The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings. Psalm 115:16
Most of my work as a pastor is spent with people or at a desk, preparing to speak to people. Other than my own individual prayer time, there is little open space for me to let my heart and my mind roam. Finding the balance between being with people and being alone has been an important part of being available to be the pastor when I am needed.
Urban girl that I am, my need to be in nature was usually met digging in a garden, wandering at the beach which was right down the street, or going for a ride to a place where you could sit with a picnic under a tree. I didn’t really identify much with those “God in Nature” people. I met God primarily at worship in community, in prayer time, or in the service opportunities that made it possible for me to see Jesus in others.
It’s taken awhile for me to learn my way around the outdoors in Central Oregon, but this summer has been a revelation. After a few years of playing around with someone else’s fly-fishing equipment, I now have my own. And after a trip with a friend in a borrowed kayak two years ago, I now have my own, and a rack on my car for it. Suddenly I am on the water myself, my paddle in the water making the only sound near me. And I am in the river standing against the current with the sky rippling by me carrying my fly downstream. The quiet of the natural world has taken my heart to a new place. Even with the wind, the animal life, the buzz of the bugs and the sounds of voices on the shore, the silence is a presence. As I see the basalt palisades beside me and the weedy banks around me, my eyes are opened anew to the elegance of God’s created world. My kayak glides over the plant life beneath the water, revealed suddenly in a shaft of sunlight that pierces deep. It feels as if I am flying rather than floating, and there’s always that tiny splash of my paddle that is like a new kind of music.
Living in this silence is prayer to me, a private, quiet opening to another world in which I can touch God’s face in a way it never appeared to me before. This time, this silence, is healing and restoring, pulling the scattered pieces of my hectic world together. I find that every part of me knows how to praise God for the natural world that surrounds and holds me: my eyes delight in the wonder of the tiniest details, my ears rejoice in the sound of the water, my limbs stretch and reach to master their work in this new environment, my voice is hushed to become part of the silence, and my heart bows down to the gift of beauty that tells me that God created this world and me to fit together. A physicist could explain why the sky is blue and the water reflects it, why the sun makes the bugs rise and the junipers release that odor that pinches your nose. But only your faith can explain how you recognize God’s love and care for human beings as part of an exquisite natural world that includes you.
God in nature will never be my whole way to worship and praise, I need my church, my community, my private prayer and the Holy Spirit suddenly showing up to remind me that God is always at work in everything that touches my life and the life of the world around me. But I am so grateful for the new gift of God’s presence in the river and the lake, the sky and the silence.
Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…