Sep 11 2015

Nature and Prayer Revisited

_CES2962I have a personal library of about 18,000 books. If I had to eliminate all but two I know which ones I would choose—a Bible and a hymnal. Hymns have played a vital role in my spiritual development and I’d be lost without them. Yesterday I was flipping through the hymnal my church uses (the Chalice Hymnal) and discovered a hymn I don’t remember seeing before. It is called God, Who Touches Earth with Beauty. This hymn, written by Mary S. Edgar, does a beautiful job of joining the themes of God, Creation and prayer together.  Here are the words: “God who touches earth with beauty, make my heart anew. With your Spirit recreate me pure and strong and true. Like your springs and running waters, make me crystal pure. Like your rocks of towering grandeur, make me strong and sure. Like your dancing waves in sunlight, make me glad and free. Like the straightness of the pine trees let me upright be. Like the arching of the heavens, lift my thoughts above. Turn my dreams to noble action, ministries of love.”

I think Edgar’s hymn can serve as a useful guide for “seeing Creation.” Throughout nature she finds things that direct her thoughts to God and she uses these images to inform and structure her prayers. Springs, running water, rocks, waves, and trees are all seen as visual aids for prayer.  In this hymn Edgar views God as someone who not only creates beauty but has the power to make our hearts anew.   She petitions the Creator to recreate her “pure and strong and true.” This is certainly a noble prayer. She also seeks greater purity and strength, an upright life and more lofty thoughts. I especially like her plea that God would turn her dreams to “noble action, ministries of love.”

_DSC9559Even though I’ve written about using nature as an aid to prayer before, I want to encourage you to consider once again how doing so can be beneficial. Recently I’ve been walking a couple of miles each day in the woods at our local state park. The trail I walk runs through a beautiful dense forest; there are trees everywhere.  A couple of days ago I found myself contemplating the trees.  I thought about how trees filter the air for us and provide shade.  Some produce food for us, others offer lumber or firewood. I can’t think of too many things that are more useful than a tree. Thinking about that, I asked God to make me useful too.

I also thought about the root systems of trees as I walked through the forest. Some trees send their roots deep into the ground while others spread them wide in more shallow soil. The trees that survive wind storms best are those with roots that run deep. Thinking about this I asked God to help me develop deep roots, or a strong foundation, that will enable me to endure the storms of life.

_DSC1366No matter where you live there are natural objects that can assist you in your prayer life if you will just pay close attention and listen for the Spirit’s promptings. This can happen as you drive your vehicle, take a walk, look out your window at home, or sit in a park. I’ve never encountered anyone who said they were satisfied with where they are in their prayer life. Perhaps this is what prompted Thomas Merton to once say when it comes to prayer we are all beginners. If you would like to strengthen or enhance your prayer life, let me suggest you consider intentionally using God’s Creation as a visual or audio aid. I have a sneaky suspicion this has been God’s intention for us all along.  And while you’re at it, make sure to offer thanks to the God who “touches earth with beauty.”

–Chuck

(I took the first image in the Ozarks and the bottom two in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Jun 26 2013

Nature and Prayer Revisited

CRG-fallsI have noted several times in the past that nature can serve as an aid for prayer.   I have even offered a number of biblical examples as well as some more modern ones.   Recently I came across a prayer in verse that I submit as yet one more example.   The following poem was penned by Mary S. Edgar:

WY-Grand-Teton-NP-Oxbow-Bend“God, who touches earth with beauty, make my heart anew; with Thy Spirit recreate me, pure and strong and true.  Like Thy springs and running waters make me crystal pure; like Thy rocks of towering grandeur, make me strong and sure.  Like the dancing waves in sunlight, make me glad and free; like the straightness of the pine trees, let me upright be.”

AZ-Canyon-de-Chelly-Spider-Rock-(v)I will admit that I’m not crazy about the poetic form of this prayer but there are a couple of things I do admire here.  First, I like the way Edgar begins her prayer.  So many of our prayers begin with a reference to heaven.  My own prayers typically begin with the words, “Heavenly Father.”  Since Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father who art in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer there is obviously nothing wrong with this.  It is both important and appropriate to remember God’s transcedence when we pray.  Still, as Christians we affirm God’s immanence, His closeness to us, at the same time.  God is not a distant God; He is near to us.  This immanence is conveyed is Edgar’s words “who touches earth with beauty.”  In God’s Creation we see and experience His handiwork; we see and experience His presence.

Another thing I like about Edgar’s prayer is how she uses natural features to illuminate her petitions.  The springs and running waters she sees move her to pray for purity.  The rocks or mountains beckon her to ask for God’s strength.    The waves upon the waters inspire her to seek God’s gladness and freedom.  The tall straight spires of the pine trees remind her of her own need for uprightness.   It is obvious that nature serves as an aid for Edgar’s prayer.  It can serve the same function for you and me.

BSF-Devil's-Jump-The reflections seen in a still lake or pond might cause a person to ask God to help her become a better reflection of Christ.  Observing the moon might move someone to pray that he will be able to let his light shine in a world filled with darkness.  The appearance of rain might cause one to thank God for the “showers of blessings” that are ours everyday.  The sight of leaves or flowers being blown by the wind could cause a person to pray that God’s Holy Spirit would move in the world at large.  The possibilities are endless.  In nature God has given us many aids for prayer.  These aids can help us as we seek to offer God our praise and thanksgiving.  They can help us make our confession of sins.  They can inspire our petitions.  If you’re looking for something to help your prayer life you may not need to look any further than the world around you.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, the second at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the third at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, and the fourth at Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in Kentucky.)