The Holiday Season is one of gift-giving, from Christmas to Hanukkah, and of course, as Christians, we know that the greatest gift of Christmas is the birth of Christ, God incarnate.

But what of God’s other great gift, this amazing, life-filled planet? As a naturalist and a Christian, I am sometimes dismayed at how other Christians treat this gift as if it were not very important. While Christ is extremely important to our lives, if you think about it, Christ would not matter at all if we did not have a place to live or if life was always a struggle to just stay alive.

Chuck has often talked about the “second book of God”, nature. Think about it. The Bible had to come through people and then translated for most of us. As my friend and pastor, Dr. Paul Spaulding says, the Bible is the word of God but it can never be the words of God because of translation, etc. But nature comes directly to us from God, not through any intermediary. And there really is no reason why nature has to be so amazing or so beautiful other than this is God’s creation — God can be seen as the ultimate artist.

And what a gift His art is. I think this goes way beyond icons like Yosemite or Yellowstone. There is amazing beauty in the smallest of landscapes, in the smallest of creatures, if we are simply open to it. And there is stunning beauty in the way the natural  world works in every ecosystem.

There is actually a lot of research now about how important nature is to us. Connecting with nature gives us an increased attention span, a better memory, reduced stress, an improved mood and greater creativity (sources for this research are in the December issue of Outside magazine). What wonderful gifts those are. Imagine if you could have gotten a gift of reduced stress, an improved mood and greater creativity under the Christmas tree. Yet those gifts are here for us at any time. And the research says that this is not about going to Yosemite or any other distant location. These gifts are freely available anywhere there is nature, including our own backyards if we are open to them. The images here are, from the top, a native bush poppy in my garden, a gulf frittilary butterfly caterpillar on a passion flower vine in my garden, and a simple swampy area in Maine in spring showing skunk cabbage.    — Rob