Called to Nature

August 17, 2022

By Derek Handley


Midweek Musings is a weekly Covenant blog with a variety of authors and a variety of topics.



I just got back from vacation in the Upper Peninsula.


Dead River Falls (Marquette, MI)

Our family spends a lot of time up there. It's where my wife had the great fortune of growing up. It's nice to escape up here, away from the grind, into the woods, where no one can reach you...


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At Covenant, we're starting to talk about climate change again, with our last book club of the summer on the book Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World by Kimberly Nicholas. Creation Care is picking up steam in churches right now, and rightfully so. Taking care of the earth that God literally gave us should just come naturally. And yet, it has become a ministry because humans are not making it a priority


But this is not a "wag your finger" kind of blog. That's not my jam. This is more of a love note to nature.


We are called to nature by our Creator.


Au Train Lake Campground (Au Train, MI)

As we sit in our homes, we can hear the rustling leaves, or the birds beckoning us to come join them. Is this not a call?



God is on full display in nature. We spend a lot of time talking about God within the walls, but when we are in the fields, in the forest, in our backyards... we are experiencing God firsthand.


Au Train Lake Campground (Au Train, MI)

I try not to overplay my Richard Rohr card, but it's hard not to. He has a lot to say about removing ourselves from dualism and into creation. In one of his devotions from the Center for Action and Contemplation, he (as he always does) says it so perfectly:


"We limited God’s love and salvation to our own human species and, then, in this theology of scarcity, we did not have enough love left to cover all of humanity! To be honest, God ended up looking quite stingy and inept [...] Without a nature-based spirituality, it was a profane universe, bereft of Spirit, so we had to keep building shrines and churches to capture and hold our now domesticated and tamed God. Soon we did not know where to look for the divine, as we made God’s presence so limited. We became like fish looking for water, and often arguing about who owned the water!"


Disclaimer: Richard Rohr is quick to say that he does not adhere to pantheism (the belief that God is nature and vice versa). And as far as I know, neither do I.


In an address to Loyola University of Chicago, Rohr says that there is only one place in the Bible when a prophet is approached by God indoors. 99% percent of the stories where God approaches prophets are in nature, where we are called.


In the last couple of years, I have been trying to be more intentional with my time outdoors.


Munising Falls (Munising, MI)

I attended a seminar about Wild Church by its founder Victoria Loorz not long ago. Wild Church is a spiritual movement focused on "returning to nature as spiritual practice". One of the activities she had us do was to go on a solo walk.


On this walk, we were to address trees, plants, etc... just as we would address a person. No, we didn't have to talk to them. What she was getting at ultimately was for us to have respect for these extensions of God's creation, a reverence even.


Being outdoors is worship. Being outdoors is prayer. It takes a pinch of intentionality to complete the recipe. An opening of the heart to receive, and a "thank you" to the Creator for gifting us and entrusting us with this immense beauty that is a taste of heaven.


Grand Island National Recreation Area (Munising, MI)

So last week as I was hiking through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore out to Chapel Beach and Chapel Rock (fitting names, huh?), I removed myself from dualistic thinking (as Father Richard says) and immersed myself in God's wall-less sanctuary.


Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Munising, MI)

Don't get me wrong, there were moments when (and maybe you have experienced this before) I would get frustrated.


Frustrated that I could not fully comprehend what I was looking at.


Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Munising, MI)


Was it that I couldn't understand how God could create something so beautiful?

Maybe.


Was it due to a disconnect from within myself?

As we are told on Ash Wednesday, we were once dust (of nature). I think this can explain the disconnect. Like seeing an old friend for the first time in years and not being able to pick up where you left off.


Was it that I wanted more?

When you get a taste of heaven, it's hard not to want more.


Nature is pretty neat.


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It is a lifeline for me, and for my family.


Side-tangent: a successful parenting day revolves around getting them outside in the morning. And a temper tantrum is best remedied by getting outside, as seen in the children's book When Sophie Gets Angry: Really, Really Angry.



So, #getoutside.


Remember that you are in the presence of God when you do so, and that it is a gift.


And please, please, please, treat it well.


See you out there,

Derek

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