To truly love something or someone we have to get to know them. The same is true for loving our world. Until we get to know the Earth and the life that fills it, we can never really love it. But our increasingly technology-driven lives often keep us from a deep, loving connection with the natural world that sustains us.
One of the pillars of authentic spirituality is a deep and ever-growing connection with the world. And if we are to connect with and love the world, then we need to get to know it as deeply as we can. That’s why I consider diving deep into nature to be an important and life-giving spiritual practice.
This episode of the EvoFaith Podcast explores why learning to know our world is so important. And it offers some simple suggestions for connecting more deeply with nature in all its moods.
One of my favourite books of all time, right up there in my top 10, is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It tells the story of, I think it was a year she spent, immersed in the natural world at Tinker Creek and she describes everything she learned as she lived in a shack and just explored the world around her. I learned so much from her just reading that book. And she looks at both the terror of nature which is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and the beauty and wonder of the diversity and aliveness of the natural world, the fecundity of its creativity and the way it brings life into being. It was one of the most moving and life-changing books I’ve ever read.
As we’ve seen, love requires a desire to connect. And that includes loving our world. We can’t love the world at a distance, removed from nature and from its various creatures, and seasons, and moods. Immersion is always what deepens a relationship. When we want to truly know someone, or a new country, or a sport, or anything, we need to get up close and personal, we need to immerse ourselves in their life, their being, their nature. We need to get to know that which we seek to love as deeply and thoroughly as possible, engaging as openly and authentically as we can with who or what they are, and letting go of our desire to control or shape them to our pleasure. We can learn so much from books, and videos, and other sources, but something different happens when we actually dive into a different reality. And yet so many of us are so far removed from the world that sustains us and gives us a home.
So to love the world, to want to care for it, protect it, and ensure that it remains healthy, we need to dive into it. We need to get to know it. We need to immerse ourselves in it and allow it to show itself to us.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to observe and engage more deeply with the world around them. Doing this would help them to understand and experience the abundant life that he called the reign of God. Mathew 6:26-30 is one example of this, this is what Jesus says:
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
There is tremendous wisdom, guidance, and life to be found by spending time in nature learning from her and exploring her secrets. And we can’t do that unless we are willing to immerse ourselves in creation.
In a moment I’d like to offer a few ideas about how we can practice immersing ourselves more intentionally in the natural world. But first I’d like to remind you to subscribe, like, activate notifications, and share this podcast as widely as possible. When you spread the word it really helps EvoFaith to reach the people who will find this way of doing spirituality helpful. Thank you so much!
I believe that our relationship with our world is an essential facet of our spirituality. And when we make nurturing our connection with the world a spiritual practice, it not only enriches our lives and makes them more vibrant and meaningful, it deepens our love for the world and it empowers us to care for it more—more intentionally, more purposefully, more meaningfully. So it’s good for us and it’s good for the world. There is no shortage of ways to dive deep into nature, but here are three of my favourites:
The first one is just to get out into creation and explore it. Take your time, get off the beaten track, take the road less traveled—to quote from Robert Frost. See the amazing variety of expressions of life. Smell the smells, touch the textures, hear the sounds. But don’t just go to the pretty places. Don’t only look for the beauty and wonder. Like Annie Dillard, explore the violence, the fury, the terror too. Engage with the parts of nature that are fierce and frightening. Because until you’ve seen the shadow, you don’t really know it.
When I lived in Cape Town I loved the power of the wind and rain. I used to love going outside during storms, making sure I was wrapped up warmly of course, but I loved feeling the power of the weather as it buffeted me. One time Debbie and I found ourselves on top of Table Mountain when strong winds and rain started pouring down almost horizontally, quite suddenly, which happens on Table Mountain quite often. The storm made our planned route down the mountain impossible, and so we had to use all our wits, maps, devices to find our way back down. Fortunately we’d taken extra clothes and extra food just in case—because we knew that this could happen. It took us a long time to get down to safety, and we were wet, and dirty, and exhausted when we got back to our car. But we felt so alive and so much more deeply connected with the Earth! I fell in love with our world so much more that day!
Most of us won’t have these extreme experiences all that often. Some of us may go looking for them on a regular basis—and I applaud that. But that’s not how most people live. So in addition to getting out into nature to explore it when you have the chance, I also recommend having a simpler and more repeatable practice of immersing yourself in nature. Do short hikes or walks near your home. Do some bird watching. Grow things in your garden, or in pots if you don’t have a garden. My friend, Christine Sine, who lives in Seattle and runs a wonderful website and community called Godspace, has some amazing wisdom about the spirituality of gardening. And she’s just released a book called ‘Digging Deeper: The Art of Contemplative Gardening’ I really encourage you to check it out, I’ll put a link in the description.
And then finally, I recommend becoming a student of creation—especially in your part of the world. Befriend the creatures, learn the plants, get to know their names. I’ve always loved that line from the song ‘Colours of the Wind’ which was one of the theme songs in the Disney movie, Pocahontas. Pocahontas sings: ‘And I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name…’. And that’s really challenged me to learn the names, I’m not that great at it, I’m doing ok with birds, not so good with plants. But I have five apps on my phone to help me learn the names of creatures and plants as much as I can. My favourite is one that helps me to identify the dozens of bird species around my home and across my country. Then there are others for the mammals, the butterflies, the insects, and the trees. I don’t use all of them all the time, and I still have so much to learn. But it’s not a race. I have the rest of my life to learn and to dive deep into nature, and these apps are helping me to do that.
We cannot love what we do not know. We cannot love our world if we stay distant and aloof from it. We can’t engage with nature if we are always trying to push nature out of our lives and our world. But with the industrial, technological world we live in, we can easily become alienated from Creation. So we need to be intentional about connecting with it, immersing ourselves in it. And that is a profound, and healing, and inspiring spiritual practice that offers tremendous rewards.
In our next episode we will look more specifically at what we can do to care for the Earth, and we’ll focus particularly on simplicity and mindful consumerism.
But that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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