“The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.”
From “God’s Garden,” Dorothy Frances Gurney
How many of us have found peace, serenity, hope, and a sense of God’s presence in a garden or in a place of beauty in the wilderness? This sense of spirituality while spending time in nature is nearly universal among humans, both in times past and in our own time. We often hear friends and neighbors say that the mountains, a beautiful canyon, a vegetable garden, or a forest filled with trees and wildlife is their “church.” Even those attending church regularly may express a need to go on a hike, work in the garden, or just relax in their backyard as a spiritual need which the walled-in church building cannot meet.
The spiritual need for time in nature is real. Humans feel better, think better, and are emotionally and physically healthier after spending time outdoors. Time in nature is good for us.
As Christians, our stories are deeply intertwined with nature. The Bible begins in a peaceful garden where all is right with the world (for a time), then follows Moses into the wilderness as he encounters a burning bush, then on to the ancient Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and encountering God’s grace for survival. They arrive in a fertile land of milk and honey and seek to establish a home. After a time of exile, a time in a valley of dry bones, John the Baptist arrives out of the wilderness to announce a new era of good news.
Jesus quickly retreats to the wilderness of the desert as he begins his public ministry and often retreats to a quiet place in nature for reflection, prayer, and time with God. His final evening as a free man is in a garden, and his resurrection takes place in a garden as well.
Despite these deep links with nature, modern churches have all but lost their connections with the natural world. Look inside most churches, and the only greenery you will likely find are flowers placed near the altar. There might be a little-used outdoor chapel on the property. A couple of flower beds may be part of the typical mowed and artificially fertilized landscaping. Otherwise, the church property may show no sign of connecting – much less embracing – the natural world that feeds us spiritually and physically.
Time in nature is for everyone. No matter how athletic, outdoorsy, or comfortable with dirt and insects you may be, you can find a sense of peace while spending time in just a part of the natural world. You might find this sense of peace while hiking the Appalachian Trial, but you can also find a sense of peace and spiritual comfort in your backyard garden or city park. Nature speaks to everyone, wherever they are.
Copyright 2017 Cynthia Coe. All Rights Reserved.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming new book, Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us. Follow this blog or follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sycamorecove/ for news of promotions and upcoming releases.