“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Research suggests that the experience of nature lowers levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. These benefits may be gained in three ways. By intentionally interacting with nature, for example hiking, golfing, or spending time in a garden. Also, from incidental interactions where we engage nature as we pursue other activities, such as walking to the store or to a neighbor. Third, we can experience nature indirectly while not actually being present in nature, such as viewing it through a window. The natural environment around our home is the nature that most people will experience daily and therefore reap the benefits of nature, or not.
So just sitting in the backyard and listening to the birds sing or sitting in front of a window and watching the animal life and enjoying the flowers and trees helps elevate our mood, improves our attention, reduces stress and anxiety, helps us recover from mental fatigue.
Best is to combine moving our bodies with experiencing nature. Golfing is an excellent blend of body movement and a nature experience. Walking in the hills, or trees is another way to combine movement with the benefits of nature. Walking in nature improves our sleep, helps manage our weight, improves our cognitive function and observational skills. It inspires creative thinking, reduces stress and anxiety, strengthens our immune system, and improves our mood. Those of us who live in this area are fortunate. Others, who are urban dwellers have to seek out nature, and it is worth the search. This is one importance of pets.
As we enjoy, experience, and contemplate nature, our souls are nourished. Because God created all living things, all of nature, nature in return nourishes our being. Nature is one powerful way of connecting with Spirit. The face of God shines upon us through the radiance of the sun. The moon and stars remind us that God’s light and love shine upon us even in the dark. Psalm 29:3 tells us: The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
Throughout the Bible we read how God communicates with us through the skies, the ocean waves, the breeze rustling through the trees, through the fields and flowers, and birds that sing cheerfully. Jesus comforts us by sharing that our Father in the heaven cares for the little sparrows and he cares for us.
It is not just the physical benefits we receive from nature, but we experience God’s beauty, glory, power, wisdom, presence, creativity, and, most of all, his loving care. That is another reason we are drawn to the beauty of nature and animal life. We connect to God’s loving presence when we take a walk, pet our cat, or play with our dog.
Yes, studies show that when we are in nature our blood pressure lowers; we are kinder and calmer. Author Wendell Berry called it “the peace of wild things.” The same is true when we are in the presence of God, with our minds and hearts focused on Spirit. Perhaps this is “the peace of inner things.”
We are drawn to Nature, the Creation of God, through all that we are: our mind, imagination, intellect, heart, and physical being. Nature makes up our DNA. According to the publication “Genes in Common,” we share 98% of our DNA with a chimp, 85% with a Zebrafish, 60% with a chicken, and 36% with a fruit fly. We share a physical kinship with every plant, tree, insect, and animal on the planet. No wonder we feel more connected when we are in nature.
Before there was organized religion, before synagogues, temples, mosques, or churches people found connection with God through Nature – living waters, the burning bush, the fig tree. Jesus utilized nature in his parables and familiar nature imagery to make his point and teach difficult concepts. Saint Francis of Assisi was a disciple of Jesus from the 13th Century. The patronage of animals and the natural environment was integral to his teachings.
Priest and author, Henri Nouwen wrote: “When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God’s creation … we can only stand in awe of God’s majesty and God’s all-embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom.
“In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us. Yes, we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snowcapped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God.”
Research indicates that increasing number of people are not affiliating with a particular religion or denomination; they are flocking outdoors. In Nature there is an unfiltered unfettered closeness to Spirit, uncomplicated by doctrine and dogma. In the tiny blue buds of the Forget-Me-Not, we experience directly the immanence of God’s presence. Standing on the shoreline, staring into the vast Pacific Ocean, we know viscerally an awesome, transcendent God.
Romans 1:20 teaches: Ever since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities—God's eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse for wrongdoing.
God’s divine balance and order is revealed through Nature. Just as it is revealed within our hearts. If we pay attention, we will see that they complement each other and assure us that God is not only present out there, but within us.
Nature can help us face our most difficult challenges as human beings. Within Nature there is conflict, pleasure and pain, death, grief, and life. We watch a pride of lions take down a gazelle and our heart winces. But then we see the mother lions feed their young and we understand. It is called “the circle of life.” In Nature there is renewal, resilience, order, balance, and harmony.
Spirit is trying to teach us these lessons through Nature and through the inner experience of prayer. We live in a time of significant planetary change and challenge. Spending time with God can help alleviate the fears, doubts, and guilt, and bring fresh understanding of these challenges, offer new connections, and provide new hope for transforming our lives and lifestyles to live in harmony and wholeness with the creation.
In the Bible there is an imperative to engage the natural world. At the heart of the Biblical narrative are the creation stories, the idea that God provides for all creatures, and the giving of thanks for those provisions. In Scripture we learn of the connection between water and spirituality and asking God for help through a grateful heart. We see how life and death, resurrection, and renewal, are central to natural systems and how we can connect and respond.
It is my prayer that we continue to find new and meaningful connections with God through Nature. In these days when people are seeking renewal and restoration, and when some many young people are less connected to the trappings of the institutional church, it is my prayer that we can compassionately reach out without judgment and meet them where they are and help them discover how the natural world reveals the truths of Christ.