Hearing God in Nature

A hiking trip to Utah left me unexpectedly with a wealth of spiritual insights, as if God were speaking to me in the rocks.

You enter Arches National Park and then take a drive to the area where you want to get out of the car.  The drive is spectacular, worth the trip in itself.  Along the way there are three tall rock towers adjacent to each other.  To us the structure became The Three Wise Men from the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.  Their three heads seemed to us to be topped with crowns or headdresses and they seemed poised to worship.   After learning the official name, The Three Gossips, I felt glad to be so grounded in the biblical story that how I see and what I see is shaped by that story.

Having arrived late one afternoon when the park was closing early, we took a trail to an overlook to see the famous Delicate Arch.  What we saw was splendid.  But the next day we hiked to the arch itself.  I even stood under it.  Our appreciation of the arch and why it is such a favorite dramatically changed.  One could say we went from learning about it to being in it.  In the spiritual life the beginning of the life of faith has a luminous and wonderful quality, and yet it is only a shadow of what comes in the journey over time as the truth of the faith becomes a part of you.

Another area of the park was called Petrified Sand Dunes.  It looked just like wind-swept dunes of white sand.  But geologically they had hardened and rigidified into rock.  I felt warned by them to stay loose, open to the winds of the Spirit, never feeling certain that I had learned all there is to learn, never being so sure that I am right that I can’t learn from someone else, and never working so hard to be in control that nothing can be changed.

I found myself the whole time being awed by the majesty of God.

Queries:

On what is your faith life grounded?  What impact does that have on your everyday life?

What spiritual insights have you gained from non-church sources?

Prayer:

“Eternal and Immortal One, You have been our refuge in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, before You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are the Alpha and the Omega” (Psalm 90: 1-2, Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying).

For further reference:

“O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (See Psalm 8.)

“You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken….You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.  At your rebuke they flee.…They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.”  (See Psalm 104.)

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Chimney Swifts

At a retreat center at dusk on a September evening I saw chimney swifts flying in a circle the shape of an elongated doughnut, maybe the size of the stands surrounding half of a basketball court.  Their wings flapped very rapidly and they made lots of chippering noise, kind of squeaky.  Round and round they went above the center’s bell tower.  And then as they circled, the birds began to drop into the tower, one at a time.  It was a magical sight.

Long ago Chimney Swifts used to settle in hollow trees, holding onto the inside of the tree trunk because they are not able to perch like songbirds.  When the land was cleared and chimneys appeared, the Swifts adapted.  As I watched the birds, I couldn’t tell how they knew whose turn it was nor how their flapping flight stopped as they turned straight down to drop into the tower—one after another.  All I could conclude was that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Our creator is an awesome God.

It appeared that they depend on being in community.  The circling together seemed to create the conditions for them to be able to enter the bell tower opening one at a time.  They never pushed or shoved or rejected anyone.  There was room for all.  I think we humans also are created to be in community, in relationship.  Some Christians see the Trinity as demonstrating that point.  We are not independent, self-sufficient individuals.  We succeed best when we care for and cooperate with each other, when there is a place for all.  The individual survives best when the whole group thrives.

When the birds had all entered the tower and night had fallen, the loud chippering sounds we had heard became deep quiet.  I suppose they were resting or asleep.  Their behavior brought to mind the experience of entering into contemplative silence or into unprogrammed Quaker worship.  At the beginning our minds can be loud and chatty.  Gradually we center down.  And eventually we rest in the quiet, abiding in a God who loves all.

Queries:

What has led you to sing a song of praise of our Creator?

A time of busyness and activity and a time of quiet and rest are both important in our lives and faith.  How are those times balanced in your life?

Prayer:

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95: 1).  Spend time in nature, or in whatever lets you see God’s wonder and calls forth your praise.

For further reflection:

“ ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where you want to be, . . .  [Simple Gifts]

“Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.”  [Dear Lord and Father of Mankind]