God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. (Psalm 19:1, The Message)
The Bible is clear that creation reveals a part of the heart of God. We see his glory in his children, yes—but we also discover him through nature. The Bible tells us so.
That being true, nature can become an ally and companion on our long walk towards heaven. There are things in creation that we cannot get in rooms lighted by fluorescent bulbs and floors covered with synthetic carpets. We need nature’s help. We need nature itself. Nature does what technology cannot do. We long for the creator because of the creation. My keyboard does not make me long for Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. But when I walk the trail near my house and see the golden hawk swirling in cloud covered skies, I ache inside and my ache points me towards God.
We, as modern folk, have become so obsessed with our gadgets and technology that we seem to be more pre-occupied than ever; dependent as if we cannot live our lives without our iphones and even addicted to it, so that we are paralyzed when there is a power failure by a glorious thunderstorm. Technology does not reveal the glory of God, as much as we are fascinated with it. As the hymn writer said, we will be “prone to wander” and prone to spend hours — lured into the web pages and cyberspace where we lose ourselves and where time has no boundaries anymore when we are plugged in. Our lostness in technology reveals the thirst of our souls. Nature is a balm giving teacher that seems forgotten in this modern era.
Nature. It is a place that becomes a spiritual territory as soon as we enter it. Nature shows us its own “thin places” where we can not only see God but experience his power, majesty and glory.
Nature. It is a refuge from time consumed with voicemail, email, “to do” lists and calendars. Just as Jesus went to “lonely places” (Luke 5:16), we all need our own places that are both thin and lonely to rest—to restore—to renew—to retreat. Nature is our companion into this much needed respite.
Nature. A place that existed long before us and having its roots in Eden. Every garden, every tree, every petal of every wildflower traces its beginnings there. When Jesus told us to “Consider the birds” and then to also “consider the flower,” we may have seriously underestimated what he really meant.
Nature. A haven for the modern pilgrim to flee into losing thoughts of herself and to feel things that the office cube does not offer her. When we “taste and see that the Lord is good” we are most likely outside somewhere staring at a bird, a flower, a sunset that transports us to a better place.
There we are — ravished with sensory splendor. The quaking Aspens, the trees that Wendell Berry has called the “Tall Timbered Choirs” whose melody soothes as well as enlivens us. Breathtaking beauty assuages our over-committed consciousness’ and invites us to simply be—to not do one thing but to enter it.
Jesus used aspects of nature as a teaching tool. The soil, the seed, the vine and its branches, the wind and the wheat as well as the chaff all became metaphorical invitations for us to enter the geography of our souls and discover ourselves—our place—our relationships and our heart’s true longings. Why then have pastors and modern day prophets abandoned nature’s lessons and turned to PowerPoint?
We have a retreat tucked away in the Rockies where modern day pilgrims from all over the world come for the care of their souls. We listen to them. They listen to us. But oddly, the greatest teachers are the wildflowers, granite rocks and bluebirds. They come to a place to experience exactly what Martin Luther said we should experience: a place where “birds become our teachers and flowers become our theologians.” After our time with them in caring for their souls, they walk the trails and sit on benches to ponder the holy and to investigate their lives. They come, on that sacred trail, “detectives of divinity” as Barbara Brown Taylor coined the term for any one of us who seeks the sacred in the wilderness.
People come here from African cities and the concrete jungles of New York to the distant place of mountains, streams and groves of Aspens where they find rest for their souls. They come apart—the very invitation of Jesus himself—and in doing so—they come together.
The twin sisters called Silence and Solitude do their work like monks praying the hours do theirs. As Lord Byron said it best, “In solitude, where I am least alone,” modern day pilgrims find their hearts at home in nature’s expanse.
Powerpoint and cell towers do not reveal the glory of God. They reveal the obsessions of humanity. Such necessary obsessions can also become justified like the first drink or the next shot of liquor is for the morphing alcoholic.
So, today I will walk among the Aspens. I will listen to them quake in July breezes blowing across this landscape. I will lay down my iPhone and lay down my dependence upon such things. I will lay down my need to know answers and rest in the questions that nature brings up.
I will lay down and I will rest in the arms of Indian paintbrush and Colorado’s blue columbine upon beds of silver sage and my five senses will become the ministers to my soul as someone old once said they could and would.
I will lay down and I will worship for a few fleeting moments and then I will return to my keyboard and my many voicemails who beckon me with obligation and guilt for being away so long.
What distractions in your life take away from your experience of nature?
How do you carve out time to experience time outdoors?
Stephen W. Smith is the President and Spiritual Director of Potter’s Inn, a ministry devoted to the care of the soul for the sake of others. Potter’s Inn operates a beautiful ranch/retreat for leaders west of Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains. Steve is the author of The Lazarus Life and Soul Custody among other books. This is an excerpt from his newest book, Inside Job: Doing the Work within the Work (IVP 2015). You can read about the book at www.myinsidejob.org.