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Urban Beauty and Groundhogs

View from our front porch

It is easy for me to notice beauty when I am in the mountains of Colorado or in another place of obvious beauty. It’s harder for me to notice beauty in my normal routine. Most of the time I am moving too fast to slow down and notice.

This summer, on our youth mission trip to Mobile, Alabama, I was sitting by Mobile Bay taking in the sunset over the water. In that moment of beauty I felt close to God. My time with the Lord there felt more real and substantial.

Fast forward a few months to our new home in downtown Champaign. We downsized from three bedrooms to two bedrooms which meant I lost the office which is where I usually had my time with the Lord. As the weather has cooled, my new spot is now on our front porch. It is hardly a place of stillness and quiet with the city buses and commuters whizzing by. But for me it is a spiritual refuge to start my day.

As I have slowed down, watched and listened to the urban life around me there is beauty here. Whether it is watching the playfulness of squirrels or the spider waiting for its next meal, I can see beauty. God the Creator is in the extravagant beauty of mountains and ocean coastlines, but he is also in the “routine beauty” of our urban neighborhood. I just have to slow down to notice it.

One last story to close. A few weeks ago I came home and Hillary and the girls were on the porch. They has spotted a groundhog near our front porch and scared it off. I had time to snap this picture of the surprise visitor. He is just above the deck in the middle.

Yesterday morning as I was reading on the porch, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. As I looked toward the movement I fully expected to see a squirrel or bird. As I looked, it was much bigger than a bird or a squirrel. It was the big, fat groundhog staring back at me! We stared each other down and I wondered what to do next. I thought of chucking something at it but decided for the more peaceful route and just stared it down. The groundhog slowed ambled across our front yard toward our neighbor’s fence. Then it was gone. Urban beauty once again. At least until we realize that our urban visitor is destructive.

Where do you see beauty in your normal routine?



A Dangerous Morning Prayer

I am currently reading Sabbatical Journey by Henri Nouwen which is the diary of his last year of life.  In it he records the prayer that he prayed every morning.  I thought I would post it because of its power and depth.  It is a prayer of Charles de Foucauld, a Catholic priest and martyr who served in Algeria.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands.

Do with me whatever you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you.

I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.


Into your hands I commend my spirit.

I offer it to you with all the love that is in my heart.

For I love you, Lord, and so want to give myself,

To surrender myself into your hands,

Without reserve and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.


The Danger of Prayer

Prayer is dangerous.  People pray to a God that they cannot see or touch and then wait for a response.  These prayers can be out loud or thinking the conversation in our mind.  The bottom line is that prayer is very subjective.  Religious people make a decision in their mind and then ask for God’s support in prayer.  What does God’s support sound like?  How do we know if it is God’s voice we are hearing in our minds or just our own feelings and thoughts informing what we are thinking?

The reason I bring this up is because of Terry Jones and his publicity stunt down in Florida.  This weekend he said he was going to take some time and pray about whether or not he should go ahead with it.  Not surprisingly, he came back after a weekend of prayer and said he was going ahead with it.  Did Terry Jones hear from God?  He sure thinks so.  Or how do we deal with prophecy?  Those that hear from God about the future.  Isn’t that very subjective as well?  And dangerous?

So my question is this:  How do we test what is truly the voice of God or what is just our own feelings and opinions?  I know for myself I am very careful to not say things like God told us to move to Illinois or put our kids in a certain school.  If you say that God told you something how can someone disagree?  How can the community of faith dialogue with you?  For my part, I do pray on a regular basis and it gives me a deep sense of peace that there is someone bigger than myself with a plan.  But I am very careful not to say that God told me to do something.  There are many ways God can “speak” to us but speaking to us in our minds can be very subjective and dangerous.