On Nature as My Church


I’ve been in a lot of churches and synagogues in my day. Some of them have indeed been very beautiful, adorned with impressive artwork. But none have ever struck me with awe.

I recently spent some time on the coast of Oregon where I took the above picture. I realized the ocean is my church. I have encountered God in other ways. Through art. Through recovery. Through the wonder of birth and death. But I feel closest to God when by the ocean.

I am certainly not unique in finding God in nature. Writers I greatly admire — from John Muir to Loren Eiseley to Annie Dillard — articulate the Godliness of nature. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates that manifestation as he intones “Glory be to God for dappled things…” Singers, too, invoke the presence of Spirit found in the outdoors, none more than the late John Denver.

And, yes, I agree with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel when he reminds us that God must be found amidst the skyscrapers. But I hear His/Her Voice most clearly in the crashing waves.

Perhaps this is because it is a pure encounter with creation. It is not filtered to me through someone else’s interpretation of what it means. It is a one-to-one encounter.

Lest you think, I am naive, I know too of the power and violence of the ocean. Once I had run along the beach in Marina del Rey and stopped to sit on a rock, feeling very mellow and spiritual. Suddenly a big wave roared in and nearly knocked me off the rock! “OK, God. I get it. You’re much bigger and more powerful than I can imagine.” A humbling reminder.

I envy those who talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This seems to be a source of comfort for them. It is an experience I don’t understand.

But as I stand at the edge of the ocean, waves washing over my feet, my face misted with spray, yes, in those moments I have a personal relationship with the God of my understanding. For that, I am grateful.

Reflection: 1. Has your spiritual journey been enriched by Nature in any way?

Further Reading: Loren Eiseley The Starthrower; Annie Dillard A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Further Viewing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwARpaKHx_w Enjoy again this classic hymn!