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.
In the Bleak Midwinter, a Flash of Brilliant Red
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.