I had a wonderful conversation with an old friend the other night, catching up after a long absence due to the pandemic.
I learned her daughter, who had been suffering with adolescent depression, had had an incredible turn around since going away to college. I wasn’t too surprised because I know her school is in northern California. And that it’s nestled in a majestic forest along the wild, rugged coastline.
Like me, my friend’s daughter has always been drawn to the outdoors and loves to discover and explore the hidden mysteries of the natural world. I’ve come to learn that there’s something magical, and even medicinal, among the flora and fauna. When I’m in nature I always feel grounded and closer to something greater than myself.
I call that something, God.
Seeing the world this way has helped me realize that God is always with me, which has come in handy when I’m feeling lost or alone. Before you accuse me of being some weird, new-age, hippy-dippy freak, let me remind you that the Bible provides many examples of God revealing God’s self to us in nature.
There’s the story of Adam and Eve hanging out with God in the garden. Moses meeting God in a burning bush. Elijah hearing God in the silence of the air. And of course, Jesus who frequently wondered off in nature to be alone with his heavenly Father.
But there’s also this psalm, where the poet looks at creation and draws this portrait of the Creator.
READ Psalm 104:1-9
Viewing the world as artistically as the writer of Psalm 104 does, anyone who loves God should want to nurture, protect, and love the earth as much as God does. Not only do we need it to sustain our life, and the life of future generations, but like Francis taught us nature is God’s greatest missionary.
The rain and wind and even mosquitos remind us of God’s goodness. Jesus tells us that it’s in the lilies of the field and the birds of the air we discover God’s faithfulness and provision (Mt. 6:28-30). He taught us that with every gust of wind we are reminded to live our lives trusting God’s Spirit (John 3:8). Even the Apostle Paul wrote that nature testifies to God’s existence, thus we have no excuse not to know God (Rom. 1:20).
As I learned from St. Francis, God is here. And there. And everywhere. Every living thing is a divine revelation that reveals God’s beauty, glory, power, wisdom, presence, and, most of all, God’s loving care for us. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to spend time in nature. I want to always be surrounded by God’s wondrous love.
A few years ago, I was on a silent retreat in Cleveland. Sitting in this little hidden nook tucked away in the forest, I sat still with my eyes closed listening to the leaves and birds singing. Before I realized, an hour had passed. When I opened my eyes, I saw three baby deer standing within arm’s reach of me. This divine trinity reminded me just how close God really is to us.
There’s a passage in the book of Job that says, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being (Job 12: 7-10).
From the smallest of insects to the vastness of the galaxies, creation proclaims the unspoken glory of God’s love for us. We are a part of creation, so what then is our testimony to God’s love?
If we say we love God, then our love of God’s creation must also be honored. Kathleen Bostrom writes, “A love for God’s creation is enhanced when we see the heavens and earth through the eyes of the Creator, who took the time to stop after every object created to declare, “This is good.” This is good. That is good. You are good. I am good.
Rats, moths, elephants and donkeys are all made good because of God’s great love. Once Francis realized this, he began to revere every living thing; often referring to the sun and moon and trees as “brother” and “sister.” Like Henri Nouwen put it, “Everything in creation belongs to the large family of God.”
When we pause to recognize this interconnectedness between nature and humanity, it’s hard not to stand in reverence with our souls lifted “in wonder and awe.”
In 2011, I took a life-changing trip to Tanzania. I spent ten days in the Serengeti, completely blown away discovering how animals are really no different than us. They played, napped, conversed, looked for food. I even saw an elephant discipline his child for pestering her little brother.
The world is full of God’s imagination and creativity. And we are a part of it. This really became clear to me there at night under a canopy of stars. With no artificial light to block the view, I was blown away by their brilliance. The sheer number rendered me speechless.
One night, and I’ll never forget this, I imaged myself diving into heaven, into a pool of shimmering and shining lights that were calling out to me. As I dove in and became one with that celestial body, I swear I heard God whisper in the wind, “This is good.”
I think this is what God wanted me to witness. Had my eyes not been open by the faith of St. Francis, I might have overlooked that Divine presence right there with me. I might not have learned what my worth is to God who made us out of stardust and declared us good.
That is why it is so important for us all to take the time to be in nature; to be present in creation and show gratitude to our Creator.
Whether it’s in a forest, or at the park, in the ocean, nature gives us endless opportunities to let your heart sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” To live life without taking notice of the world around you is to miss out on one of the most tangible and beautiful ways God speaks to us.
This is important to remember as we enter Anamesa, that sacred space in between heaven and earth. As we move, we must do so with intention, with our eyes on God whose is revealed in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Not just in puppies or trees but in the hungry, the tired, the sick, and the dying as well.
As we close that gap between us and them, may we do so willingly and tirelessly - like Jesus and Francis did – sharing the good news of God by being a place for God to be present for others. This is how we humans testify to God’s glory: by proclaiming it in all the ways we love one another, as God loves us.
Like I learned from St. Francis, wherever there is life, there also is God. And like I learned from Jesus, wherever God is, there is love.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t things in this world that won’t try to trip you or trap you. Although Jesus often retreated to the mountains and wilderness to be with God, it was also out there he was tempted to take his eyes off God and place his heart on the world.
Our world, with all its bright lights and glitter likes to promise us power and prestige if only we bow down and worship it. Some people are confused, placing their faith and even their worship on the things of the earth. Neither Jesus nor Francis worshipped creation. But both kept their devotion and loyalty to its Creator.
God reveals God’s self to us in the most amazing ways, not so we can make an idol or religion out of it but so we will always see God and set our hearts right within it.
It is my hope that you leave here today with your eyes and heart forever focused on the One who made them. The one whose providence and promises have been set since the beginning of all creation.
By looking at the world around us, by being present and alert, may we always receive God’s love and reflect it back into the world. Be it here and there and everywhere.
By our faith, we a part of Christ’s body. And by grace we are a part of God’s holy family. We are, and always have been, God’s beloved. Beautifully and perfectly made in the divine image of the One who whispers to us in the wind, “this is good.”
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey. (Convergent, 1997).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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