I started prayer walking most days last month, and this has brought an unexpected dimension of joy, happiness, ecstasy and shalom to my spiritual life.
And being an inveterate reader, I have begun to research other people’s experience of God in nature.
Here’s a summary of the Worshipping God in Nature chapter of Gary Thomas’s book,Sacred Pathways.
We can choose to worship God “in the cathedral he himself has built: the outdoors.”
Any place that has some trees, and a stream, or at a minimum open skies can be God’s cathedral. Getting outside can literally flood parched hearts and soften the hardest soul.
The full force of Biblical imagery—phrases like “the river of life” or “green pastures” strikes us out of doors.
Most of the Old Testament theophanies, or appearances of God happened in a wilderness. God met Hagar in the desert, Abraham on a mountain, Jacob at a river crossing, and Moses at a burning bush.
Jesus himself was walking by the Sea of Galilee when he called his disciples to follow him. He taught in the countryside, and used its images—the birds flying overhead, the lilies.
However, worship has moved from Mount Sinai to the dark indoors. But when God created a paradise for the first men and women it was a garden with trees, and a river!!
Bernard of Clairvaux—“Woods and stones can teach you what you can never hear from any master.”
The famous ascetic, Anthony the Great, the first monk, born in AD 251, was asked, “How dost thou content thyself, Father, who art denied the comfort of books?
He replies, “My book is nature, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, it is at my hand.”
Nature, the school which never closes, is open when sermons and spiritual books have grown stagnant for us.
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Space flight is an effective evangelist. John Glenn, “To look out at this kind of creation and not to believe in God is, to me, impossible.”
Article 2 of the Belgic Confession says, God is made known to us by “the creation, preservation and governance of the universe, which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters, leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God.”
Spurgeon writes, “Oh, but surely, everything that comes from the hand of such a Master-artist as God has something in it of himself. There are lovely spots on this this fair globe which ought to make even a blasphemer devout. I have said, among the mountains, “He who sees no God here is mad.”
And creation in its floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis also reminds us of God’s power and judgement.
Nature brings us rest
We don‘t always need a change; sometimes, we just need a rest, and being out in nature provides it.
Susan Power Bratton writes, “Experiencing the beauty and peace of God in nature is not a substitute for direct interaction with the regenerative powers of the Creator, but the mending and binding so necessary to heal our stress-filled lives may flow through creation. For the spiritually oppressed, or the socially injured, a pleasing or quiet natural environment can help provide spiritual release. Resting by a clear river, or sitting on a sunny slope can bring peace and joy into clouded souls.”
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush is afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit around it and pick blackberries” Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Now if I believe in God’s son and bear in mind that he became man, all creatures will appear a hundred times more beautiful to me than before. Then I will properly appreciate the sun, the moon, the stars, trees, apples, pears, as I reflect that he is Lord over and the centre of all things.” Martin Luther
Luther said it is only with the eye of faith that we see miracles all through nature, miracles that he believed were even greater than the miracles of the sacraments. If we truly understood the growth of a grain of wheat, he says, w e would die of wonder.”
Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan Friar suggests a grid though which we may school ourselves to seek God outdoors. Look at the greatness of creation, sky, mountains, the multitude of creation, for instance, in a forest, and the beauty of creation.
Gary Thomas, “Walks that are truly helpful are those in which I lay down my own agenda at the first sign of grass, and let God lead my mind wherever he choses.” (And that the way that I have begun having my prayer walks too!)