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The Whole Earth is Filled with His Glory: Naturalist Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

Creation is nothing less than a sanctuary, a holy place that invites you to prayer. –Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas

I lay on the grass, staring into the night sky, endless stars above me, insects buzzing around me, and in awe I began to sing “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed,” I built up to the chorus, singing at the top of my lungs “then sings my SOUUUUL, my Saviour, God to Thee, how great Thou ARRRRT, How GREEEAAT Thou art.”

I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. Growing up without TV and air conditioning meant that even this homebody-bookworm spent a lot of summer nights outside, laying in the grass, sitting on the porch, climbing trees, and occasionally walking around the neighborhood. I have many fond memories of connecting with God through His creation. Every summer, as soon as I was old enough, I spent a week or more at camp. Until I was old enough to spend my entire summer working at camp. There were many, many nights of staring up into the sky as I contemplated the Divine presence. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend or two. There’s something about the endless expanse of the universe that makes you feel both small and great, you begin to hold inside you the paradox of being only a speck in the hugeness of God’s reality, yet the greatness of knowing you are part of that reality. David, a naturalist in his connection to God, expressed this in his psalm,

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place,

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

-Psalm 8:3-4

What is it

The Naturalist pathway is simply loving God outdoors.

The Naturalist pathway really is the best place to start my search for intimacy with God. It was the first pathway in the book, and perhaps the first pathway I used as a child to connect with God. Nature is one of the most obvious places to look for God, a source of natural revelation, as the theologians put it. Nature showcases God’s creativity, diversity, and power.

To connect with God this way, first believe, remember we are approaching God through His creation, not worshipping him as creation. Next perceive, keep your eyes and ears open as you allow God to speak to you through what you observe. Then receive, be open to God’s voice by laying aside your own agenda.

Notable examples

King David worshipped God through creation. As a shepherd he was familiar with the outdoors, and much of the imagery of nature shows up in his psalms. Jesus set aside time to pray outside, in the garden, on the lake, in the wilderness. And from church history, St. Francis of Assisi was well known for his time spent outdoors, the patron saint of animals and the environment. He was said to have preached to the birds and his feast day is still traditionally honored by special pet blessing services. I’ve never had my pets blessed, which might explain the dog’s behavior.

St. Francis preaching to the birds. They look like a captive audience.

St. Francis preaching to the birds. They look like a captive audience.

Actions and Reflections

As I have so often connected with God through nature in the past, you would think this would be an easy assignment, but I found it more challenging than I anticipated. Losing that childlike wonder of creation wasn’t because I had lost any respect for creation. On the contrary, the more I’ve learned about the earth, the more in awe I am of the God who designed it. No, losing that wonder at creation had more to do with getting busy and forgetting to stop and just sit outside. So this week I made a conscious effort to spend more time outside, taking my work breaks outside, going on my runs outside, without music in my ears to insulate me from the world, and even taking the dog’s in a few walks outside. June is the perfect month to get outside, it’s finally warmed up, but hasn’t reached the unbearable summer heat yet.

So I found a chunk of time and decided to find a lake in the area and to go watch the sunset. Have you ever had that moment where you get ready for God to speak, andheart nothing? Ok, I’ve got my Bible, my notebook, a lake, and a sunset; now you can talk, God. Ok, anytime. I’m just here waiting.

I didn’t get that lightning bolt of a worship experience. Not every connection to God has to be emotional or super meaningful or write-a-poem-about-it moment. I did enjoy my time outdoors this week. I feel like this is one way I connect with God, but not the main way.

After this experience, I want to continue taking advantage of opportunities to be outside. Spending my work breaks outside and walking the dogs were welcome breaths of fresh air (literally and psychologically). I also want to continue running without music when I’m outside. It’s not only safer because you can hear what’s going on around you, but it helps you focus more on the run. I would like to be more intentional about my thoughts as I run, as this is a good time to pray, and all around to develop running as a spiritual practice.

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Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Spiritual Walk

A few weeks ago I wrote about abandoning my daily devotions and the guilt that had come with that action in the past. I talked about finding a new way to connect with God and promised that as I explored these new pathways, guided by a book on the topic, I would share my journey with you.

Recently my pastor preached on prayer in Matthew 7 where Jesus promises that “everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” God promises that he will be found by those who seek. What a reassuring and timely message! Just when I am embarking on a quest to find intimacy with God, my pastor preaches on seeking and finding. I can only assume he has been reading my blog (It may also have something to do with the fact that he uses a preaching calendar and the Holy Spirit is speaking to me on Sundays).

With that reassurance, I was eager for my book to arrive, and it did arrive last week.

The book is Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. By the time I finished the first chapter, I knew I had found the right book. “Many Christians have found the traditional quiet time to be somewhat helpful in starting up a life of devotion but rather restrictive and inadequate to build an ongoing, life-giving relationship with God.” But going deeper with God doesn’t mean following a set prescription. We are all different, God rejoices in our diversity and rejoices in the diversity of our worship, “Good spiritual directors understand that different people have different spiritual temperaments, that what feeds one doesn’t feed all. Giving the same spiritual prescription to every struggling Christian is no less irresponsible than a doctor prescribing penicillin to combat every illness.”

Thomas gives 9 spiritual pathways which I will explore one by one. As I said in my earlier blog–feel free to take this journey with me. My goal is to do about three a month so that this series is wrapped up at the end of summer. I am going to follow the order he uses in the book. I will describe the sacred pathway, give examples of people in the Bible and Church history who have used this pathway, tell what specific actions I took, and reflect on how it did or did not affect my spiritual walk.

Naturalist: Loving God outdoors

Sensate: Loving God with the senses

Traditionalist: Loving God through ritual and symbol

Ascetic: Loving God in solitude and simplicity

Activist: Loving God through confrontation

Caregiver: Loving God by loving others

Enthusiast: Loving God with mystery and celebration

Contemplative: Loving God through adoration

Intellectual: Loving God with the mind