This past week I started reading Malcolm Clemens Young’s new book, The Spiritual Journal of Henry David Thoreau. Like many nature enthusiasts, I have been a fan of Thoreau’s writings for several years. This book focuses on Thoreau’s spirituality.
According to Young, “For Thoreau, religious faith should be a joyful gratitude rooted in an appreciation for the gifts we receive. We perfect our lives by deepening our attentiveness to the beauty of nature.” As anyone who has ever read Walden knows, Thoreau was certainly a careful observer of nature. It was here he expected to find God. Thoreau more than once described himself as a watchman whose “profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature—to know his lurking places.” In another entry in his Journal he writes, “How to live—How to get the most life!….That is my every day business….The art of spending a day. If it is possible that we may be addressed—it behooves us to be attentive. If by watching all day and all night—I may detect some trace of the Ineffable—then will it not be worth the while to watch? Watch and pray without ceasing….If by watching a whole year on the city walls I may obtain a communication from heaven, shall I not do well to shut up my shop and turn a watchman?”
Thoreau’s call to attentiveness still needs to be heard. He felt that many Christians focused their attention so much on heaven that they failed to experience God here and now. That hasn’t changed. So many believers fail to see in nature a source of inspiration and revelation. They either don’t recognize or have forgotten that the Creator longs to make Himself known through that which He has made.
In one Journal entry Thoreau wrote, “God is in the breeze and whispering leaves and we shall hear him.” I thought about that yesterday when I was hiking in the Red River Gorge Geological Area. I’m convinced that God can be seen and heard by those who will remain attentive. It is my hope and prayer that I, like Thoreau, might be a good watchman who is “always on the alert to find God in nature—to know his lurking places.”
(Both images were taken yesterday at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.)