The Sacred Pathway of the Naturalist (Part 2 – Sacred Pathways of Walking with God)
***Written By Sword4Sail***
The Sacred Pathway of the Naturalist
The young man was enjoying finding different-sized horseshoe crabs and lining them up on the beach to resemble a family. He picked up a tiny one with a smile and carried it across the Florida sand. He was feeling strong from all the canoeing that morning in the Everglades. Spotting a large shell out of the corner of his eye, he hauled the final addition to his crab collection into place. That’s when it hit him: his identity wasn’t in his role in the family, it wasn’t in his physical strength; it was only and completely in Christ – a beloved child of God – a servant of the King.
This is the way of the naturalist: one who desires to worship and learn of God outdoors. Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways, points out that the Bible was meant to be read out of doors. My current favorite worship song, Behold Our God, speaks of God numbering every grain of sand. But where is the power of those words when on a screen compared to beholding a vast stretch of beach?
Jesus himself taught outside and drew imagery from the “sparrows God cares for” and the “lily of the field whom God clothes.” Naturalists often learn their best lessons in the outdoors. They can visualize scriptural truths, see God more clearly, and learn to rest.
The young man in the opening story is my husband, Peter. One of the most important lessons you can learn in life – and one of the biggest issues a 20-something-year-old wrestles with is “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose?” He learned that lesson in the wilds of the Florida Everglades, alone, with God. God revealed truth to him – with a little help from a horseshoe crab “family.”
Ten 9-11 year old girls lay on the dewy grass outside their cabin at camp. It was bed time and the rules said they should be inside, but their counselors brought them outside. Needless to say, they were giggling. “Ok,” said the counselor, “everyone pick up a blade of grass.” The girls all grabbed a blade. “Look at how small it is, yet how intricately designed. The leaf takes sunlight and turns it into energy for the plant to grow. Now look at the sky.” (the giggling had dwindled.) “See how vast it is, reaching up and up. God is great and vast, just like the sky, but He also cares for each blade of grass – just like he cares for you.” Hushed “wow”s and a feeling of peace came over the group of young girls. They had just gotten a sense of God and how much He loves and cares about them.
I knew I only had an hour and a half before my next class, so I grabbed my bible and notebook and trotted down the steep hill behind our college dorm to the rugby field. Keeping an eye out for snakes, I crossed a pile of railroad ties the grass had been creeping over, slipped across the railroad tracks (hear-say claimed that was illegal), skirted the itch-weed, and wandered to my favorite tree down by the river. If I spent 20 minutes playing with sticks in the water and staring at flowers, 20 singing, and 20 reading my Bible and praying, I’d be refreshed and rejuvenated and just in time for my next class. I had learned how to rest.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” How can we see God instead of being the one who blindly plucks the blackberries, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning so aptly put it? How can we be spiritually reawakened to the outdoors from our sterile environments?
Thomas suggests three ways:
1) “Seek the creator behind the creation.” Believe He is there.
2) Perceive – the greatness or grandeur of creation, the multitude of life and goings-on God is orchestrating, and the beauty everywhere to behold in the colors, shapes, and composition of it all. Thomas explains, “For the true Christian naturalist, creation is nothing less than a sanctuary, a holy place that invites you to prayer. See how you can awaken your soul with creation (53).” He suggests taking the longer route to a destination just to pass through nature and behold God.
3) Receive what God has to say. Lay down your own agenda and let God be the initiator in your spiritual walk.
Finally, there are some temptations to the naturalist pathway:
Individualism: don’t escape from reality into nature; prepare to go back into the world.
Spiritual delusion: insights received should be tested as advice; the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. Satan would love to use our experiences to lead us astray.
Pantheism: New Age philosophies say “the earth is the lord.” Nature is not God, but when surrounded by nature, you can see that God is.
But sometimes nothing happens when you’re outside – you don’t receive new insights, and God doesn’t feel particularly close. Thomas warns, “Desire for spiritual highs has to be contained so we can develop other parts of our being (59).” Come back next Friday to discover the next pathway: The Sensate – Loving God With the Senses.
Are You a Naturalist?
Score this series of statements on a scale of 1-5. 1 is not true at all and 5 is very true. Any score of 15 or higher indicates a tendency toward this temperament. Keep track of your scores to complete a spiritual profile later.
1. I feel close to God when I’m surrounded by what He has made.
2. I feel somewhat smothered if I have to be indoors too much and I feel cut off from God.
3. I would rather worship God by spending an hour by a stream than by spending an hour in a group service.
4. If I could walk through the forest on a crisp, cool day, pray by a pond on a warm day, and traverse a field another day I would be quite content.
5. A picture book titled “Nature’s Sanctuaries” would be very appealing to me.
6. Seeing God’s beauty outdoors moves me more than understanding new concepts, participating in a formal religious service, or participating in social causes.
Together they are trying to live out what it means to be give-it-everything-hold-nothing-back followers of Christ. They are currently exploring the realms of building relationships with others when they both work second shift and handling finances wisely…
1. Part 1 of: Sacred Pathways of Walking with God Longing to know and be known? Longing to love and be loved? Are you routinely frustrated with your quiet time and prayer life? Sword Sail introduces us to Sacred Pathways and shares her thoughts on Gary Thomas’ book.