Jesus came to show us what God the Father is like.
I was reminded of this truth today while listening to an audio book of sermons by George MacDonald, the 19th-Century Scottish author, poet and Christian minister whose writings deeply influenced C.S. Lewis.
In his strong belief in God’s relentless, fatherly love for all He has created, MacDonald proclaimed beautifully:
What more could the living God do than to send…this Lord Jesus Christ, His own eternal bosom friend, being His very Son, saying:
‘Let them see what I am like. Go, and be Myself amongst them. You can do it because you are my son.… They are my sons; but they cannot understand the Father until they get some idea of what the real son of my heart is. Go to them and dwell with them. And suffer them. And let them do anything to you they like so that they may see what I am, who from morning to night am serving them and doing all that I can do for them. And they won’t believe me. Go and be amongst them as my very self.’
And so he came.
Formed in the womb of Mary, birthed in an animal stall, hailed by dusty shepherds and star-gazing magi.
Jesus’ coming is what we both celebrate and look forward to during these days (that Christians call “Advent”) leading up to Christmas.
Jesus came to show us that God is with us and God loves us.
We writers seek to express this beautiful, life-giving truth in beautiful compositions of words. Lyrics of worship songs and verses of Psalms touch our hearts. And a beautifully crafted poem lifts our hearts in expectation, realization, and celebration of “the present and the presence” of God’s Love in Christ.
For that reason, during Advent we at Cladach are sharing with our followers, readers, and friends “A Poem A Day.” I myself am enjoying spending five minutes each day reading a poem and listening to the poet read it. Each one reminds me in fresh ways that, in Jesus, God came to “be amongst us as His very self.” The creative imagery in poetry reminds me that something very solid, very immediate, very physical yet very eternal and spiritual has happened!… Is happening!… Will happen!
During Advent, each day we post a new poem, in print and audio, to help us experience this immediacy of the meaning of Christ with us. Click HERE for A Poem A Day during Advent.
In addition, a video featuring five poems from the week is posted weekly on our YouTube channel.
Photos of furry creatures and social-media videos of cute animal antics … books and movies of animal adventures … these are popular because they evoke feelings of wonder, memories of beloved pets, joy and excitement of wildlife sightings, or perhaps sensory experiences of a trip to the farm. Here is what I believe about our relationship to animals:
• Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.
• Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.
• Animals can teach us about the Creator and how to relate to God.
• Animals provide metaphors of our lives that help us understand ourselves.
• Animals (especially those in the wild) represent elements of Mystery.
God cares for his earthly creatures. He created them, blessed them, called them “good.” He saved the animals from the Flood and then made a covenant with “every living creature.” Many Scriptures display God’s care for animals. Old Testament laws protected animals. Jesus’ parables affirmed and spotlighted them.
In God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals, Susan 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?” Later, she adds: “Could there be subtle lessons of love God gives us through our pets?”
I think you will recognize these reciprocal lessons of love—some subtle and some not so subtle—in the stories, poems, anecdotes, and reflections included in this volume.
Sometimes animals are mirrors for us to see ourselves more clearly. I have found my dog to be a barometer of my emotions. His responses tell me when I am getting anxious or when my words sound too harsh; he responds much differently when my tone of voice is sweet and cheerful. It makes me feel bad to see him put his ears back and watch me with a worried expression. It makes me feel good to see him wag his tail and smile at me.
Animals, both wild and domestic, also help us by calling forth our sense of awe. As Thomas Berry has said, we need all of creation, including the animals “to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred.”
I continually wonder at the wilds of nature that can thrive alongside, often in spite of and struggling to adjust in the midst of, the civilized, tamed, domestic world. When a bird comes close and sings, when a deer steps out of the forest; these surprise sightings thrill. Finding myself sharing space with a wild creature, aware of each other, watching each other even for a moment, is a reminder of not only how different we are, but of what we have in common. Both the animal kind and my kind have breath. We communicate with body language and voice. We walk, run, choose mates, nurture families, search for food, seek shelter. And when we share moments of awareness and attention, the resulting experiential knowledge surely changes or affects us both in some way (hopefully not making us more fearful of each other), perhaps increasing our appreciation of our common creation.
We also share our lives with pets and, sometimes, farm animals. Our human friends learn to accept our animals as “part of the deal.” In a deeper application, the slogan often seen on kitchen towels or plaques, “Love me, love my dog” could, I think, be re-phrased “Love God, love God’s creatures.” Theologians have said as much, and more.
Celtic saint Columbanus exhorted, “Understand, if you want to know the Creator, created things.”
Orthodox scholar Maximus the Confessor taught the idea that creation (as well as Scripture) is God’s book. “God is ‘encoded’ for us in everything he has made. We are surrounded on every side by his ‘letters,’ his ‘analogies’ in creatures….” Our part is to care for, as well as give attention and respect to, the creatures, and even to praise God on their behalf.
Protestant evangelical theologian (and bird watcher) John Stott wrote, “God has given to human beings a midway position between himself and the animals. … In consequence, we combine the dependence on God that is common to all his creatures with a responsible dominion over the [animals] that is unique.”
Catholic writer Charles Camosy adds, “Nearly all theologians now agree that the biblical dominion God has given human beings over creation is not a license to use and dominate, but rather a command to be caretakers and stewards.”
I am thankful for all the dogs, cats, fish, chickens, ducks, birds, as well as the rabbits, squirrels, and deer that have been part of my life at different stages. I have cared for them, learned from them, and shared life with them. Many times when I or my family were facing challenging times, our hearts and spirits were lightened because the animals were there.
God, of course, is always there, everywhere, ever present to us; but God, who is spirit, does not have a corporeal body with skin, hands, and feet. Animals (as well as people) help God help us feel our loving, relational God’s presence.
With all this in mind, I enjoyed compiling, editing (and writing a number of) these often-funny, sometimes sad, and always awe-inspiring experiences with animals. I hope our readers enjoy these stories, too. You may find yourself laughing, crying, and appreciating more than ever God’s creatures, the animals in our lives.
This blog is extracted from the Introduction to the book, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe. The book contains delightful accounts of people with their dogs, cats, sheep, horses, backyard birds, woodland deer, and many other creatures. Our animals—pets, farm animals, and wildlife—inspire our awe, entertain us, help us, teach us, play with us, mourn with us, even work with us. Any animal lover will enjoy this very readable book.
We have never experienced a Christmas like this one. No children’s programs at church, school, or community. No concerts to attend. Not much “window shopping.” No caroling door-to-door, no dinner parties, few gatherings or family reunions. I do think I see more people putting lights on their houses and trees outside.
In this season, as during this whole pandemic year, my husband and I have found great comfort in nature, even right in our backyard, especially the many birds that visit our feeders, birdbath, and trees and shrubs.
On a more normal Christmas a few years ago, our young grandchildren came to visit. We enjoyed playing in the snow and other activities, such as making pine cone suet feeders for the birds. Later I wrote these verses (below) and even illustrated them in a little Advent / Christmas book for the grandchildren. Two years ago I published this story-in-verse, entitled Something Is Coming To Our World.
These verses tell something of my own hopeful vision for the world, how our loving God is present to all creation, and has come into our world in the form of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, whose coming again we await with anticipation, and with whom we can now be “partners,” co-laborers, caring for creation and loving people. (May God’s reign soon fully come!)
• • • • •
What Is Coming To Our World? (How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas)
Seasons have passed of warm, wiggly worms,
bountiful gardens and bright wildflowers,
plentiful insects on leaf and wing,
sun traveling high across the sky,
and all good things that make us sing.
The days grow shorter. The air grows colder.
We search now for meals and warm roost.
When the hawk and fox come hunting,
I will quickly hide in a bush.
The chill in the air tells me high on the peaks
snowflakes are drifting in piles white and deep;
soon, in this place that’s home to me
frost will sparkle and snow will fall.
Creator God, who gives sunshine and seeds,
berries and water, spring, summer, fall—
surely wants us to thrive all year long!
Bells are ringing. I hear singing.
Good aromas are increasing.
What should we anticipate?
What story does the music relate?
When the people open their doors,
I smell something warm, spicy and sweet,
and the seeds they bring us are nice.
Nippier days turn their noses pink,
but something good is coming, I think.
Anticipation fills the air.
Nights are cold, but lights are bright
and they twinkle everywhere.
It looks like stars are coming down
on trees and houses from the air.
It looks to me—all around—
like Heaven’s surely coming down!
Children come bounding out in the snow,
all rosy and bundled for winter play.
They gather greenery, seedpods, and cones—
much like we do sometimes in spring.
I wonder what they’re going to make?
A blue-eyed girl and boy look my way.
I start to fly; then I hear the girl say,
‘Hello, little bird. Here’s a present for you.
Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas Day?’
The boy says, ‘Merry Christmas to you, little bird,
and happy celebrations with your friends, too.’
I like the peanut butter and seeds they’ve pressed
into the pine cones they hang in the tree.
I’ll fly to the highest branch and sing
a song of Heaven coming down,
light in the darkness, warmth in the cold,
provision and plenty, promises of old.
As seeds wait patiently within the earth,
there’s hope for us all—even little birds.
All feathered friends, all four-legged creatures,
all living things, now hear my song.
All who Creator God called ‘good’:
God cares—and comes—for all.
I will sing the song God gives me.
I will wing the flight that lifts me.
I will listen to the glorious sounds,
for Heaven’s love is all around.
For Thanksgiving (this week) and Christ the King Sunday (which is today) I am updating this post, first published three years ago. So much has changed since three years ago. I have added more comments/questions/affirmations after this poem:
In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships this Lamb.
In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?
More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?
This Thanksgiving, even in the midst of pandemic fears, political uncertainties, and limited gatherings, I want to “virtually” join all those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb. as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:
“You are worthy … for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed, for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;…
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered …
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
He is our king and he is with us, even in our present sufferings!
Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound. On a quarantined breezy morning last week, as I watched the branches of our front-yard tree waving in the wind, these lines of verse came to me:
On a bright blossomy breezy day
my fears and sorrows blew away;
And in their place gentle hopes
of fresh tomorrows came to stay.
Five weeks ago I wrote (in this post) that I had both caught a virus and a virus had caught me.
Now (as I have recovered), I’m thinking that sometimes it feels as if the peace of God is caught much like a virus is caught. Though perhaps I wouldn’t say God “catches” us the way a virus “catches” us, yet I will say that…
We are both found by God and we find God.
We are both taken hold of by God and we take hold of God.
We are both accepted by God and we accept God.
We are both embraced by God and we embrace God.
It is being said that anyone exposed to this new Corona Virus will “get” it, whether they show symptoms of Covid 19 or not, because we humans have no resistance to it yet. On the other hand, we humans are adept at resisting God’s pursuit.
A virus seems to pursue us, intent on invading. It can kill. On the other hand, God, out of love, pursues and woos every person he has created, desiring to rescue and save and give life.
As long as we resist God’s pursuit and wooing, we are filled with spiritual death, as if a virus has invaded and found receptors in our vital “spiritual organs.” But as we turn to God, he envelops us in his arms of love. I don’t want to say God invades us like a virus, but he freely enters our being, fills us with the spiritual life of his presence. Then Death is swallowed up in Victory.
O Breath of Life, breathe on us. Let your Wind blow through us and fill us anew with your healing Spirit, that we may resist both spiritual and physical disease. Give renewed life and vigor to our bodies’ very cells that we may resist and defeat viral attacks. Thank you that even the final death has been swallowed up in victory by the death and life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here at Cladach Publishing, we’re celebrating twenty years of publishing inspirational books. During the next few months we will reminisce, share bonus content with our readers and followers, let you peek behind the scenes at Cladach (past and future), and offer one-time-only specials.
So much to celebrate!
Looking back, we’re amazed at what God has done—in, through, and with us, our authors, and our books—as we have sought to share stories and other writings that show God at work in our world. We believe now more than ever that God is present and working for good everywhere, all the time, now and forever!
Yes, pain, suffering, and confusion abound. But God’s light shines in the darkness and hope keeps us looking upward and moving forward with expectation.
“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” ~Ps. 33:22
“Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.” ~2 Cor. 3:12
Stepping onto the garden path one early morning in August.
Since all our honeybees died last winter, my husband and I decided our beekeeping days were over. The time had come to take out the bee hives in the corner flower garden and use the extra space to add a foot path through the flowers, grasses, and greenery. During these summer months, this simple, curving garden path has become my early morning meditation/prayer walk. On cool mornings, before the heat of the day, I stand and gaze at the flower faces glistening and opening petals to morning sun, and my heart opens to Creator God, the same one who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It seems God is still dwelling, revealing, and walking in gardens.
This summer, on that lovely path my husband cleared and lined for me—with river-rock edging and cedar-chip paving—God has been there with me, helping me start each morning with awareness of, and fellowship with, his ever-creating, giving, empowering, caring presence.
After breakfast and coffee, and just before I step onto the path, I wait, in a moment of listening, for today’s focus of prayer. One day it was thankfulness. With each two steps I said (and meant) “Thank you” (stepping with left foot) “for family” (with right). Left always the same. Right included: new mornings, God’s mercies, colors of flowers, shades of green, people to love, a faithful dog staying close, gentle breezes giving relief from heat, hope for tomorrow.
Another day, loved ones came distinctly to mind, and I pictured them each in their places, facing their particular challenges. With each two steps I interceded for individuals in my family with a real sense of participating in God’s purposes, asking in his will, and was given the assurance that God’s heart was hearing my heart as I sought to hear his.
One morning, as the first rays of the rising sun shimmered through translucent petals, leaves glowed and dew drops sparkled, my heart lifted in praise. I felt God’s smile through the newness and beauty of life around me. With each set of left-right steps (taken slowly, savoringly) I spoke the praise I felt for God’s beauty, mercy, constancy, Fatherly heart, and for the way he creates new possibilities amidst the unfolding of each day.
Some morning prayer walks have included confession, as well as release and surrender.
I miss having a garden beehive, and the fresh honey we extracted; but this year we have enjoyed observing the wide variety of native pollinators that have visited our gardens; and the corner bee garden that I previously had to stay out of in the mornings because of honeybees protecting their hive), has become a welcoming prayer garden where faith and hope are pollinated. And the experience of starting my day with those few moments of communion is as sweet as any honey.
It’s Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday seems a long time ago. Children waved palm branches at church. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the One who would surely be King and bring vindication and victory.
But when the the palm branches turn brown and the “red-carpet” of cloaks is put away, unresolved conflicts remain. Evil presses in, not as easy to identify as we thought. Sin wins the day, both personally and corporately. Friends transform into enemies. Favorite doctrines and laws lose their luster. Disappointment, cynicism, and fear blind the eyes.
If today we didn’t know what Holy Week would bring, we would be filled with longings and regrets, perhaps we’d even join the mob mentality of the Jews as Passover approached. Or perhaps we’d find ourselves cowering and cowardly as were the disciples.
At these times, it’s hard to see the Light, feel the Hope, hold onto Courage. Some of us feel overcome by a sense of failure, helpless yearnings, and hopeless waiting.
In the confusion surrounding the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps Jesus’ followers turned to words of the Psalmist David:
“How long, O Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalm 13).
Even today, David’s poetic psalms speak to our emotions.
God still gives us poets who have the ability to express our heart longings. One such poet is James Troy Turner. Like Jesus’ followers who were not highly educated, who had few of this worlds goods, but who felt the burden of sin and oppression and wanted to believe that a Deliverer would set them free—so James Troy Turner expresses the neediness and longing of Holy Week with these verses: