This week the weather was so cold, I was tempted at first to stay inside and hibernate. Alas, God managed to create such breathtaking beauty with all the snow, I finally decided I needed to bring my camera and immerse myself in the great outdoors instead.
Martin Luther is said to have observed, “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”
Tertullian is quoted by Galileo (link HERE) as saying, “We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine; by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.”
In other words, one can think of nature as God’s “other book.”
Regardless of the weather, I like to start my day by feeding the birds (and squirrels) while my morning coffee brews. During the growing season I tend several veggie, herb and flower beds. On warm sunny days, I take walks along an amazing tree-lined bike trail that runs beside a creek near our house. Sometimes I grab my camera and visit a neighborhood park.
Whether I’m feeding the critters, admiring the flowers in our backyard, snapping photos of flora and fauna at the park or strolling along the bike path, experiencing God’s creation with all my senses ranks as one of my favorite activities. Not to mention one of my most effective forms of relaxation and stress relief. (It sure beats arguing with complete strangers about politics on Facebook.)
Immersing myself in nature’s majesty continually reminds me there is an ultimate Creator. As I’ve said before, I find it almost impossible to deny God’s existence when I’m outdoors with the evidence all around me. So, to ward off those nagging doubts that surface from time to time, I try to get outside as much as possible and engage in what has become my most potent form of prayer: Nature prayer.
According to the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, author and editor-at-large of America magazine (link HERE), nature prayer is simply being “attentive to the presence of God in nature.”
For me, this form of prayer doesn’t even necessarily need words. Just looking at the vibrant colors of spring blossoms and fall leaves. Listening to birds singing and cicadas humming. Drinking in the scent of lilacs. Feeling a gentle breeze against my face. Tasting the sweetness of a vine-ripened strawberry.
I’m aware some Christians eye nature prayer with suspicion. Isn’t it too “New Agey?” Too “pagan?” Aren’t we worshipping creation instead of the Creator? Resistance to nature prayer has always baffled me, frankly, because the Bible itself is chock full of passages that extole nature and invite us to immerse ourselves in it, appreciate it and learn from it.
Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Luke 12:27 says, “Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Being in nature not only brings us close to God, but can restore us physically and spiritually. The opening verses of the 23rd Psalm affirm, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”
Psalm 104:24 exclaims, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” In fact, Psalm 104 in its entirety presents one long ode to the natural world – mountains that smoke, melodious birds, wine that gladdens the heart, trees and streams that protect and feed wildlife of all kinds.
Even Jesus found nature conducive to prayer and meditation. After a long day of healing, teaching and preaching to crowds, “he withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed,” says Luke 5:16.
For those interested in pursuing nature prayer from a Christian perspective, the Web site Busted Halo (link HERE) offers suggestions for an “outdoor retreat.” Designed to “deepen our relationship with God and nature,” this retreat has three parts, each involving prayer and reflection – seeing God, listening to God, and breathing in God. To access the retreat guide, click HERE.
As I engage in nature prayer, I sense God speaking to me every bit as directly as God speaks to me while I’m in church or reading the Bible.
When I watch a brilliant sunset dance along the tops of rioting fall leaves, I sense that God loves beauty.
When I watch a hummingbird flit from blossom to blossom sipping nectar while its tiny wings flap 70 times per second, I sense that God wants to inspire awe.
When I observe the more than three dozen varieties of flowers just in my own backyard, I sense that God prefers diversity.
When jonquils poke up through snow, I sense that God encourages us to feel hope. No matter how cold, dark and bleak life may seem, spring will come eventually.
Most importantly, when I’m immersing myself in nature, I understand at the deepest level that we are meant to appreciate and care for God’s creation. Because nature is part of God’s creation and a gift to us, we have an obligation to protect and preserve it.
The frost sadly zapped my annual flowers early this year. But as the saying goes, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And the fall leaves, which seem to need a good freeze to get really colorful, are making up for the lost flowers.
Here is the view from my kitchen window in the late afternoon.
The street outside my house.
And the nearby park, which I like to drive through on my way to everywhere, especially this time of year.
Gawking at trees is one of my favorite pastimes.
The seeds and berries are pretty this time of year as well.
As are the leaves that have dropped to the ground.
Some flowers stay colorful and interesting even after the frost has zapped them.
A few perennial flowers have managed to survive the freeze. Love the ones that hang in there!
And here’s the cute kitty who followed me while I was snapping some of my photos. So of course, I need to include her here.
When I’m tempted to doubt God’s existence, all I have to do is go outdoors to set my thinking straight. Our pastor’s monthly newsletter column served as a reminder this past week that I’ve been spending WAY too many hours glued to my computer screen. Time to pay a visit to our church’s rose garden, she said.
The rose garden is one of my favorite places. Tucked in among the roses is a plaque quoting Martin Luther, who seemed to share my perception about God being immanent in all of creation.
The roses are expertly and lovingly tended by two men in our congregation, who created the garden in memory of wives gone much too soon. A wonderful tribute!
With gorgeous fall weather approaching, I’ve also decided it’s time to start going on walks again. An amazing bike trail within a couple blocks of our house means there’s no excuse to stay inside on 70-degree days. Trees line both sides of the trail, and a creek runs alongside, making it almost possible to forget I’m in town.
I also have access to a park just a few more blocks from my house. One of the most attractive features is a carillon (below right), which provides background music while visitors walk or ride their bikes.
This park has an amazing number of paths where I can stroll, meditate and feast my eyes on a huge variety of flowers, shrubs, decorative grasses and native plants of all kinds.
I like to think of the numerous flower beds and native plant displays as God’s eye candy.
Of course, no park is complete without the critters. Park visitors constantly feed bread crumbs to the ducks and geese, which means some are tame enough to let me snap close-up photos and one even walked right up to my camera while I was photographing him.
What I know for sure is that I must tear myself away from my computer and TV screens and spend more time outside this fall!
“God is everywhere and in all creation,” my friend Sara said in response to my last blog post when I shared it on Facebook. “We seek Him when we should just SEE Him.”
Nothing like a stroll in my backyard on a summer morning to confirm what she says. I like to start my day by feeding the birds (and squirrels), then feasting my eyes on some flowers. This time of year, all kinds of lovelies are blooming:
Where I live, we had our last snowfall on April 16. My poor jonquils in the front yard were freezing. (See photo below, center, taken a mere three weeks ago.)
But now my flowers are making up for lost time. As I said in an earlier blog entry, I guess God was teaching me patience.
Thawed and blooming
The trees in our backyard are in bloom.
Black cherry bush
As are the tulips and irises.
The creeping phlox, rhododendrons and other early-spring bloomers are going to town.
Usually my spring flowers bloom in small batches: first the snowdrops and crocuses, then the jonquils, then the redbuds and pear trees, then the tulips and so on. This year, they are pretty much all blooming at once. The whole yard, front and back, is ablaze in color.
Even my favorite volunteers have come out to play.
Nothing like a stroll in my yard on a summer morning. I like to start my day by feeding the birds (and squirrels), then feasting my eyes on some flowers. This time of year, all kinds of lovelies are blooming:
And showing off:
Since I always like to have something blooming, I liberally sprinkle annuals in all the flower beds:
But there are some advantages to my perennials, which faithfully come up year after year whether I’m busy or not:
I love the way my pollinator bait attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees:
I even like the flowers some folks would consider weeds. The rabbits who live in our yard like them too, which means they stay out of my gardens and flower beds.
Sure beats watching the news and arguing with complete strangers on Facebook. I do need to spend more time in my yard!