Category Archives: Beauty Around the World

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)

 

 

The Milky Way from El Teide Mountain in Spain

 

Did you enjoy watching any fireworks last night? Here in America, most of us try to find some place where we can celebrate our Independence Day with a display of color and light bursting through the night sky. However, today I want to share something so glorious that it makes man’s handiwork seem like child play. If you have three minutes to invest in transcendent beauty, here’s a link to one of the most majestic and soothing videos on stars I’ve ever seen. It’s called “The Mountain,” by TSO photography, and it was filmed in April, 2011, although I just saw it recently. The photographer was visiting El Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, which is one of the world’s best spots for filming stars (real stars!). On the website, he gives more details on how and what he did during that week of filming. Hope it thrills your soul as it has mine!

PS—You might want to shut it off as soon as it ends, because the one that started on my feed after this one ended was as bad as this one is wonderful. 😦  Sorry. I wish the internet was safe and pure, but it is not!

(First photo with Psalm 19:1 inscribed is the handiwork of Bob Hardee.)

Why I Loved our Cruise on the MSC Sinfonia

Believe it or not, cruising is not only exotic and amazing,  it’s sometimes one of the most economical ways to travel.  I became enamored with cruising about 20 years ago when I found a 10-day cruise of the French Polynesian Islands for $400 per person ($40 per day). Considering a cruise provides room, board, and transportation,  if you patiently watch for sales,  it can often compete favorably with other types of vacations.  For instance, once (just to prove my point), I spent less per day  on a Caribbean cruise than Alan spent planning a week vacation in Florida.  Recently, a friend seemed embarrassed to admit  that he was taking his wife on a cruise for their 25th anniversary,  I’m guessing because he assumed I’d think that was too extravagant.  But, the fact is, it you’re willing to get a sell-out deal for an inside cabin,  it’s very likely going to cost you less than flying wherever, renting a car,  staying in motels, and eating in restaurants.  Just sayin’…  With that intro, I want to tell you about the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Sinfonia, which was our “home base” recently.  We were looking for a convenient way to spend a week with our kids
who live in Italy.  Their home is pretty much a 400-year-old palace,  but Alan has asthma, so he feared that the inevitable molds
(they have their own cave and their home is carved out of a mountainside)
added to pet dog and cat dander would be a recipe for hospitalization,
so we opted for sea breezes instead.  The MSC Sinfonia was the perfect ship!  It  has a great splash pad and swimming pools for kids,  a dedicated Lego Room  that could keep our kids occupied indefinitely,  a miniature golf course, shuffle board,  foosball, ping pong tables, a basketball court, and lots of fun activities.  I found a special where two adults could take two kids free,  so the four of us could take Mike and Grace’s four kids free!  Our grand daughters were truly ideal bunk mates  (not so sure about the two little boys,
who might have kept their parents up at times…).  Our waiters were incredibly good-natured and kept the fresh rolls, french fries and pasta bianca coming so the kids never got too hungry waiting for dinner.  Thankfully, the children are very industrious  and would spend a lot of time drawing and coloring  so the adults could enjoy  all the courses  of the (usually) 2-hour formal dinners each evening.  The ports were also gorgeous,  the weather perfect,  and the Adriatic Sea like glass.  In all, it was a pretty much ideal experience… or at least as smooth sailing as possible… with little ones.  So, if you’re looking for an easy way to maximize your bonding time  while minimizing your work time,  don’t totally discount cruising.  (One point of warning: We always watched the kids like hawks to make sure they didn’t fall off the ship from the 15th floor.) The railings are not kid safe! May I share a quick spiritual thought?  Sometimes we’re afraid to consider something because we think
it might be too spiritually expensive.  I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want to become a Christian
because it would be “too hard” or cost them too much. Really?  I believe that in reality, becoming a Christian is the most spiritually cost-effective way to attain the goal most people are after: Happiness, love, joy, and peace. Because we’re just human, nothing works flawlessly on this earth, but salvation through faith in Christ is the best “ship” to travel on
as far as I can tell, hands down!  If you haven’t looked into it yet, please do!

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:3-5).

(All photos, except the one of Tahiti, were taken a few weeks ago on our cruise of the Adriatic Sea via the MSC Sinfonia.)

The Eagle’s Nest of Santorini and the Holy Chapel of Nektarios

Oia, on the Greek Isle of Santorini, is both an area and a village.  The village is known as “the eagle’s nest” because it sits 490 feet atop  the volcanic caldera formed by the Santorini Volcano “Thera”
(which erupted 3,600 years ago) and caused such a tsunami  that some believe it is the source of the mythology surrounding the legends of Atlantis.  Oia is also the oldest settlement in Santorini and one of two harbors.   Today, there are over 70 churches in the Oia area,  and I want to tell you about our visit to one of them:The Holy Chapel of St. Nektarios.  This lovely chapel is part of the Greek Orthodox “Prophet Elias Monastery,”  which was built in 1712 and dedicated to the Prophet Elijah.  The monastery was built at the top of Mount Prophet Elias
(the highest point on the island of Santorini, nearly 1900 feet), and it originally served as a fortress to protect the villages below. For the first 200 years, the monastery also served as an important source
of commerce and education,  although it eventually lost most of its commercial and political influence.  Today, the monks engage in meditation and in making
prints, candles, shoes, and wine.  The Holy Chapel of Nektarios also hosts collections
of rare, hand-written books and Byzantine icons.  Our guide took us there in time for a picnic lunch of roasted corn  in their lovely courtyard, which overlooks the entire island.  It was peaceful and calm, and the monks were gracious hosts.  It reminded me of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Michigan’s U.P., where we’ve often stopped at their Jam Pot Bakery for refreshments
(like muffins and thimble berry jam…
although in Santorini we snacked on sesame-covered peanuts and fruit drinks). Also, “our” monastery in Michigan is built on the shores of Lake Superior,  not on a mountain top in Greece surrounded by the Aegean Sea!  I did not hear the gospel while we were visiting, but standing on the top of the mountain in this inspiring setting, I remembered these words from the scripture:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7).

May all who know the good news proclaim it  from the mountaintops and valleys of our lives, whether we’re at home or abroad!

(All the photos were taken during our visit to Santorini while cruising a couple of weeks ago. What a gorgeous island! It has been used as the setting for numerous movies and listed among the world’s top islands by various sources, including BBC, U.S. News, and Travel + Leisure Magazine. In 2015,  Condé Nast Traveler listed it as #12 out of the top 20 islands in the world. Definitely worth a visit!)

 

Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι): Santorini’s Balcony of the Aegean

There are two communities in Santorini that are especially beautiful.  Today I want to share photos from Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι),which is also known as the Balcony to the Aegean, because the town sits high up on the cliffs  with perfect viewing of the sapphire waters and glowing sunsets of the Aegean. (We were back on the ship by evening, but even there the sunsets were lovely.) Imerovigli is also recognized world around because of the Church of Ai-Stratis, which has been loved, photographed, painted, (and even memorialized in a nursery mural) by various family members and friends!  Imerovigli only has 470 permanent inhabitants,  but their narrow streets are crammed with many thousands of visitors yearly!  Homes are built around the caldera amphitheatrically in the “Cycladic” style, typified by glistening white homes and blue-domed churches.  In the late 1800’s, wealthy ship captains built neo-classical mansions  into the sides of the cliffs,  and you can still see the succession of homes built above each other. The houses are painted with white lime wash so that the rainwater  which falls over them and runs down can be collected and used in their homes. Of course, they also paint their homes colorfully for aesthetic purposes.  I was amazed by how clean, new, and beautiful everything looked! Our guide explained that in 1956 there was a terrible earthquake  that just about destroyed everything on the island. Rebuilding has been a huge job, but what a beautiful community they have now! I would say they met their mountainous challenges and conquered them!While meandering through the byways of Imerovigli,  we noticed an irresistibly appealing book shop. The shop had words of wisdom written without and within. And, some words were even written on the bookshop:
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”  Have you met any new mountains lately?And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).

Visiting Magnificent Santorini

The Greek Isles deserve their reputation for mythical beauty,  and of all the Greek Isles, I think Santorini is the most famous and splendid.  What I didn’t realize is it that Santorini is actually a group of  islands. It is a volcanic caldera
formed by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions some 3,600 years ago.  The steep cliffs are nearly 1000 feet high  and the lagoon over 1,300 feet deep! The day we visited, it was a cloudless 80° with a soft wind blowing—a perfect (but typical) summer day!  Temperatures range from about 49-82°F year round,  and there’s nearly always a breeze blowing.  In fact, winds from 35-61 mph are not uncommon, so all their grape vineyards sprawl flat on the ground to keep from being destroyed by the winds! Our ship, the MSC Sinfonia, anchored in the lagoon,  and everyone had to “tender” (take a ferry from the ship) to Skala Port. There is a donkey trail  between Skala Port and Fira, the town built atop the cliff there,  but to save time, energy, and Alan’s allergic nose,  we zipped up on one of their efficient cable cars, which gave us breathtaking views of the area for miles around! Although it would have been pleasant to spend the day exploring Fira,  the most famous areas are Imerovigli and Oia, considerable drives from Fira, so we hired a very good-natured taxi driver
who was willing to stuff all eight of us into his van.  Per hour, this was by far the easiest and most cost-effective way  to tour a large group (especially with small children),  and our knowledgeable driver gave us phenomenal driving  and walking tours  of some of the island’s most picturesque places.

Well, I’ll have to share the rest of our adventures in Santorini tomorrow, because my time is up! At noon on Thursdays (EST), I join a prayer meeting at the Aqueduct Prayer Center. If you ever want to join us, here’s the link:

https://aqueductproject.org/prayer-center/

(then click where it says to click for the “live video conference call”). Anywhere in the world there’s internet, there’s potential for a prayer meeting together! Let me know if you want to join!

Meanwhile, I just finished praying with Catherine through Psalm 92, and I want to share two verses of that beautiful psalm with you as today’s benediction: “For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O LORD, how great are thy works!  and thy thoughts are very deep” (Psalm 92:4-5). Remembering the beauty of Santorini makes me very glad, and I know His thoughts are deeper than the deepest harbor!

A Blissful Day in Dubrovnik

Until my son Joel had a housemate from Dubrovnik a few years ago,  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never even heard of it.  It is an amazingly beautiful seaport along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia,  and as it turned out, this was both Alan and my favorite day of the cruise,  which is why I’m telling you about it first instead of last!  Although it only has a population of about 43,000,  Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site  and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mediterranean Sea. After visiting…I totally agree with the world of tourists! 🙂 It took us about a half an hour on a bus to get from the ship  to the center of the Old City,  and it was such a gloriously balmy day  that by then it was time for our daily gelato break.  (Italian gelatos make American ice cream look a little lack luster.)  Thus fortified, the kiddos were brave adventurers…with one caveat.

As an FYI if you travel there: Stop at the ATM before leaving the town square for some Croatian kuna (about 7 to 1 on the American dollar). Our toilet attendant would not accept Euros and expected payment per person to use the W.C. (water closet), so be advised! A kindly Englishman took pity on our crew, bless him!

So, happily reconstituted, we were all ready for a big day of exploring. Just a few blocks up the road from the fortress is a gorgeous maze of old streets, and beautiful buildings. The streets are lined with shops, musicians, and street vendors selling their wares. Old City Dubrovnik is clean and beautiful… even the pavement shone like glass!  Like all world-class cities,  the streets were also lined with beautiful flowers and appealing outdoor cafes. In the heat of the day, we decided it was time to find the beach. Banje Beach is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches I’ve ever seen. The water was cool, clear, and just perfect for swimming! It was so warm that we all got to swim for as long as we wanted to, and after swimming, we could search for beautiful bits of sea glass on the shore. They had lovely, free changing rooms (and bathrooms!), and all in all, I think it was a 5-star experience for all of us! My mother traveled all over the world, but my mother-in-law used to say,
“If I want to know what some country is like, I’d rather look at a picture book!”

To each his own! If you ever get a chance to go to Dubrovnik, I hope you take it, but whether or not you enjoy adventuring, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our adventure. I hope you’ve also learned a little bit more about this unique and lovely city in the incredibly wonderful world that God has given us! the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isaiah 41:20).