Note: Kristin has recently begun a nine-month “retreat in real life” following the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. She shares her journey in The Everyday Mystic blog.
In this week’s meditation and prayer exercises, we read Job, chapters 38 through 40:5, in which God admonishes Job for being so proud. God enumerates the wondrous aspects of God’s creation: the sea, the sun, the stars, the mountain goats, ostriches and horses. At the end of three chapters of God going on and on about all the features and creatures of Earth, Job finally gives in, saying (and I paraphrase), “OK, God, you win. I know that I’m dependent on you. I’ll shut up now.”
That got me pondering: What it is about nature and God’s earth that is so powerfully spiritual to many people? I was considering the “nature of nature”. Why do people sense God’s presence in viewing a sunset over the ocean, or during a quiet walk in the forest? Some people tell me that the only place they sense a Divine presence is when they are outdoors in nature. What underlies the attraction, the fascination, the ability to perceive the Divine in nature? I identified several aspects in my meditation.
First, nature’s beauty simply is. You can do nothing to deserve or earn the beauty of a sunset or the gift of a perfect acorn dropped onto your path. It is there for you, free for the taking. You can tend, nurture and tread lightly on nature, but you don’t have to pay for the sweet-smelling morning breeze or the majesty of a purple mountain. It is a gift freely given to all who can behold it. Just like Source’s love, you don’t pay for the beauty of the earth. You can do nothing to earn, deserve or pay for Divine love and acceptance, for at your core, you are a pure and innocent children of God. You are a recipient of the unconditional love of the Creator, just because of the mere fact of your existence. God loves you - no exceptions - despite your limitations and weaknesses. In beholding the gifts of nature, you sense the mysterious gift of God’s love - freely given, abundantly given, impossible to lose, impossible to deserve.
Nature is the handiwork of God. “For God created the heavens and the earth,” it says in Genesis. Just as you are created by the Divine hand, so is nature. In comparison to humans, however, nature is raw and unbridled, without an ego that might distort its true character. In beholding nature, we behold the full power and majesty of the Divine.
Lastly, the beauty of nature takes your breath away, clearing away everyday thoughts and cares, opening your heart and spirit so that you can hear the voice of God, feel the Divine presence and see the results of God’s work. Despite the earnest efforts of scientists, humans still do not fully understand nature, nor can humans control it. In the face of this mystery, you feel awe and reverence. Nature is a direct reflection of the Divine.