To this day I can remember seeing the stillness in the water in the early morning before sunrise. In a way, the water was like glass allowing us to see the rock formation below us. The sun had just risen and the fog was slowly beginning to lift. All I could hear was silence, with only the occasional sound of a loon off in the distance. It has been almost a decade since I had graced the lake, but now every memory came flooding back of that early morning on the lake with my mother -. And yet, while she was now gone, I not only felt her spirit but also something more.
I have always believed that through nature we can connect with our spirituality in a way that can be just as meaningful as any worship service or religious ritual we part take in with our faith community. And for me, being on Smith Lake in Northern Ontario, Canada has always been a surreal spiritual experience.
Mother Teresa was known for saying that “We need to find God, and (s)he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass– grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Eighteenth-century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson always spoke about the ability for us to connect with the spiritual divine in nature. “Nature adopts the color of the spirit,” he once wrote. “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and [not with standing] all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.”
Living for five years along the Northern California coastline, I was always drawn to walk along the vast and empty beach line, feeling the sand beneath my feet and the salt from the ocean on my lips. In the distance, I always saw other individuals who were also taking journeys of transcendence. Some were old, some were young, but all of us, no matter our religious (or non-religious) beliefs, were connecting with the divine in our own way. With the fast-paced culture we live in that demands our time and energy, and moments of solitude are often hard to find. And evermore so, when we do take time for solitude, our mobile technology makes it difficult for us to truly be able to separate from the world and everyone around us.
However, despite the drains of expectations, schedules, and worries, surrounding us it is a great spirit of earthly renewal. And whether it’s along the ocean coastlines on the west or the east, in the vastness of prairies of the American Midwest, or the lush trees and mountains of Appalachia, there is a source of spiritual renewal that comes without a spoken word and requires neither attentiveness nor response. Rather, we are surrounded by nature that no matter what our spirituality maybe, we can find connections to one another and to our creator.
For us to find a connection with the spiritual divine? does require self-discipline. And that too can be a spiritual practice. First, it requires finding time in our schedule even if it’s an hour a week where we can disconnect from our deadlines and disengage from the world. For some, that might require turning off cell phones, which again, can be a discipline in itself. But secondly, finding spiritual renewal in nature requires finding a place where you can walk, meditate, journal, or reflect that is away from others and where the only stimuli is that of creation all around you. If we are able to spend an hour each week in spiritual reflection, we don’t have to return to the same place each and every time. However, it must be a place where we can feel disconnected from the world and reconnected to the divine and a place to which we can escape, even if only for a short time, the anxieties and worries on our minds.
The Center for Spirituality in Nature also gives other ideas on how to connect with nature to encourage wonder, mindfulness, and attentiveness to the Spirit that unites and connects us all. They include: following the sun, journaling, centering one’s self through meditation, and other ideas that may speak more to you.
“This grand show is eternal,” writes John Muir. “It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn, and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
I like to believe that when we find ourselves in nature, we are not only connecting with the spiritual divine but we also are returning to who we are. By escaping the fabrications and unrealistic expectations put upon us, returning to nature allows us not a way to escape, but a way to remind ourselves of our connection with all humanity and all creation through the stillness and the quiet that is and will always be around us.