It’s summertime, and in the northern hemisphere that means warm—often hot!—weather, longer days, balmy nights. In fact, it’s just the right time to be outside more. We do cookouts, we lie on the grass and contemplate the stars, we swim and hike and do all the things that, come January, we’ll remember with more than a little nostalgia.
It’s natural in summer to feel closer to nature—after all, we spend more time outside in the midst of it! And nature, in turn, can help us feel closer to God.
This isn’t accidental. God created the earth and, we are told in scripture, noted that it was “good.” And throughout the Bible we’re constantly aware of nature, as book after book of both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament talk about the skies, ocean waves, breezes rustling through trees, fields and flowers, and birds that sing cheerfully. Jesus reassures us that our Father in the heavens always cares for the little sparrows.
Nature reveals God’s beauty, creativity, glory, power, wisdom, presence, and—most of all—his loving care. While the wildness of nature can often feel daunting, it’s its gentleness that we love and where we most feel God’s presence.
When we think of people who expressed their closeness to God in nature, the first name that comes to mind is that of Saint Francis of Assisi. And he left us many lyrical accounts of his relationship with God through creation:
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessings. To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You, my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and fair and stormy, all weather's moods, by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial. Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they she finds doing Your will. No second death can do them harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks, and serve Him with great humility.
While Francis of Assisi comes to mind right away, many people are unaware that Henri Nouwen also praised God’s work in nature:
When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God’s creation, waiting eagerly to be “brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God” (Roman 8:21), we can only stand in awe of God’s majesty and God’s all-embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom.
In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us. Yes, we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snowcapped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God.
Both Francis and Nouwen know that we are closest to God when we are in nature. And nature has brought the unlikeliest of people to God: in The Pathfinder, James Fenimore Cooper writes, “Look about you and judge for yourself. I’m in church now: I eat in church, drink in church, sleep in church. The earth is the temple of the Lord, and I wait on Him hourly, daily, without ceasing, I humbly hope.”
The earth is the temple of the Lord. Go out there, and fall in love with it!