In The Hollow

WINTER

In The Hollow in the Media

Writers offer tips on how to get the most out devotional readings

By John Zaktansky jzaktansky@dailyitem.com

May 24, 2020

 

An amateur photographer, Sunbury’s Rich Earl loves the challenge of seeing ordinary items from a new perspective.

“I recently took a picture of an ordinary bud from a unique angle, and on film, it just exploded,” he said. “Even something very simple, when viewed from a fresh angle, can speak to us in a new way.”

The same theme can be found in Earl’s love for devotionals — books that feature daily stories, words of encouragement and Bible verses as a way to inspire readers to a closer walk with God.

“I find a good devotional takes something I have heard before, but puts it in a different way. Many Christians know the Bible well — my desire is to make it fresh,” he said of a new devotional book he recently published called “In the Hollow” — working his nature-based photography into the daily offering.

“The Bible stories Christians all know so well — devotionals help push them into new territory — they are no longer that same old parable or miracle we have heard so many times,” he said. “They can lose life if you don’t allow them to speak in a new way.”

Earl’s love of devotionals dates back three decades when, as a young pastor, he frequented numerous used bookstores looking for resources, and was captivated by what he found.

“The stacks of books, even the dust, there was just some sort of ambiance that attracted me,” he said. “I’d go through religious texts and devotionals and started to grow my personal library of devotionals.”

He currently owns about 40 devotionals that he calls his “treasure house,” reading about seven or so each day and swapping out versions each year to keep things fresh and help him find new inspiration in the old stories.

“I’m kind of like a prospector, looking for the word that God wants to impart to me that day,” he said. “I use that to bring inspiration to other people.”

Tricia Kline, formerly of Middleburg, also appreciates the structure and personal connection offered by devotional books — she has contributed to a number and sees them as a way to develop a unique relationship with readers.

“Devotional writers have a unique opportunity to share with others what God is teaching them about Himself through His Word,” she said. “As human beings, we are walking the same faith journey and facing the same human experience as our readers, so it’s a real and honest way to connect and to meditate on God’s truth and apply it to so many of the joys and pains that we all experience.”

Earl suggested a few tips on how people can get the most out their devotional experience. They include:

Broaden your library.

“There are countless devotionals out there old and new with all sorts of themes. I personally prefer the older ones – there is just something about holding a 100-year-old devotional book that has been through numerous hands. Some of the messages in older devotionals are so old, that they offer new perspective.”

Couple devotional readings with journaling.

“We can go deeper into a verse with prayer and meditation, and journaling the experience — our thoughts — can allow God to speak to us through that and make it new. I have a journaling Bible where there is space on each page to take notes and jot down observations. When a specific verse or story just grabs me, I find it helpful to journal about it.”

Reconnect with art, crafts and hobbies to rediscover beauty.

“People can express themselves artistically through crafts such as needlework, woodworking or other ways to create or highlight beauty in everyday life — it allows you to build yourself up while edifying others and can help you reconnect with the messages you are reading in God’s word. Take time to search for God’s beauty in everything, from new perspectives.

“For example, take time to chat with that 90-year-old woman at a nursing home, listen to her stories, look in her eyes and see that young girl inside of the older woman. There is beauty there, and mindfully looking for that beauty can help you connect with God in new ways.”

 

Share devotional time with others.

“Devotionals don’t need to be a solitary thing — they can be a Bible study – a Bible study based on discussion where others may see the message in a different way and challenge you to do the same. It can take things to a new level — to make your readings more than just dead words on a page.”

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Valley resident's books mix daily devotionals with local nature photography

By Tricia Kline For The Daily Item

Apr 15, 2020

 

SUNBURY — One February, soon after his mother’s passing and his wife’s first open-heart surgery and cancer diagnosis, Sunbury resident Rich Earl took up hiking.

“It was a stressful time, and the woods offered me peace and great exercise,” he said. “It was my place to connect with God without any distractions.”

Growing up on the “totally flat” terrain of Long Island, Earl said, “I have always been fascinated by mountains and hollows, and this was my chance to experience them up close.”

As he hiked various trails throughout the Central Susquehanna Valley, he began snapping photos of interesting sights that he spotted with his iPhone, and then posted them on Facebook.

Encouraged by friends who thought he had a good eye for interesting photos, he bought special lenses for his iPhone and began to add to his repertoire with “Macro shots of tiny flowers and bugs,” he said. Later, he purchased an Olympus mirrorless camera.

“That was a big step for me,” he said, “as I had never owned anything but a point-and-shoot camera before.” He continued to learn and eventually got an even better camera — a Sony A7 II. And he continued to be amazed at the new perspective he was gaining.

“One thing that surprised me is how differently the world looks through the camera lens,” he said. “A common mud puddle, for example, comes alive in the camera.”

Many of these photos appear in his first volume of “In the Hollow,” self-published recently through Outskirts Press. The project combines photography with another of his passions.

Earl, a former pastor in the Shamokin area, is transitioning from full-time ministry and serves currently as a leadership coach in Sunbury. Over the years, another hobby has been books — all kinds, and the older the better.

“I have an enormous book collection and read six or seven devotionals each morning, searching for something new and fresh,” he said. “I love to learn and seek out original thoughts that stir my heart, imagination and mind. I like being stretched, and sometimes the best ideas are a bit obtuse and take a bit of time and thought to fully absorb.

“Many of my books are antique and written by great men and women who the world has largely forgotten,” he added. “I love uncovering their work for the world to experience again.”

The recently-published devotional is Volume 1 of a planned four-volume set: one for each season of the year. Each day of the season includes a thought-provoking quote, a devotional written by Earl, and one of his original photos.

“To my knowledge, there has never been a daily devotional that links so many original images with daily devotional thoughts,” he said. In addition, the images — which are not staged, he said, but pictured exactly how he found them — correspond to the devotional thought they are combined with for each day.

“Discovering that connection for yourself is part of the secret to enjoying the book,” Earl said.

Earl has been working on the project for several years — not only taking photos but also studying and journaling.

“When a thought from my reading catches my heart, I save it and begin thinking about what it means to me, and how I can share it in a way that others can understand and draw strength and hope from it too,” Earl said.

Much of his compiling is done on regular writing and hiking retreats. 

Alan Turner, of Coal Township, is a regular hiking partner of Earl’s.

“Hiking with Rich is a great experience,” he said. “He is a very caring individual with a knack for listening and giving good, sound wisdom.”

“While traversing the mountainside, he gets some really awesome shots along the way. His new book … is full of astounding and practical wisdom that are much-needed in times like these.”

“In the Hollow” appeals to a wide audience, Earl said. While it is a devotional, it’s not necessarily geared toward Christians.

“Because I believe that all truth is God’s truth, I have deliberately taken material for “In the Hollow” from a diverse array of sources, including Winnie the Pooh, Yogi Berra, John Muir and JRR Tolkien, as well as many pastors and theologians.”

In a few words, the book, he said, “is food for the soul.”

“My real goal is to encourage folks who don’t normally think much about God to reflect on the images and words and consider who God is and give thanks for all He has given us.” 

This first volume, covering the winter months, will be followed by three more volumes. Earl explained they will be published out of seasonal order: Volume Four, Autumn in September; Volume Two, Spring in March 2021; and Volume Three, Summer in June 2021.

The first volume is available for $34.99, including shipping. Multiple copies can be purchased at a discount. The book is also available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. 

For more information, visit www.IntheHollow.net.

Earl has also published “Shepherds Balm”, a devotional for pastors and Christian leaders. He is currently working on a second volume, as well as several children’s books and a book that shows the connections between certain classic rock music and the Gospel.

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