God’s other book: Summer flowers

For several summer seasons, one of my favorite meditation activities has been walking through my backyard and gazing upon God’s handiwork.

This year we had extensive landscaping work done in the spring. I planted lots of native perennials, as well as an abundance of annuals. I’ve found gardening to be therapeutic, and the yard is looking beautiful! 

So, as the summer draws to a close, I thought I’d share some photos.

What I love about astilbe is its outrageous showiness. Those plumes! I like to think of them as God showing off…

I’ve been slowly but surely adding native plants to my beds. Not only do they attract pollinators, but once they get established, they require next to no watering or other care, since they’re suited to our local climate. Among my favorites are purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans.

Besides being wonderfully showy, the bee balm that grows along the south side of our house attracts hummingbirds. I just love those tiny creatures! I still haven’t gotten my camera to focus fast enough to catch one flitting from blossom to blossom, but I’m working on it.

Our resident rabbits love the white clover that covers our lawn. And they don’t have to worry about ingesting chemicals along with the yummy clover flowers. Our lawn has been chemical-free for as long as we’ve lived here.

Some welcome visitors have been gorging on our milkweed. I planted lots of it this year, so there’s enough to feed some very hungry caterpillars, along with the bees and butterflies. Since both the monarch and bee populations are dwindling, I’ve encouraged everyone I know to let this “weed” grow in their yards.

While not considered native flowers, my day lilies are so easy to grow and come in so many pretty colors that I now have lots and LOTS of them scattered around both my back and front yards. The good news is, they aren’t invasive, so it’s safe for me to plant them anywhere.

I like to scatter a few annuals throughout my flower beds, so that something is always blooming from mid-spring until frost. Petunias, begonias and lantana are among my favorites.

I have always gotten a kick out of the way I can make my hydrangeas change color just by pouring some leftover coffee around the base of the bush. These blooms started out blue, but some have turned pink after I started the coffee treatment.

What is even prettier (and tastier!) than these blossoms? The vine-ripened tomatoes I’ve just now begun to harvest! And the cayenne pepper will be yummy cooked with a pot of greens.

We also planted a Rose of Sharon tree in memory of our beautiful Olaf da Vinci.

We wanted something with blossoms as flamboyant as our sweet kitty’s personality, and I think we found the perfect little tree to honor him. From mid-summer until frost the Rose of Sharon puts forth an abundance of showy white blossoms with red centers.

God’s other book: February friends

We hadn’t gotten much snow at all for most of this winter. Just a dusting or two. But the month of February made up for lost time – two major snowstorms just a few days apart.

What I really love, in addition to the beautiful scenery, are those hardy wildlife friends who stick around for the winter rather than flying south or hibernating out of sight.

They are brave …

Good thing God gave all those little birds some warm feathers and outfitted the squirrels with fur coats. Brrrrr!!

God’s other book: Fall colors and a bit of history

This week, both the weather and the leaves were simply too gorgeous for Pete and I to even consider staying inside. So we hopped in our car and drove up to New Salem, where we could drink in some history along with the beautiful fall colors.

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, one of several popular Lincoln sites in central Illinois, is a reconstruction of the 1830s pioneer village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood.

A statue of Lincoln as surveyor greets us just before we enter the village. Below is the path leading into the village, where we prepare to be taken back 200 years.

Along the path are a total of 23 cabins, shops and other buildings.

Most of the buildings contain period artifacts, many of which were gathered from descendants of New Salem residents. Lincoln’s surveyor’s tools are on display as well.

Visitors can walk at their leisure on self-guided tours through the grounds to view the buildings. Little plaques on the doors leading into each of the buildings explain their significance.

Costumed interpreters are also present in some of the buildings during the height of the tourist season, but this week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

A covered wagon sits along the side of the road. Wooden fences like the one below can be seen in several places in the village.

My favorite handsome gentleman posed for a photo as we got ready to leave.

Even the parking lot was pretty, as was the scene that greeted us when we turned onto the highway and got back to the 21st century.

God’s other book: Roses, roses

One of the things I’ve missed most about in-person Sunday services at our church is my weekly stroll in the rose garden just outside the back door during our after-service fellowship hour.

The rose garden was lovingly created by two men in our congregation, in memory of wives gone much too soon. A wonderful tribute!

Tucked in among the roses is a plaque reminding us of who is really responsible for all this beauty, and another quoting Martin Luther, who seemed to share my perception about God being immanent in all of creation.

God’s other book: Pastel hallelujah

Happy Spring, everyone! Finally …

For a while there, it seemed like the winter season that began around Thanksgiving in 2019 just kept on going right through 2020 and into last month. But fairer weather has definitely arrived.

Our trees are loaded with blossoms and the whole yard, front and back, is awash in lovely spring colors — as if singing a pastel hallelujah.

The trees pictured here, from top to bottom, are crabapple, black cherry, pink and white dogwood, pear, redbud, and a small tree we call “the clubhouse” because dozens of little brown birds gather in its branches for their own choir practice.

Thanks be to God for blooming trees!

God’s other book: The sun shows off

Last month I shared some of my own sunrise/sunset photos.

Whenever the sun puts on a display, though, my Facebook friends love snapping photos as much as I do. This means I get treated to a steady parade of gorgeous scenes on my news feed.

So I couldn’t resist sharing a few of them as well. Here are some of my favorites.

Cousin Steve sends early morning greetings from Chicago.

Friend Barb regularly treats me to sunset photos snapped from her backyard in central Illinois.

Fellow congregation member Sandy shared this amazing beach shot.

My friend Collette snapped another.

Cousin Lise, who lives in Denmark, shared this stunner.

My niece Amanda captured an other-worldly sunrise on the farm where I grew up in western Illinois, and where she now lives.

Friend Will shared this panorama.

And Pastor Mary caught this spectacular sunset outside our church.

Thanks to all my friends and relatives for giving me something to feast my eyes on after a long day! And reminding me to peel myself away from my computer and look outside my own window from time to time.

God’s other book: Sunrise, sunset

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

When we read this passage, we may be tempted to think of abundance in terms of wealth or material possessions, but I sense that Jesus had something entirely different in mind. 

Like sunrises and sunsets, for example.

My husband and I have been blessed with a beautiful park near our home, and I’ve encountered scenes like this one several times when driving or walking around the lagoon at dusk.

I must say there are few things more awe-inspiring than the vivid colors that seem to bounce off the treetops just as the sun prepares to set, especially in the fall. 

Unless it’s beholding a “mackerel” sunset as I walk out my front door.

Or an entire sky that has turned solid pink.

Of course, beauty doesn’t always have to be brilliantly ostentatious. Sometimes it’s subtle, as in this scene of a setting sun poking through the mist behind snow-covered branches.

In tough times, I’ve found sunrises and sunsets to be pure balm for the soul.

One night (among many this past year), I don’t think I managed more than an hour of sleep as I lay awake pondering the pandemic, the political situation in our country and a series of little crises closer to home, while asking myself and God one anxious question after another. But then I happened to glance out the window just as the sun was rising. The scene in front of me was enough to put my angst-ridden brain on pause for several minutes.

At the tail end of an exhausting week about a year and a half ago, some longtime friends invited my husband and I to join them at an all-you-can-eat buffet for a feast of serious comfort food. As I stepped out of the car and walked through the restaurant’s parking lot, God greeted me with this stunning display of abundantly extravagant beauty. 

I like to begin each new day by reciting Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” I must admit some situations pose a challenge to this resolution, but sunrises and sunsets always give me a reason to rejoice and be glad.

God’s other book: Ice sculpture

When I looked out the picture window in our living room on New Year’s Day, my first thought was, “I hope this isn’t a sign of what 2021 is going to be like.” In central Illinois, the year started out with … an ice storm.

But I had also pledged to start each day finding something to be grateful for and I had to admit, the ice really was pretty. Especially since I didn’t have to go anywhere that day and could stay warm and toasty inside while enjoying a feast of hoppin’ john and greens with my husband.

So I got out my camera and pointed it out several windows to see what the lens might capture. The thin coating of ice turns twigs into a work of art.

In our driveway, we have a small tree we call “the clubhouse.” Dozens of birds gather there, and we can hear the chorus of chirping as soon as we walk out the front door. Even the ice didn’t deter the birds from having their regular “meeting,” but … BR-R-R-R-R!

I love how each of the berries on our neighborhood crabapple trees has its own icicle.

If you look close, you can see a bead of ice hanging from every single one of those berries. Just. Wow.

And I was certainly grateful the sheet of ice that covered everything, including the electrical wires, was only about a quarter inch thick and we didn’t lose power.

So, may everyone have a blessed and happy new year!

God’s other book: Fall colors

Fall has to be my favorite season, with Mother Nature putting on her annual fireworks display. Or God’s eye candy, as I like to say.

Here are some of my favorite photos, which I’ve snapped over the past couple of fall seasons.

The view from my kitchen window in the late afternoon.

The trees are competing with each other for sheer outrageousness.

Love the flowers that hang in there and still bloom, even after the first frost.

Roses actually seem to bloom prettier with a chill in the air. These appeared in the rose garden behind our church.

Here’s the street that runs past our house.

Each street presents its own fireworks display.

And we have an amazing park a few blocks away.

With temperatures in the 60s and 70s, there’s no reason not to get out from behind my computer, go for a walk, gawk at God’s handiwork and engage in some serious nature prayer.

Photography as prayer

Can photography be a form of prayer? Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, thinks so. 

Photography can serve as a medium for reflection and meditation, and encourages mindfulness, he says. “By slowing down to reflect and meditate, by heightening our visual awareness and our imaginations, by cultivating receptivity and a more holistic way of knowing, we can renew ourselves while gaining new insights into ourselves, the creation, and the Creator.”

Some photographic subjects present themselves in an obvious way. An amazing sunrise practically screams, “Quick! Grab your camera.”

As do the brilliant fall colors in this park scene.

However, mindfulness is also about “being aware of and appreciating the ordinary, of being open to beauty and insights in the commonplace,” Zehr says. 

For example, who knew that chives going to seed could be so pretty?

“We often overlook things that we experience as ordinary or everyday,” Zehr says. “We tend to make preconceived judgments about what is worth looking at or photographing, valuing the ‘picturesque’ or ‘spectacular’ and failing to recognize many of the visual possibilities around us.”

How about a coneflower blossom?

Throughout his little book, Zehr gives us exercises designed to increase our awareness of the visual richness of ordinary objects and scenes. One exercise: Set out to photograph without a specific subject in mind, remaining open to whatever seems to present itself. 

Like a leaf that has floated to the ground.

A pair of acorns.

Or a single perfect rose.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,” Zehr says. “I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Like bright red berries against a deep blue sky.

Or a starkly bare tree with a cloudy sky shortly before sunset serving as a backdrop.

“Ordinary things, when really seen, make extraordinary photos,” Zehr says. “Such photos seem to make themselves. They seem like presents that were given.”

I snapped this photo of icicles dripping from a twig on a bush next to my porch.

These fall leaves still flashed their brilliant colors as they peeked out from under a very early snowfall.

“One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself,” Zehr says.

Of course, one can’t help but respect this goose walking straight toward me in the park, who just begged to be noticed … and photographed.

“A contemplative approach to photography is an expression of wonder grounded in respect and humility,” he says. “As such, it calls us to live in right relationship with our Creator, the creation, and our fellow human beings.”

An attitude of wonder “requires that we look anew at the familiar, that we stop taking the world around us for granted,” he adds. “An attitude of wonder is essential if we are truly to experience the creation and the Creator.”