In equally moving words, the psalmist David wrote:
“The heavens are telling the glory
and the firmament proclaims
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares
There is no speech, nor are there
Their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through
all the earth,
And their words to the end of
Throughout human history, our poets, sages, and mystics have seen God's reflection in nature. And they have been inspired, even compelled, to share their visions.
Think for a moment of all the images from nature that have been and continue to be evoked as metaphors for God or some aspect of the Divine: fire, wind, water, earth, sun, and light. The presence of God has also been symbolized by thunder and lightning, a towering mountain, an indestructible rock, a self-contained seed, a mighty tree, and an unfolding flower. Something of God has been revealed in the blazing eyes of a tiger, a soaring eagle, a cooing dove, and a beautiful butterfly.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in his classic book Nature, “Nature is the symbol of spirit.” Indeed it is, and in fabulous diversity!
Human beings have always been drawn to the beauty and majesty of nature, but nature invites us to look deeper. It's as if God is hiding behind every tree, under every rock, over every hill, across every meadow, at the bottom of every lake, through every cloud, on the wings of every bird, and in the eyes of every animal. It's as if God is playing hide-and-seek with us and waiting for us to discover the One in all.
Have you ever felt the presence of God in nature?
Perhaps you can relate to the following description of an experience in the life of Peace Pilgrim, a spiritual missionary who spent the last 28 years of her life walking across the United States for peace. This “wonderful mountaintop experience,” as she called it, occurred during an early morning walk.
“The important part of it was the realization of the oneness of all creation,” she said. “Not only all human beings—I knew before that all human beings are one. But now I knew also a oneness with the rest of creation. The creatures that walk the earth and the growing things of the earth. The air, the water, the earth itself. And, most wonderful of all, a oneness with that which permeates all and binds all together and gives life to all. A oneness with that which many would call God.”
These rare experiences are wonderful awakenings to the essence of life and our unity with it. They are truly spiritual communions and moments of worship.
“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship,” wrote Emerson. “The noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.”
A Place to Find God
The founders of Unity, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, understood our need for nature. They experienced the presence of God in nature throughout their lives. In fact, when they established Unity Village on a large tract of land near Kansas City, Missouri, they wanted it to be a prayerful place where people could come and find God in the tranquility of its natural beauty. Even in 1920 when the first portion of land was acquired, they knew it would one day become a spiritual center that would draw thousands of God seekers every year. Their vision came true.
Unity Village is located in the heartland of America. Its graceful Mediterranean-style campus is surrounded by 1400 acres of woodlands, meadows, lakes, and rolling hills—all populated with abundant wildlife. Unity Village is a spiritual haven for anyone in search of God and a sense of unity with all living things.
One man who often walked through the fields and woods of Unity Village in search of inspiration was James Dillet Freeman, late poet laureate of Unity. “As I walk I listen,” he said, “and when I listen, it is amazing how many things have something they want to say to me,” as in this little poem of his:
Had We the Eyes
How fair a world
Around us lies,
Had we the eyes
To see the worth
Of all that is,
Like heaven earth
Is also his.
How can the rose
More than the clod
From which it grows
Suggestions for God Seekers
There are many things we can do to experience more of God in nature.
- Take a leisurely walk in the woods, on a nature trail, or along a lakeshore. Using all your senses, focus on the beauty around you. Listen for the voice of God.
- Read the book of Psalms in the Bible, Emerson's book Nature, Thoreau's Walden, or the poetry of Shakespeare, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, Ranier Maria Rilke, Rumi, or James Dillet Freeman. You may be inspired to write a poem yourself that captures an experience of God in nature that you've had.
- Grow and tend a garden or even a houseplant; but have a relationship with it. Love it. Pray for it. Quietly talk or sing to it. Then wait and watch for its response.
- Learn the language of a pet; try to understand the unique ways your pets communicate with you. You may be surprised at how much they will teach you.
- Respect and honor Mother Nature by conserving her resources through recycling, purchasing recycled paper and products with minimal packaging, buying organic foods, and using more renewable energy such as solar power. You may want to help protect open spaces, endangered species, old forests, state and national parks, and disappearing wetlands and wilderness.
God appears to us in many ways, yet nature seems to be the favorite—not just for God, but for us too. We are soothed and delighted by it; and we are awed by its majesty and power.
Eventually, in nature, we discover our interconnectedness with all living beings—that we are part of a sacred symbiosis that requires the best of us: our love. Eventually, as we give and receive, we discover Love itself.
I recognize the presence of God everywhere around me, and I give thanks for God's grace and beauty in all creation.
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