondering, the wonders around you?

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