Mountains high and valleys low: Beauty for ashes

Beauty for ashes

John Muir was an extraordinary outdoorsman and our nation’s first ambassador for the protection of God’s creation. Born in Scotland, Muir was raised on a Wisconsin farm where he learned the elegance of the infinitely complex ecosystems that made up the natural world of the northern hardwood forests.

As a young man in his late 20s, after a life-altering accident in the factory where he worked, Muir set out to hike from Indiana to Florida, exploring the trails, plants, and wildlife of the eastern seaboard. His nature ramblings took him from Indiana to Florida and on to Cuba, New York, California, and Alaska.

Although some commentators have suggested that his Christian faith was unconventional, he never lost sight of the Creator. The themes of Scripture run all through his nature writings taking the form of trees that praise their Maker and granite walls that form God’s first cathedrals, long before man began to build them from brick and mortar.

In his famous book My First Summer in the Sierra (John Muir, 1869), chronicling four months traversing California’s Sierra Nevada range in the company of two thousand sheep, he reflected on the charred volcanic peaks to the south of Mono Lake: “…yellow [ponderosa] pines are climbing their gray slopes, trying to clothe them and give beauty for ashes.” However unconventional his faith may have been, the Bible was indelibly imprinted in his mind and heart and he could not help but see the Creator in all of creation.

The Inyo Craters south of Mono Lake, CA. In 1869, John Muir saw God's hand of restoration in the ponderosa pines growing in the ashes.

The Inyo Craters south of Mono Lake, CA. In 1869, John Muir saw God’s hand of restoration in the ponderosa pines growing in the volcanic ash.

He was, of course, referring to Isaiah 61 where God says he will replace the ashes of sorrow and mourning and pain and death with beauty in the lives of His chosen people. He will redeem our struggles and trials. He will make something beautiful out of the valleys we find ourselves in.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3

It is a wondrous thing to watch the Lord replace the ashes of a burnt life with the beauty of His glory.

Take-home point: He gives beauty for ashes.

Take-home verse: Isaiah 61:3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…”


Questions for thought

Have you ever seen new life springing up after a wildfire?

What areas of your life have been scorched by the fires of pain, loss, betrayal, illness, and failure?

How can you allow the Lord to replace your ashes with beauty, with His glory?



Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi, 1181

About Dave Cummings

Dave Cummings is a husband, father of three, college professor, biologist, and urban outdoorsman. Most importantly, he is a Christ follower.
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