The Sanctuary of Nature
I had occasion yesterday to spend some more significant time in nature than I usually do. That in itself is not so strange. Of course, we all live in some form of nature. Nature surrounds us; it holds us in its very being. However, I realize how easy it is to be pretty unaware of nature. I think this may especially be true for urban or, even, suburban dwellers. I now fit into that category.
It may be different for folks who spend most of their time “in nature.” Growing up on a farm fits that bill. I would think those folks who have to work outside also are more alert to nature than so many of us who work inside buildings or who are too old or sick to venture outside. And surely, many of us in the US live in sheltered surroundings. We move from house to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned buildings. Or in the winter, it is from heated houses to heated cars to heated buildings. Nature can’t get us!
Yesterday I spent considerable time in rural areas. I walked in the woods. I noticed the sounds of birds. I saw animals that do not live in my neighborhood. I saw a huge snapping turtle that might have been as old as I am. I wondered if he had a story as interesting as I think my story is? I was a bit leery of him; I wondered if he worried about me? Finally, I wondered how much of life in that natural surrounding I was totally unaware of? I am sure it was significant!
As I reflected a bit on my experience, I thought about the meaning of the term, nature. I assume that virtually everyone would be sure they know what nature is. And at one level, I am sure virtually everyone does not what nature is. Most of us would affirm that nature is the physical world in which we live. It is trees, rocks, and flowers---the earth itself. Nature can be wonderful or threatening. Nature delivers absolutely stunning spring days and tornados that ornery spring weather can brew. Nature can coddle or kill.
Clearly, the physical world in which we all live is nature. Sometimes it is spelled with a capital “N.” Often, we refer to it as “Mother Nature.” People from all ages have understood nature---or the earth---in maternal terms. Mother Nature is fertile. She nurtures us and all living creatures. I had a pretty keen sense of this maternal, natural world when I was growing up on that Indiana farm. Sadly, my typical sense of nature now is much more bland. My earlier maternal world is now more like a “Neutral It.” That is a wake-up call.
Maybe that wake-up call is due, in part, to having spent considerable time yesterday “in nature.” In my closed-up house and closed-up car and closed-up building, it is much more difficult to hear birds, see turtles and feel the breeze. As I write these words, I begin to sense how spiritual this whole thing is. And that began to open my eyes and my heart. That is how the spiritual happens for me. It opens me---especially my eyes and my heart.
Perhaps this gives my thoughts too much credit to call it revelation, but that is how it seemed to me. Revelation literally means to make visible that which was invisible. With revelation you can now see what was hidden. While revelation is often a religious term, it does not have to be. For me it is both religious and very ordinary. As I began to be aware that too much of my life is spent in closed-up places, I sensed a kind of revelation.
The first bit of revelation was that closed-up places often are not natural. Of course, we need to pay attention to the relationship of “nature-natural.” But it did cause me to ponder my normal environment. So much of that environment is artificial. The building (and house) is usually an enclosed, regulated environment---hardly natural. It occurred to me further that this could begin to confuse me about what is “natural.” No doubt, a day in Nature can re-orient me to what is truly natural.
It was at this point the deeper spiritual insight came to me. If my environment is mostly a closed-up environment, perhaps that can characterize my own life. For example, if I spend most of my time on my own agenda---doing my own thing---that is a pretty narrow way of living. Yet for most of us, that must seem pretty normal! I suppose most folks really hope to get what they want. But I am not sure this is the natural way humans are designed to live.
My thoughts turned back to my day in Nature. As I said, it opened me---my eyes and my heart. In Nature it is more difficult to be egocentric. The world is too big for most of us to think we are the center of the world. In Nature I always realize how small and insignificant I am. In Nature I see myself more “a part of” rather than the “center” of it All.
I am using capital letters now because when I am in Nature, I begin to have a sense of the Spirit---the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, including me. I realized again yesterday that in Nature I had stepped in the Spirit’s natural sanctuary. I had stepped on to Holy Ground. But wait; I am there in nature all the time. I just don’t realize that it is Nature---God’s very Being. That’s what happens in my closed-up world.