In the Shetland Islands of far northern Scotland, a new prescription is becoming more widespread. It’s been particularly popular in recent months because this medicine requires no pharmacy and there’s no risk of overdose. In fact, as far as anyone can tell, there’s no side effects whatsoever. The best part is: all one has to do to get their hands on it is head out their front door.
Doctors there have recently been authorized to issue “nature prescriptions” to patients in an effort to treat mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress, or a number of other conditions. And while the archipelago’s health board is quick to assert that such a prescription should not replace conventional medicines, they’ve also seen remarkable physical and mental benefits of connecting with the great outdoors.
At the discretion of medical professionals, some patients have been given calendars as they leave their doctor’s office, prescribing different tasks for certain days of the week. Go birdwatching. Head to the beach in search of shells. Identify certain tree species. Walk along a picturesque cliff, listening to the crashing of waves below. Or simply find a spot in your lawn to stand still & silent for three minutes noticing the movement of the wind or the coolness of the grass.
There’s all sorts of reasons why these new nature prescriptions have been so well received. But I have a feeling it has something to do with looking outside yourself just a bit. Noticing incredible beauty and the intricacies of our surroundings that tell us there’s something bigger than just ourselves.
A few days ago, I walked through the St. Paul parking lot after a long day, filled with some mixture of joy and sadness, accomplishment and failure, and gazed up at a clear, dark, nighttime sky filled with stars. There was a certain feeling of amazement that the same God who placed every star in this vast galaxy also created me, just as I am.
I’m convinced there is healing power in the feelings of astonishment and wonder. Maybe that’s part of the reason we’re so drawn to the words of the 23rd Psalm. Not only because it speaks of a Good Shepherd who walks with us through the dark valleys, but also because it allows us to see God as one who urges us to lie down in green pastures and sit beside still waters.
It seems we’ve known for thousands of years now that nature is good for both body and soul. The complex beauty of flora and fauna give us one more way to notice God’s presence among us each day.
Perhaps you’ll take time this week to smell the flowers or watch the movement of the Mississippi or listen to birds chirp at dawn. Those actions may or may not lessen the symptoms of your arthritis or high blood pressure. But hopefully it will remind you of our God who created it all.