By Mark Herringshaw
My car broke down on Tuesday morning this week, and I sat for an hour beside the road waiting for the tow truck. Not a big deal, normally, except that it’s winter in Minnesota a full week before winter solstice. Outside my car it was 25 degrees below zero wind-chill. That was a long painful hour. My toes are still thawing. But, with a stiff inner reminder, even in that miserable state, I found a moment to pray. In fact, that encounter with nature’s bitter side gave me pause to connect with God in a new way, to see and appreciate new sides of his power and mercy.
I can pray in church; but I can pray more freely on a walk in the woods, or running along the beach, or sitting in a rowboat in the middle of lake at midnight, or yes, sitting in a freezing car. Creation is a crystal clear window into God’s creative power. The beauty and even the fury of nature reveal his wonders. We Christians don’t believe that nature is God, but we do know it comes from God and reflects back to us aspects of his nature. Today, find a moment to be in nature, and there, connect intimately with God. Even a miserable moment in the elements gives us cause to pause…
In our book Nine Ways God Always Speaks, Jennifer Schuchmann and I write about this aspect of communication with God. Here’s an excerpt.
In 1869 John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, and one of America’s first conservationists, spent the summer traversing the rugged granite passes of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. In late August, Muir came to Upper Tuolumne Basin, home to a cluster of majestic, heaven-reaching granite spires named the great Cathedral Peak. A bit of a spiritual free spirit, John recorded the moment in his journal:
It is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from the living rock, and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope some time to climb to it to say my prayers and hear the stone sermons.
Most of us would just see rocks and trees, but Muir saw a cathedral. He wanted to climb the mountain not for the physical challenge of conquering it and getting a T-shirt to prove he did. He wanted to climb it for spiritual reasons. His desire was to experience God through nature, to say his prayers and listen to God speak through the rocks.
That’s remarkably similar to a verse in the Gospel of Luke. During the triumphal entry, the disciples are praising Jesus, bursting out in song, and dancing about. Then the Pharisees turn to Jesus and say, “Tell them to shut up!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
If the disciples stop praising Jesus, the stones will cry out?
Can stones speak?
If so, what do they say? Muir believes they were issuing an invitation to a holy church.
No feature, however, of all the noble landscape as seen from here seems more wonderful than the Cathedral itself, a temple displaying Nature’s best masonry and sermons in stones. How often I have gazed at it from the tops of hills and ridges, and through openings in the forests on my many short excursions, devoutly wondering, admiring, longing! This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.
He describes this bulge on the earth’s surface as a place that has beckoned him–a place he has pondered, admired, and longed for. Muir recognizes it is a church–nature’s church–a place for a lonely worshiper to enter.
Pray and listen.
When he listened, did he hear rocks cry out with a language we can’t speak but only hear? A language we can’t study but only experience?
Perhaps in this natural church God’s sermon is subtle.
Check out the other “21 Ways to Pray” in a special Beliefnet devotional I’ve written. And as always, feel free to add in your own perspectives.