Sunday, May 31, 2009


Sunday Reflection: God in Nature

I sometimes wonder if there is a correlation between the loss of nature in our world and the decline of faith. For people of many faiths, experiences of conversion and spiritual renewal are often linked to nature as a pure expression of the existence of a higher power. Perhaps it is no accident that as our world increasingly becomes a paved creation of man, we have less respect and relationship with the world's Creator. I have heard many religious defenses of environmentalism, but never have I heard that nature is a force for faith and conversion-- yet, I think that is true.

It certainly was for me. In 1979, I drove a tractor harvesting peas as my summer job in Washington state. I worked at night, often, and there was one night that changed my life. It was something about the sight of Mt. Baker, a perfect halo of cloud above it, that crystallized my thoughts and beliefs about God. I got down in that rich earth, between the rows I was about to harvest, and was humbled and enlivened. My knees were caked with dirt and my eyes full of tears, but I was a new person. It was not nature that convinced me there was a God, nor did I believe that nature was God, but it took a clear view of His creation in a pure form to push me to humility, the humility I needed to give over my heart.

I worry that there are fewer of those clear views now. Are we paving over souls as we pave over the world?

I have always thought your conversion experience echoes a very common narrative of nineteenth evangelicalism (remember I am always trying to cast you as a nineteenth-century evangelical--"Holy Warrior").

Quite often Evangelical Christians of that age would recount their personal story of coming to Christ during a moment in which they experienced the majesty of God in his "great cathedral" of nature.

It still works for me. I continue to believe that understanding our relationship with God is inextricably intertwined with coming to a realistic assessment of ourselves as individuals "in need."

We are tempted to see ourselves as powerful and self-sufficient. Nature has a way of placing human endeavor in its proper scale.
An excellent point, WF-- and one I agree with completely. If one doesn't come to faith with humility, it probably is not faith you are coming to, and nature is very good at humbling us.

And I take the comparison to 19th century evangelicals as a compliment!
I hiked to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park over Memorial Day weekend. As I sat looking at the arch, which stood alone on top of a huge bowl of stone, I couldn't help but think, "God must place beautiful things on the Earth just so that we can feel inspired and loved."

I struggle daily to stop from becoming jaded and constantly cynical while I deal with felons who have committed atrocious acts against other people. Spending time in nature is one of the few things that brings me back. Nature feeds my faith; and faith draws me to nature.

I still don't like Thoreau, but I understand him much better now. I understand the need to escape to Nature.
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