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.”


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

Jan 26 2011

The Song of My Heart

Chimneys 115I have often told people that if I had to be stranded on a deserted island and could only have two books with me I’d choose the Bible and a hymn book.  God’s Word and the hymns of our faith have been my greatest source of instruction, comfort, joy and inspiration.  While looking through the hymnal we use at my church, The Chalice Hymnal, I came across a hymn I’ve never seen before.  It is called Mountain Brook with Rushing Waters and was written by William W. Reid, Jr.  I have no idea if it has a nice tune or not but I think those who read will find, as I did, that the words have a tremendous message.  The four verses of this hymn read:

Mountain brook with rushing waters, eagle perched in lofty tree, flowering hillside in the springtime, white-tailed deer alert and free!  Beauty, beauty all around us!  Jubilate!  Sing for joy!  Help us, God, preserve earth’s splendor for tomorrow’s world to see.

Pure the water freshly flowing toward its ocean destiny, clean the air of God’s creation, rich the soil, the mine, the sea.  ‘Earth is good!’ God’s word proclaimed it.  Jubilate!  Sing for joy!  Save us, God, from wasteful living, from pollution’s tragedy.

Waving fields of wheat and barley, giant apples juicy red, cattle grazing in the pasture; by God’s bounty we are fed!  Well supplied the world around us!  Jubilate!  Sing for joy!  May no greed or warring madness scorch the earth or rob our bread.

Keep us faithful in the struggle to conserve earth’s threatened store as we fight to save the forest, clean the stream, protect the shore.  God and humans work together, Jubilate!  Sing for joy!  Partners working till as stewards we can say, ‘Earth’s good!’ once more.

I like all the references to nature in this hymn but especially appreciate the petitions included.  The song asks God to help us “preserve earth’s splendor for tomorrow’s world to see.”  In the second verse God is asked to save us “from wasteful living, from pollution’s tragedy.”  The petition in the third verse is “May no greed or warring madness scorch the earth or rob our bread.”  All three petitions are ones we ought to pray on a regular basis. 

I don’t know if this hymn gets sung in many churches or not.  I have a feeling it doesn’t.   I do know, however, that it is the song of my heart and suspect it is for many of you as well.  In the end it really doesn’t matter whether we sing this hymn or not.  What matters is that we live it.  May God help us all do just that!


(I took the image above a couple of weeks ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)