After being cooped up in big box stores all day, after I picked Cava up from school I asked him, "Want to go on a nature walk?" With Cava, I always know that the answer will be a loud and emphatic, "YES!" The naturalist John Muir wrote, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." This is especially true of a nature walk with Cava, who does not mind stopping to just look and see. Today was no different.
To be in nature is to see and experience. It is very participatory.
Cava and I stopped by the small stream to listen to the sounds of the water's movement (one of my favorite sounds in the world). We put our fingers in to feel its coldness and to touch the even colder stones that were worn smooth by the water and the action of time.
I have a collection of small smooth stones from my travels. They come from mountains, rivers, streams and oceans. Sometimes when I'm going to work, I will put one in my pocket so that I can touch it throughout the day to remind myself that this stone is far older than the building I'm in and it also connects me to nature. One of my favorite artists is Andy Goldsworthy. His studio is the world and nature figures prominently in his art, as he works with sticks, leaves, stones, ice, grass, and snow. He said, "A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories." This idea has stuck with me every time I pick up a stone.
I've also been known to collect shells, coral, and oddly shaped pieces of wood. I'm not alone in this, as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was fond of doing the same. Like myself, he found roots and pieces of wood to be beautiful sculptures. He loved smooth stones and objects found in nature. Neruda understood the deep, rich value of such collections and they figured prominently in much of his poetry. These were his most valued possessions. Is it any wonder that he wrote:
I copy out mountains, rivers, clouds.
I take my pen from my pocket. I note down
a bird in its rising
or a spider in its little silkworks.
Nothing else crosses my mind. I am air,
clear air, where the wheat is waving,
where a bird's flight moves me, the uncertain
fall of a leaf, the globular
eye of a fish unmoving in the lake,
the statues sailing in the clouds,
the intricate variations of the rain.
There is a spiritual shift that goes on inside me whenever I go out into nature. When we are confronted with the beauty that is in nature we are forced to see the all encompassing aspects of life, growth, decay and death that not only surrounds us but is a part of us. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. But the truth of this is that both beauty and pain are transitory. It is to understand that heaven will be translated from a metaphor into ultimate reality. Such is the kingdom of God . . .
To consider the flowers of the field or the birds of the air is to not only notice their beauty but also that they are momentary. It is also to help us to understand that all of this is a part of ourselves. We cannot and should not remove ourselves from this fundamental understanding. When we are disconnected from nature, from the land, from creation, we are, ultimately, disconnected from wholeness in ourselves. The further we stray from the Garden, the more broken we become. John Muir wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." That was how God created it.
Rivers, mountains, forests, oceans are all the dreams of God. Cities are the dreams of man. Too often we forget that. We become too wrapped up in our man-made realities that we forget to see the one our Creator called "good."
There is a Greek word "metanoia" that means a deep conversion of the heart. It is a change in one's life. I think we can experience smaller, divine metanoias any time we take a walk in nature. I think something in our spirits rise like a cork in a pond when we do. I cannot help but feel the grace of God whenever I see the tender and delicate beauty of a butterfly. There is a theology in nature. One can see the symmetry and natural patterns in trees, spirals, waves, and fractures. Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci even found that there were mathematical sequences in nature (examples are animal horns and mollusks).
My favorite book of the Bible, Psalms,is full of references to nature and God's creation. Why? Because, as a shepherd, David must have spent a lot of time noticing. "Be still, and know that I am God," he wrote and in being still, he experienced God in the fields and the forests. It's important that we do the same.
We must stop amidst all our busyness and just watch the clouds overhead. It's one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes, as I'm in the car line waiting to pick up Cava from school, I will just watch these ephemeral gifts change shapes as they seemingly glide over the surface of our earth. Birds often flies past and I watch as the lift the wind gives their wings. If it's a bird of prey, I watch as it swoops and dives into the woods, spotting some small animal. Watching these things brings a sense of calm and I find that it becomes a form of prayer. I am intentional in the awareness of that moment. My thoughts are not cluttered but are focused on the simple act of noticing, of being aware. In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes, "The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." And she's right. In those moments, I am.
That's why I needed to go on a nature walk with Cava today. I needed to pause the outside world and be in the one that draws me both inward toward introspection and outward toward the God who created all of this. Each time I do, I find myself renewed with a sense of awe and wonder that the world is so much bigger, grander, richer and wilder than I can begin to imagine. I begin to see how truly nature is a gift and I am thankful.