Updated: Sep 10, 2018
It is that time of year when we wake up to crisp, fresh air, colorful trees, and morning mist. Last Fall when I had just moved to Colorado, I wondered if I had ever lived the change of the seasons more fully awake and in awe of its beauty. The bright colors of the aspen leaves and first snow on the mountain tops are magical. It is absolutely stunning here at this time of the year!
"Let the Birds Do the Heavy Lifting"
In spiritual direction we often say, “let silence do the heavy lifting”. It is a gracious reminder of the fact that we are not in charge. God desires to reveal himself to us, more than we want to hear and see him. I recently read in Richard Louv’s book ‘Vitamin N’ the following,
“Take a break. Look at the clouds. Listen to the wind. Let the birds do the heavy lifting.”
What a lovely reminder it is of how God wants to meet us in and through his creation. When we feel tired and heavy-hearted by the complexities of our lives and this broken world, the birds of the air remind us of Jesus' words, "Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26). And perhaps we come to release our tight fists a little and breathe a little more deeply and slowly.
“Let the birds do the heavy lifting…” Hmm.
Taking a walk outside is such a wonderful spiritual practice. In fact, research shows that most people's earliest memories of God, or spiritual experiences took place in the outdoors. Being immersed in God’s wild creation is one of those “thin” or “privileged” places where God’s reality and felt presence comes near to us.
Next time when you are outside, why don’t you try some new ways of engaging with God, and his creation through imagination and senses?
Use Your Senses to Really Notice
Close your eyes, tilt your head slightly back and take a deep breath in through your nose to smell the air. Stick out your tongue to feel which way the wind is blowing and feel the temperature. Cup your hands around your ears to listen to what’s in front of you, or cup them backward to better notice what you hear behind you. Form binoculars with your hands to imitate owl’s narrow straight-facing eye view, and turn your head and body to observe your surroundings. Use your eyes to notice the wonders of nature by zooming into a pattern of a leaf, texture of a rock, or the form of a small insect. Don’t only focus on fixed objects, instead look into the spaces in between the objects, movement, shadows and shades.
Touch, Play, and Make Something
God did not make the earth only for us to care for but also to enjoy. Nature is a source of beauty, rest, inspiration, and healing. Instead of just observing your environment from the distance get close and in touch with it. Gently rub your hands on the trunk of a tree, snack on the wild berries, hop across a ditch, imitate a bird tweet, or walk barefoot in a shallow creek. Do something that feels fun, playful, invitational, and allows you to embrace the child within you. I sometimes like to take close up photos or draw details of patterns that catch my interest. Depending on where you live and what the regulations are, nature can be a wonderful source for art, craft, nutrition, and building supplies. Simply enjoying the diversity of God’s craftsmanship displayed in nature can be a powerful spiritual experience. For others, joining in the pleasure of creating through natural materials enhances the felt union with the Maker.
Prayer of Simple Regard
Prayer of simple regard is a way of praying while we hold a gaze with God on a person, nature, or an object without judgement or analysis. We spend a few moments simply looking at something, allowing this practice to be a channel of God’s loving presence with us in the moment.
Here is a short prayer guide for your use as you go on “wonder walks” in the nature this Fall.
You will need:
Comfortable walking shoes.
Drawing paper and clipboard, or a drawing pad with a hard back.
Notebook or journal.
Pencil (and whatever other art materials you may wish to use).
Take a slow walk outside alone or with someone else. If you have company, choose not to talk to each other for a while so that you can be more aware of everything else around you. You can take a walk in your home garden, own neighborhood or out in the mountains, seaside, or riverfront.
Begin by standing upright and balanced. Pull your shoulders back and relax. Notice your body and its subtle movements, possible tensions and aches.
Become aware of Jesus being with you. Can you imagine what he looks like? What is he wearing?
He invited you to go for this walk with you. He is eager to show things to you and be with you. You can talk to him quietly in your heart and listen to him as you walk, or just be quiet together.
Start taking in your surroundings, the smells, sights, temperature and sounds. Do not rush. You might see something that you want to touch. Go ahead and touch it (if it’s allowed and safe, of course!).
After a while, notice if there is something in particular that catches your attention. Pause and get closer to it. Hold your gaze on the object or creature for some moments. It can be a stick on the ground, a tree, a stone, a building, an insect, or even a person. If you can, hold it in your hand. Take time to study the details of it (texture, weight, smell, etc.). You might even ask yourself what it would feel like to be that object.
Peacefully, keep your eyes on this one thing or person. Remind yourself that Jesus is with you and is watching closely the same thing that you are. Hold this gaze with Jesus. Imagine what he sees. What do you see? Is there something that Jesus wants to tell you through what you are looking at? Don’t analyze or try to explain anything. Simply look.
Draw what you see, or if you can you can pick it up and take home with you. Remember that some things should be left in the nature.
Next to your drawing, if you wish, write down any thoughts that came to mind.
If you were able to bring your object of observation with you, you can use it as part of a nature weaving or hanging mobile. Each time you go for a walk and your eye catches something that you want to spend time looking at with God, you can bring this home and finally you have enough to make a weaving. Alternatively you can simply place the object at your prayer table, or somewhere in your prayer nook.
What was it like to go for a walk with Jesus? How was it different from any other walk, even though Jesus is always with you? What made this time different?
What did you notice about your surroundings?
What did you spend time looking at? How was it for you to pay such a close attention for a long time to one thing?
Reflection:Do you have a fixed “sit spot”, a "sacred place" out in the nature where you can go, rest, and observe the world around and within you?
What is your earliest memory of you enjoying the nature? Where were you? What did you do?
How does weather and your physical environment affect your life with God?
What hinders you from spending time outside?
'The Last Child in the Woods', 'Vitamin N' and 'The Nature Principle' by Richard Louv
'Sacred Rhythms' by Ruth Haley Barton
'We Are Home' by Shannon Jung
'Grandad's Prayers of the Earth' by Douglas Wood and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
'Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature' by Nicola Davies and Illustrated by Mark Hearld