I suspect few of us will ever encounter God in a burning bush like Moses or wind up in a wrestling match with the Divine as Jacob did. Still, more and more people are beginning to grasp the notion that God can be found outside of church, scripture, or any other locale that our culture has earmarked as “spiritual.” I know in my own life the most profound encounters with God have come when I least expected them and in places not normally associated with religious experience.
If you desire to establish a deeper, more consistent contact with God I suggest that you open your mind and heart to the reality that the Divine may be encountered in many different venues. Barbara Brown Taylor, in her remarkable book, An Altar in the World, tells us:
People encounter God under shady oak trees, on riverbanks, at the tops of mountains, and in long stretches of barren wilderness. God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, burning bushes, and perfect strangers. When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, to women kneading bread and workers lining up for their pay.
Whoever wrote this stuff believed that people could learn as much about the ways of God from paying attention to the world as they could from paying attention to scripture. What is true is what happens, even if what happens is not always right. People can learn as much about the ways of God from business deals gone bad or sparrows falling to the ground as they can from reciting the books of the Bible in order. They can learn as much from a love affair or a wildflower as they can from knowing the Ten Commandments in order.
Another beneficial spiritual endeavor is to make a conscious effort to connect with the natural world. It is in the natural environment where we are most likely to encounter the Light in its most pristine form. Nature, even in city parks, can be a source of vital energy for us and we must seek to reconnect our spirit with the natural world around us. The natural world is filled with healing energies and, when we know how, we can cooperate with nature to heal us and spur us on to further development.
Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, founders of the Transcendentalist Movement, along with the Romantic poets Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth all spoke eloquently of the importance of reconnecting with the natural world. Life in our modern, highly urbanized world makes this even more imperative. An activity as simple as a slow, meditative walk in a natural setting will go a long way toward helping us meet this goal. Once we re-learn how to experience our natural environment and train our senses to make contact with the energies that flow freely in nature’s body, we can begin to discern that pristine energy, the One True Light, which gives life to everything.
It is that creative energy that turns a seed into a Sycamore, an acorn into an Oak, an egg into an Eagle, and your dreams into reality. The energy is one and the same, even if it is, as the Daoist scriptures tell us, differentiated into ten thousand forms. Regular meditation and spending quality time with the natural world will aid us greatly in learning how to experience the reality of the One True Light.
Wordsworth, in his moving poem Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey, speaks of the depth, grace, and spiritual benefit of getting to that quiet place within our selves, particularly while basking in the pristine energies of the natural world:
…that blessed mood
In which the burthen of mystery,
In which the heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened: that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony and the deep power of joy,
We see into the nature of things.
Once we have this sublime experience, discussions about whether this energy exists or not will be moot. We will no longer merely believe. We will know.
A vital aspect of connecting with the Divine Source is to recognize that God reveals himself through the created world and does so with great power and clarity. I tend to view the natural order as Sacred Scripture, for that is exactly what it is. In our technologically advanced society we have become quite removed from the intricate choreography that is evident in the dance of creation. Whenever we allow ourselves to get away from our usual fast-paced, stress-driven lifestyles and force ourselves to slow the pace down to a reasonable level, the Spirit can and does speak to us through things like trees, rivers, flowers, boulders, and even bugs. We, however, have to have eyes to see and ears to hear if we want to establish, maintain, and especially deepen our contact with God through nature. Mark Scandrette, in his great book entitled, Soul Graffiti, tells us:
In the hurried and technological society in which we live, we may have to be more intentional about practices that help us recognize the goodness of God revealed in creation. Many of us live and work in contexts that are divorced from the rhythms of the natural world. We have lost our connection to the soil, our food sources, and the skill of making things with our hands. We rarely notice the rising or the setting of the sun. We gulp food without tasting. We rarely pause to look at the flowers or into the eyes of a child. Our pace of life affects our capacity to appreciate the goodness of the bounty that surrounds us. The demands of a hurried life and the dominance of technology cloud our awareness. Slowing down and learning to pay attention to the moment may be a path to affirming God’s essential goodness and presence.
I believe attentiveness is truly a spiritual discipline, just like meditation, solitude, prayer, fasting, celebration, and all the others. Mindfulness, so much a central part of Buddhism, is basically unheard of in Christian circles. St. Francis and Brother Lawrence seem to come closer than most, but both of these saints have long since passed on. As followers of Christ, we should be ever grateful to God for revealing himself to us through the scriptures of nature and further, we should express thankfulness for those contemporary voices that are now speaking of the significance of these matters.
© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved