Tag Archives: Zion National Park

The Craftsmanship of the Creator

 

What is the most foundational thing I know about God?

That he is Creator.

All else flows from this knowledge. And I know it, because it’s being proclaimed with great fanfare, nonstop, all over this planet and beyond:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

(from Psalm 19)

 

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

The Watchman peak glows under a starry sky in Zion National Park

 

What should be my reaction to this essential and basic truth? Awe and reverence, my soul welling up with deep satisfying joy, which cannot help but overflow in praise:

Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you twinkling stars!
Praise him, skies above! Praise him, vapors high above the clouds!

Let every created thing give praise to the LORD, for he issued his command, and they came into being.
He set them in place forever and ever. His decree will never be revoked.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths,
fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him,

mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds,

kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth,
young men and young women,old men and children.

Let them all praise the name of the LORD.
For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven!

(from Psalm 148)

 

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator's glory

Rocks and trees in Zion Canyon during fall testify to the Creator’s glory

 

Now sometimes my emotions forget the fundamental truth that God is Creator. I start fretting over my life, looking for more worries to add to an already long list of ‘problems’. Or I become consumed by the issues in the world, especially lately the unkind political battles we wage with one another.

And not only do I forget that God is the Creator in charge of it all, I also forget that I am merely a creature. And when I forget my creatureliness, I’m prone to arrogance, to thinking I have all the answers.

Today I needed the Creator to remind me, and humble me:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.

Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

(from Job 38)

 

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

The glory of wildflowers against a backdrop of rolling hills in California

 

I’m grateful to return once again to embracing the simplicity of being a creature before an astounding Creator God, whose handiwork inspires me at the deepest soul level and tells me of his power, and his goodness:

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.

(from Revelation 4)

 

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park

The majesty of the Milky Way in the skies above Death Valley National Park

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The God of Facebook

 

[Today I feature images that have been shared only on my Facebook page]

One year ago I began to consider leaving the dark ages and joining the modern world of social media.

For the longest time I had been mystified at the apparent love folks had for Facebook. I didn’t understand the point – after all, we already had email 😉 As an introverted personality, the thought of being more connected with potentially large numbers of people on the internet had about as much appeal as scheduling a root canal with my dentist.

But things were changing in me at a fundamental level. I was planning a major 5-month work trip across America to reignite my vocation as a photographer of the landscape, returning to a calling I had tried to walk away from due to many years of negative baggage in my head. And a desire was welling up to find a medium where I could share with others images of the beauty and glory I would be blessed to photograph in those approaching months. So the idea of joining Facebook entered my radar screen.

As I began researching tutorials targeted to photographers using social media, I happened to come across a particular blog where the author was highly critical of Facebook, having apparently decided for everyone that it was only used to make oneself look good in front of others, that it did not present the real person, that it should be called “fakebook.” What startled me was that the author was a pastor. I wondered to myself why he would choose only a negative set of goggles from which to view this social media tool, why he would be only critical and judgemental while simultaneously missing the potential graces God could be bringing through relational interaction on Facebook. I felt sad for the people he was supposed to be shepherding, that he would automatically assume the worst in them, as if he could discern all heart motives.

And I wondered, isn’t this pastor’s god big enough to be the God of Facebook too, just as He is God of all creation, always at work to magnify His glory through an endless variety of means of grace?

 

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

An October sunrise brings glorious life to the Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park

 

A few months would pass with social media simmering on my mind’s back burner. The final catalyst needed to launch me into online interaction was learning at the last moment of my 30-year high school reunion being held just a couple hours from where I was currently photographing in Oregon in early summer of 2014.

And so with some trepidation I created a Facebook account. And what followed amazed me.

Within a few weeks this quiet, often reclusive introvert was on his way to a couple hundred friends. Right from the outset there were very meaningful conversations happening via Facebook’s messaging. Old friendships that had died off years ago were beautifully reborn even better than before, such as reuniting with my best friend from high school, David Carson, whose love and loyalty I will never again take for granted.

I unexpectedly reconnected with a middle school neighbor on a deeply profound level and was privileged to share hearts, stories of our brokenness, and spiritual encouragement before she was suddenly taken from this life a month later. Marni is missed by all who knew her.

A new friend I’ve never met in person (hi Kelly!) has come into my life and became a partner in the daily walk of faith. I was moved to tears when she messaged a powerful and beautifully written prayer for me to help me through a difficult struggle.

Friends have shared the joys of becoming parents, of celebrating an anniversary with a cherished spouse, of rejoicing in the growth and accomplishments of their children, or simply shared fun pics of their much-needed weekend getaway or family vacation.

There have been posts from friends about moments of feeling depressed, or asking for needed financial support, or requesting prayer for their fight against cancer, or prayer for their friends experiencing tragedy and suffering.

I’ve seen the heart of a friend who champions the cause of the poor and disenfranchised and has thus helped me become more aware and compassionate (thank you Angel!). I have acquired friends from all walks of life, many who are very different from me – some who are Christian and some who are atheist or agnostic, some who are straight and some who are gay, some who are staunchly conservative and some who are liberal and progressive – and all of them help me stretch and grow in some way.

 

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

Mount Rushmore inspires the huge variety of folks that compose our American melting pot

 

As I examine this fruit that has come from Facebook engagement, I have two thoughts: first, I sincerely thank all of my FB friends for opening your lives up to me, for your grace in reconnecting even after you may have heard nothing from me the past 30 or more years. Thank you for letting me express who I am, and for all your encouragement from the photography and writing I have shared.

Second, I cannot help recalling the discouraging words of that pastor’s blog, and to see just how much he may have missed in his negative perspective – that our sovereign God is indeed the God of Facebook, just as he is God over all of life. And He clearly delights in using social media as a means for the expression of much beauty and joy and encouragement among people, if that is indeed what a person chooses to seek in it.

Thank you God that your glory and grace can shine wherever you please, including in our relationships via the internet!

 

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park

Clouds at sunset create a compelling reflection in a pond at Yellowstone National Park


The Power of an Encouraging Word

 

I have not yet ceased to be amazed how transforming it is to spend time in creation.

The landscape of America is my favorite ‘office’. Here I work outdoors with my hands and my head, a combination of creative inspiration and technical execution that exercises my brain fully. Immersed in the beauty of our world, focused intently on seeing and composing, I slip into the flow of the moment, that deep level of engagement in the work you were specifically designed and gifted to carry out.

 

It was not difficult to get lost in my work as I photographed layers of sandstone walls in a small slot canyon in southwest Utah

It was not difficult to get lost in my work as I photographed layers of sandstone walls in a small slot canyon in southwest Utah

 

Working in these conditions, I am naturally fulfilled, whole, at peace. Fellowship with my Creator is seamless. I have no sense of need. All the encouragement my soul could desire is there in the seeing and savoring of God’s beauty, and interacting with it to make photographic art.

Inevitably, this glorious life working out in the field must come to an end for a time as I return to ‘regular’ life – living indoors, maintaining a house, finding again that synchronization with my wife, re-engaging with friends and neighbors, running errands, doing chores, spending long days in front of a computer at a desk.

After returning to ‘civilization,’ I find a sense of neediness gradually growing week after week. Old fears and accusations beg for attention. Doubts creep in. My work is solitary and has little positive feedback on a daily basis. I end up in a place where a little encouragement would go a long way, where a few positive words from a friend would do wonders to remind me that pursing the quiet life of an artist and writer for God’s glory is not a life wasted.

This is where my heart was on Sunday as we worshiped at Tampa Covenant Church. And it was here that God so unexpectedly and lovingly met my need: in a short conversation after the service, a mere ten seconds of encouraging words spoken into me by our dear pastor Eric Meyer were the exact words of affirmation I needed to hear in that moment concerning the validity of my work. It was a tender and sweet means of grace from my Father in heaven, a direct and immediate injection of peaceful confidence in God and untethered joy in his love for me.

This is the power of an encouraging word!

 

The pallet of Christmas colors decorates a small winding side canyon on the east side of Zion National Park in autumn

The palette of Christmas colors decorates a small winding side canyon on the east side of Zion National Park in autumn

 

Pastor Eric could not have known I needed it, but he was the vessel God used to speak life. Now I ask myself, who in my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances may be in a place of desperate need for a kind word? What if some who have been placed in my path are today feeling discouraged, soul-parched, perhaps disillusioned, or just weary from this world, their heart silently pleading for just a few life-giving words from a friend to bring fresh light to their journey?

How will I know, without intentionally seeking to live a life of being an encourager to others?

 

Fallen leaves filling in a cleft in the sandstone of a canyon wall in Zion signals the end of autumn

Fallen leaves filling in a cleft in the sandstone of a canyon wall in Zion signals the end of autumn

 

I so want to pass on these incredible spirit-soaring moments of being encouraged by a friend. I don’t want to be selfish and silent. I want to embrace the vulnerability it requires for me to reach out to others in hopes of brightening their day with some affirming word. I pray I can be that vessel.

Because I am convinced, in virtually all our lives, the need is great for simple encouragement.

 

“Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy.”

(Proverbs 12:25, NET Bible)

 

 


The Sweetness of Solitude

 

Traffic. I detest it.

The cars were at a standstill, two lanes thick. Hope was doled out sparingly a few feet at a time every minute or two. After what seemed an endless wait the bottleneck was released, but then immediately the two lanes merged into one. Plodding along at 25 miles per hour, crankiness was brooding under the surface as I wondered why I should be stuck in a jam of cars and people in this place.

This was not a weekday commute on the interstate of a crowded metropolis; it was a beautiful October weekend at one of America’s most spectacular national parks in southwest Utah.

I can’t blame the hoards of tourists and photographers from all over the world for swarming to Zion in autumn, as it is one of the great spectacles of the American Southwest. But I was in no mood for congestion. I craved quiet and solitude where I could create in peace.

 

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion's east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion’s east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

 

The vast majority of Zion National Park’s visitors congregate along the main canyon road, where the beauty slaps you in the face with its utter grandeur. But I knew on this day I had no patience for these crowds, so I drove past the renowned Zion Canyon Drive and wound my way up the switchbacks, through the long dark tunnel, and out into the light of Zion’s east side.

Here, the number of cars and people are a tiny fraction of those crammed into the valley on the west side. Immediately I began to feel tension starting to release. Though the landscape on this side of the tunnel was less famous and more subtle, I knew it would suit me photographically. And most importantly, I knew I would find the delicious solitude I craved.

I navigated the curves of this much quieter road and found a promising pullout at the entrance to a small side canyon. From the road I caught glimpses of glorious autumn color lining parts of the canyon, and with much anticipation I hoisted my photo pack and tripod on my back and began climbing down a rough path leading to the canyon floor. I prayed for God’s grace to give me eyes to see his glory, and for the ability to make inspiring art in his world.

This little canyon proved a very blessed choice indeed. Right away I was treated to intense reds and oranges of lovely late-October maples, and further along in my wandering I came across a captivating mini slot canyon. There was more to explore and photograph than would fit in one day so I was happy to return to this and other nearby side canyons on Zion’s eastside for several more days of exploring and photographing sandstone patterns, autumn leaves, mountain goats, and sunsets.

 

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion's east side canyons

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion’s east side canyons

 

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

 

As much as I loved making images here, it was the sublime solitude that I most cherished. Not another soul interrupted my free-flowing thinking down in these canyons. While the crowds filled the main tourist sites and visitor centers ten minutes away, I basked in the deliciousness of being utterly alone. When God assigned my personality he made me an introvert, and it is in sweet solitude that I am strengthened and refreshed. It is in solitude where I best process my thoughts, ponder decisions, do my most inspired creating, and work my hardest. Solitude prepares me to love and serve people; without enough quiet alone time I quickly become no good to anyone.

 

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“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
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And it is in solitude where I most naturally commune with my Creator and think on his amazing glory. During these quiet canyon hikes my mind was occupied with the Good News of God revealed in Scripture – that fallen rebels like me have been outrageously loved and forever forgiven by trusting in the perfect once-for-all performance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very God himself. A free gift! No earning required, nor even possible. All of mystifying grace, none of me. There are depths to this spectacular salvation found in the pages of the New Testament that I am only just now beginning to comprehend, and what I’m seeing is creating a profound paradigm shifting in how I relate to my Father in Heaven and live out of his love. I hope to write about these things in the coming new year.

 

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

 

If any readers are in the mood to share, I would love to hear your comments about the idea of solitude. Is it something you crave? In the hustle of work and family and holiday chores, do you find you don’t get enough restful silence? When you are able to carve out time alone, what do you do with that time? What occupies your mind? Does solitude renew your spirit? Or like one of my good friends, do you find being utterly alone more draining than it is rebuilding? I would love to know my readers better if you are so moved to share your thoughts.

 

“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr

 


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