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READING THE BOOK OF NATURE

READING THE BOOK OF NATURE

flower1Look at the birds of the air…
Consider the lilies of the field.
Matthew 6:26, 28

See-Dick-run. Run-Dick-Run.”  From the time I read those words in my first grade reader, I have been hooked on books.  “So many books, so little time!” has been my frequent lament.  But recently I felt compelled to lay down a book and to go outside and read nature.  It happened as I read my favorite poet William Wordsworth who chided me for reading too many books.  He warned that all that reading would make me fat:  

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double….

Then Wordsworth bids me to venture out into wide world of nature and to pay close attention:

Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives…
Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
(From: “The Tables Turned”)

I understand that Wordsworth was inviting me to watch and read what theologians have called “the book of nature”.   Christian theology asserts that there are two ways of knowing God, two books, two texts by which God reveals Himself to us:  the font of divine revelation in Scripture, and the world of nature.  John Calvin in his commentary on Genesis celebrated God’s revelation of Himself through nature’s book:

We see, indeed, the world with our eyes, we tread the earth with our feet, we touch innumerable kinds of God’s works with our hands, we inhale a sweet and pleasant fragrance from herbs and flowers, we enjoy boundless benefits, but in those very things of which we attain some knowledge, there dwells such an immensity of divine power, goodness, and wisdom, as absorbs all our senses.

Although Calvin and other theologians insist that God’s supreme revelation of Himself is through Christ revealed in Scripture, Calvin noted that nature is a “most beautiful book”.  The Gospels tell us of Jesus’ delight in the very beautiful book of nature.  Jesus showed his appreciation for nature in his parables and packed His teaching with images of nature.  Growing up in rural Galilee Jesus learned God’s care for His creation.  Jesus watched the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and the sower sowing on the hillside, and saw the Kingdom of God breaking forth.

I cannot read the Gospels without seeing that Jesus lived very close to nature.  He read the Father’s love written on every flower, every sunrise, and seed breaking the soil.  He knew that Abba cared about what happened to the sparrow.  So I wonder, what happens when followers of Jesus get separated from nature and the Divinity we can read there?

Writing in Your Nature on Brain, Harvard physician Eva Selhub and naturopath Alan Logan explore the most recent scientific research about the world of nature’s impact on humans.  In the book’s introduction Selhub and Logan write:

 Scientific researchers are investigating nature’s role in mental health at a time when humans are more distant from the natural world than ever before, an environmental context in which humans are increasingly becoming part of the machine…So far, the results suggest that we have completely underestimated the way in which the human brain is influenced by its physical environment and, in particular, by the elements of the natural worlds of water, vegetation and animals…Nature withdrawal is being driven, at least in part, by the lure of info-entertainment-rich commercial screens – the attraction of the screen and indoor video games, so-called videophilia, is very strong.  

The authors look at a great compilation of research and suggest that we are wired to crave nature.  They call nature a “visual valium” that can reduce stress and trigger creativity.  We do our best thinking and problem solving out in nature.  Reading Your Brain on Nature helps me better understand the long hours that Jesus spent in nature, the mountains He climbed, and the many prayers He offered in the wilderness.  We are learning quite a lot about nature’s effect on us, but what might nature’s effect be on us spiritually?  I wonder:

  • How might praying out in nature affect you spiritually?
  • How might choosing less “screen time” in favor of more nature time shape your spiritual growth?
  • How might trips to a botanical garden, a zoo, or a camping trip influence you spiritually?
  • How might gardening be a spiritual discipline?
  • How might bird watching or collecting wild flowers act on you spirit?
  • How might taking your work, study, or exercise out into nature more often help you grow in knowledge of God?

But enough of this!  Let’s go out and read some nature!

Grace and peace,
Tim

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