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Take A Picture With Your Mind

In Creative Living, Nature on November 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

By Heila Rogers


Photo by Deborah Briggs

My mom was a preschool, kindergarten or first grade teacher for years. When little kids would get wiggly while waiting in line for the bathrooms or lunch, she would tell them, “Okay boys and girls, I want you to listen. Put an elephant in your mind.” They’d all grow quiet and gape with their minds busy. She’d wait a moment, then say, “Now, make it pink!” And so on.

It’s no wonder I grew up having a big imagination. She was also our full-time mom/teacher for even more years.

I also remember her using the phrase above, when we were on one of many driving trips as a family.

We didn’t grow up with cell phones or personal cameras. (I remember my first insta-matic camera. It was the kind with detachable cube flashbulbs. Only 12 photos per roll of film.)

So if our film ran out or we didn’t have a camera, and were looking at something especially beautiful, something that we wanted to remember, my mom would say:

“Take a picture with your mind!”

And we would.

We’d gaze and notice detail. We’d commit to memory smells, colors and textures.

We’d let the beauty … speak to us.

Our traveling, viewing experience was enriched by this heightened interaction with our surroundings.

Don’t get me wrong, I love photos, email, and online sharing, etc. too.

But this thrill of interaction, of absorbing, might be the reason folks seem to be swinging back more toward “analog” nowadays.

Laurel - snowdonia

Snowdonia/ Photo by Laurel Greszler

To be able to touch, smell, and really BE in a place (and with people), instead of with our noses attached to screens too much while the world goes on around us, without us.

Not only can we connect with others more, when we look around more closely, but we feel more connected to beautiful scenery or something interesting in a museum. A pile of autumn leaves on the ground can enrich our spirit somehow.

Thanks, Mom.



Thoughts on Beauty

In Art, Nature on August 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

There is such beauty and creativity in the natural world around us.

It makes me think, “Why?!”

What purpose is there to all that beauty and limitless variety? If things are just functional, for use, if life has no meaning beyond the grave, or beyond self-satisfaction or acquisition – then why should there be ten different varieties of colorful koi fish, or different multicolored hummingbirds? Those hummingbirds could all be gray (but also amazing), and it wouldn’t matter, if there weren’t some purpose to beauty. If one looks at life as if there’s no eternity we can somewhat appreciate the beauty of flora and fauna – but there’s no reason for it.

If we see natural beauty as a clue to the existence of an extraordinarily creative God, what does the beauty then also say about this possible Creator?

I think it says that this God is the ultimate Artist … and I think that it says this God is Loving. Because why else would the One who made them, make these myriad creations we’d enjoy, except that this God cared about us? And knew … that we’d draw strength, enjoyment, and even spiritual encouragement from looking at and seeing these beautiful things.

That we’d draw hope from experiencing the amazing way they live, and move, and have their being. I think it also means that this God can’t help it. This God is who this God is.

laurel - cobweb

Frosty Cobweb | Photo by Laurel Greszler

A person’s acts out of Who they are. We people are all flawed. So when we’re angry, sometimes we hurt ourselves or others. When we’re happy, we sometimes sing. This God acts out of Who and how this God is.

People say, “But bad things happen.” This is true. But I’m noticing that the bad things are perversions of the good. Nothing has been created bad in the first place. All human beings, even with perhaps deformed parts (which is all of us, to some extent) have beautiful, precious souls. Each blade of grass, each sparrow, each hair of our head matters and is beautiful in its way.

In the documentary film about his life, the unusual artist Wayne White has this to say about beauty:

It’s embarrassing.

What does he mean by that?

I think he’s touching on the grand, beyond-us, divine aspect of it. He’s explaining somewhat its power. He’s examining how we interact with it when we find it.

By beauty I mean the visual, emotional things that strike our eye, ear, nose or thoughts and we feel… comforted, amazed, speechless, satisfied or invigorated and calmed at the same time. We delight, and yet a part of us almost feels not worthy of it sometimes.

Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Golden Aspen | Photo by Blaize Wilkinson

Parietal Art

In Art, Nature on April 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm
Gua Tewet cave painting

Borneo, Indonesia - tree of life

By Heila Rogers

Parietal? What is that again? “Parietal lobes” sound familiar? As in: the parts of the brain on the sides or walls of the skull.

Parietal art is therefore … on the sides of caves or walls. This kind of prehistoric cave painting – at least in a particular cave in France [Lascaux Caves] – means renditions of animals on the walls of deep tunnels stretching back underneath mountains. Inside exist amazing sketches and imprints made by blowing paint over a person’s hand placed against a wall. These works have survived for an incredibly long time. In these caves, unlike some other cave art throughout the world, there aren’t representations of people.

Research shows paleolithic man used scaffolding and artificial light to construct this art. Unlike some cave drawings in other parts of the world, none of these appear to be narrative … as in, no stories.

Why were these created?

Probably the purpose was religious. Many of them are not easily accessible, especially for a nomadic people. The works were probably completed by shamans only. Ancient people evidently practiced animal worship, and likely experienced spirits in the form of lions, buffalo or horses. The drawings might’ve been a kind of prayer. Requests for successful hunts. Or a part of vision rituals. The handprints include those of children, making some researchers think that the sick were taken into caves hoping perhaps to make a connection with the gods for healing.

A cave painting in Indonesia (shown above, thanks Wikipedia), entitled “Tree of Life,” pictures hands with a vine twining among them.

Without prior knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls or any Hebrew or Greek – way before the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus – this painting appears as if it could be a pictorial representation of the Bible verse:  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (NASB John 15:5)

Many years before those words were written, this cave painting was established. The possible understanding(s) of such a concept by mankind waay B.C. or BCE is fascinating.

Or maybe it was the reverse. The concept and truth were there from the Beginning – at least a bit of it expressed in this very, very old painting and then in the words much later.

What is that truth?

What about, as expressed in these cave paintings, humankind’s desire to capture (have power over) or control … life, a situation, or a … creature?

Other questions:

Artists used bulges in the rock face to provide definition. How were these artists selected by the tribes? How did they display their talent? These so-called “survival societies” were pre-literate (but I imagine lots of verbal storytelling – they were still people after all) — and worked hard to get food and keep alive, so says the prevailing wisdom. There were issues of disease and accident. Where did God fit in? Is it true that they had less “leisure” time? Is art – the pursuit of creating or inventing visual things – a leisure-time, luxury pursuit? Or is it central to human nature and survival?

What about our disposition to go beyond ourselves for help?

It’s interesting to note that many of the caves were facing a certain way so as to be lit by the setting sun during the winter solstice.

What drives the human desire to worship? To go outside of ourselves to do so?

Where does the urge to create come from? No animals have it. They just live.

What about the desire to create pictures, a visual record? Why do we like to tell stories? Why do we want to, or feel a desire to attempt to control or manipulate the future?  With “mystical rituals” we desire to capture the essence, or copy the creation of beings. What’s going on with that?

Prehistoric man looked around at the stars, the sun, experienced emotions, felt the love she or he had for others … and drew conclusions.

Another issue with this parietal art is that underground itself was perceived to be supernatural (apparently non-spirit-seeking spelunkers experience visions in deep caves – something biological about this). Caves alone, even without decoration, were seen as gates to the Beyond … indicating an awareness, a sense of eternity?

Dr. Jean Clottes has much of interest to say on the subject at:

“Finally, hand stencils enabled them to go further still. When somebody put his or her hand on to the wall and paint was blown all over it, the hand would blend with the wall and take its new colour, be it red or black. Under the power of the sacred paint, the hand would metaphorically vanish into the wall. It would thus, concretely, link its owner to the world of the spirits. This might enable the ‘lay people’, maybe the sick, to benefit directly from the forces of the world beyond. Seen in that light, the presence of hands belonging to very young children, such as those in Gargas, stops being extraordinary (Clottes & Lewis-Williams 1998, 2001).

“The animals, individualised by means of precise details, seem to float on the walls; they are disconnected from reality, without any ground line, often without respect of the laws of gravity, in the absence of any framework or surroundings.”

This all reminds me of the following, about “eternity in the hearts of men:”

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (NIV Ecclesiastes 3.11)

Real Love

In Nature, Poetry on March 17, 2012 at 2:12 am

Love is the color of the world’s tallest peaks

nothing stands taller.


Loves sounds like water,

like churning rivers or trickling streams.


Love tastes sweet

like soothing herbal tea

that fills you with warmth.


Love smells like the clean air of Alaska,

without any flaws.


Love is the shape of the never ending stars

always shining bright


Love is love

nothing else


By Daniel Rogers

Photo by Blake Strasser

… the earth is full of the unfailing love of God. (Psalm 33.5)

“Man is the only animal who causes pain to others with no other object than wanting to do so.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Landscape Sculptor

In Art, Nature on December 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Still Photo of Rivers & Tides documentary taken by Margot Harrington (

Andy Goldsworthy loves to play outside.  The landscape sculptor can be found tossing armfuls of snow or dust into the air for the wind to take away.  Or flinging iron-rich mud balls into a river and watching the resulting red, underwater explosion.  He uses sticks to create spider-web-type structures.  He builds with rocks and leaves.  Always keeping an eye on the surroundings encircling his creations.  Aware of what’s underneath.  He also works with clay, sand, ice and snow.  Almost always out of doors.

~ HR

Jazz & The Art of Medicine

In Life in Society, Music, Nature on November 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Check out this excellent article in The Annals of Family Medicine, written by a doctor about how the symbiosis of the doctor-patient relationship can mirror the way jazz musicians create by listening to each other and then improvising.

~ HR

Photo by Doug Stutler

Crop Circles

In Art, Life in Society, Nature on November 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Unsigned, gigantic, corporate, public art interacting with nature.

Attributed to the mystical or the alien.

The nature of human beings wanting to worship … something, anything.

Described as phenomenon.

People sit in them and expect to receive healing.

Unquestionably fascinating and beautiful.

Creators hide their identity.

Clip from National Geographic report about crop circles.

~ HR

Go Outside

In Nature on November 5, 2011 at 11:16 am

Photo by Doug Stutler

By Bekah McNeel

I don’t know when I decided that I hated nature, and I don’t know what it was that pushed me over the edge. But I do remember thinking, “Everything out here is trying to kill me.” I was in college and I was wearing flip-flops in the West Texas desert at Big Bend National Park. Far from the wooded canyons and creeks of my Hill Country childhood–though even there cactus and cedar splinters abound–I had decided that nature was for ascetics.

So, naturally, I married an ascetic. A desert monk of sorts. A man who loves to be outside. And now we spend time outside. We run, we swim in creeks, we hike, we camp. I have discovered the state and national parks services. Maybe it’s my love for him, but more likely its that he is my very own “interpretive center.” South Texas wilderness needs an interpretive center. (For those who avoid the outdoors: an interpretive center is where they tell you what you are looking at and why it’s important and why you have to love it.)

For our first anniversary, we decided to take a trip to Yosemite. If I were to write a book called “How to Love Nature,” chapter one would be a guide to planning a trip to Yosemite. Surrounded by waterfalls, rainbows, cliffs, and sequoias I thought, “This is how people become naturalists.” Legend has it that John Muir actually cried out for joy when he discovered Yosemite Valley. He would devote his life to its preservation, founding the Sierra Club and battling against the reservoir that created the lake at Hetch Hetchy in the park’s NW corner. He explored every accessible inch of the place, even when accessing it meant that he had to build his own trail. We hiked some of those trails 130 years later. I get the obsession.

It’s a strange life change for me to sympathize with that obsession. Growing up, the Sierra Club was in a league with Planned Parenthood and Chairman Mao’s one child policy. Enemies of the faith. I didn’t know anything about it, but somehow it was synonymous with earth-worshipping paganism. Being somewhat at war with nature myself, I didn’t give it much thought. How bad would the world really be without mosquitoes and cacti?

Answer: terrible. For two reasons,

1) Mosquitoes and cacti are going to outlive us all. So if it gets to the point that they are dying off, well, the earth probably resembles Mars.

2) We need it all! When we eradicate the pests, we start messing with systems far outside our plans. Systems that include the Giant Sequoias, whales, cattle, and us! We cannot pick and choose our favorite bits of Creation. We need to work within the system, because we’re part of it. Do you eat meat or vegetables? Then you’re part of the system. Breathe oxygen? Part of the system.

Now, I’ve heard enough apocalyptic eco-scenarios to scare me into reusable shopping bags. What about conservation based on love rather than fear? If I love nature, then acting on its behalf becomes what I want to do. No longer is the Sierra Club my enemy. Now I’m glad for it to work and work hard. Not just so that we can survive, but so that we can enjoy surviving.

I work in a church office, where we are all about the head and the heart. I share a tiny office with two seminary students who drill each other in Hebrew vocabulary all day. It should not be surprising that I was having a hard time grasping the concept of “Fear God.” God was something that we scribbled on the whiteboard. He fit inside the bindings on the shelf of theology books. But when I peered into a violent whirlpool at the top of Nevada Falls, slippery granite beneath my feet, I was terrified by the same majestic cascade that had delighted me only a few hours earlier from a safe distance. I thought, “This is awe. This is fear.” That’s the closest I have come to understanding the fear of God. My heart was paralyzed but exhilarated. Free but trembling. There was something in the world that was beyond my control and comprehension, but here I was close enough to touch it. Close enough to see how beautiful it really was, but to be swept away if I ignored its power.

Photo by Doug Stutler

My husband the Nature Monk says that people need to spend time encountering things that make them feel small. Cliff faces, desert expanses, ocean horizons. We need a reminder that truth is less, “man is the measure of all things” and more, “what is man, O Lord, that you are mindful of him?” Less Enlightenment and more Psalms.

But treks through nature are not all grand perspective-taking. In an age of information barrage, where we have boundless productivity with minimal discomfort, there is something so right about going outside. About using all five senses to navigate. Out on a particularly grueling hike or trail run, a person must become consumed by their surroundings and how they are interacting with them. Each step down a slippery mountain pass in the rain quieted my mind because if I let one piece of my nerves be distracted from the vital task of searching for a foothold I would be in big trouble, and probably with an injury to show for it. That kind of singular focus resets the brain. It quiets the crowd of alerts, notifications, special offers, and expiration dates. I think its good for our brains to spend a few hours in survival mode. How can I do this unless I go outside? I’m not talking about a peaceful walk in the woods either. Yes, that’s where it starts. Walking without a cell phone. Nature is great for contemplation, a la Walden Pond.

What I’m talking about here though, is the wilderness. The wild. A place where environment and body collide and tasks are no longer options set against a backdrop of entertainment and luxuries. Where work is not a villain keeping us from relaxing. Being outside in this way demands that I turn off the noise and do the one thing that there is to do in this moment: take the right step or fail perilously.

It would be very Presbyterian of me to now say, “You can do this anywhere.” To talk about how your backyard can be your own little wilderness. Well, unless you live on the edge of the woods, desert, beach, or tundra, it probably cannot. You probably are going to need to work a little harder to love nature. Not everyone gets to take a week and explore Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier National Park for a course in Loving the Great Outdoors 101. Many of us will have to settle for a prickly, buggy, humid whatever-state park. But my challenge is to find that piece of the world that helps you understand why people want to save it.

Photo by Hannah Amodeo