Finding God in nature

Pastoral Messages | November 11, 2015

Part of my daily prayer practice is walking outside. I feel connected with God when I’m out in the fresh air. Some walks are for soaking in the day, while other walks turn into prayerful conversations with God.  I have learned to appreciate the pesky squirrels that distract my dogs, the discomfort of being in the rain and the wind, and the times when I have to wear bug spray to keep mosquitoes at bay.

When preparing for the 8th-grade confirmation retreat this past weekend, Andy (Langdon, director of youth ministries) talked to us about different pathways to connect with God. We focused on seven: artistic, contemplative, activist, intellectual, relational, traditional, and naturalist. These aren’t the only ways to connect with God, but these were the ways we explored with the youth by visiting coffee shops (relational), the Figge Art Museum (artistic), Augustana College (intellectual and contemplative), River Bend Foodbank (activist), the St. Paul Sanctuary (traditional).

I was excited to lead the naturalist pathway. This meant taking groups out to Sunderbruch Park in southwest Davenport to explore.

I went out to the park the day before the retreat, when it was cold, windy, and gray. The trails were muddy in places, and the leaves were slick from all of the rain. The park wasn’t busy, which meant I could listen to the woodpeckers, observe every detail, and enjoy the Sunderbruch for everything that it is. I loved it, but I knew that a dreary day was not going to make it easy for kids to appreciate connecting with God through nature.

Fortunately, Saturday turned out to be gorgeous.

I watched our youth laugh through the woods, talk about the other pathways they experienced, and make connections to faith discussions we had earlier in the retreat. A group who at first wanted to walk the easy trail ended up on a more difficult one, letting go and experiencing their senses of wonder and curiosity. One of the boys eased into his element and became a natural leader in the woods he knew so well. Another group wanted to tear down a deer blind because they felt all animals should be safe in the park.

Nature allows us to see ourselves and the world differently. Those darn pesky squirrels give my dogs joy. A challenging path brings curiosity. Walking among the trees reminds us we are a part of something so much greater than ourselves.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” – Aristotle

Liesebet Gravley, pastor in residency

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