Those of us who have regular access to the beauty of the natural world may easily forget, or at least find hard to appreciate, the power of praying in nature. . . . There are multitudes of ways to pray with the natural world. My hope here is not to describe all of them but rather to point in a few directions from which you may proceed on your own.
The natural world surrounds you, and you can begin this prayer by noticing this world anew. The part of the country where I now live offers up some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen. Yet when I talk to people here about these beautiful celestial displays, what I sometimes hear is that they have stopped looking at them. So you can start by looking around. Perhaps you already take walks in a park or around your neighborhood. The next time you do this, look up; see the sky. Look at the trees or the flowers or even the weeds that struggle to grow through cracks in the sidewalk. Listen for the birds. Then draw your attention to the One who created all this. Ask God to make you aware of the presence of the Holy in all things. Realize that God is all around you. Ask yourself, Do I see Christ in the birds and hear the Spirit in the wind? As you ask the question, allow yourself to be drawn into the silence of prayer. Listen for the voice of Jesus.
Your relationship with food holds another opportunity for prayer with nature. Unfortunately more and more people relate to food the way a car relates to gas: They zoom into the service station, fill up, and zoom off. But your eating and meal preparation present rich avenues for prayer. As you prepare and eat a meal, take the time to think about your food. Everything you are eating came from the earth. Everything was nourished by the sun and the rain and the care of a person who spent many hours growing the food so that you might be sustained. Pray into these realities. Feel the love and the care that live in each bite you take. Allow gratitude to arise in you. This is what Francis felt as he wrote:
Praised be my Lord for brother wind,
And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind
By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures
nourishment. (Little Flowers, 117)
Maybe this attention will prompt you to notice and change unhealthy eating habits. Perhaps you will realize that you desire to eat more slowly, or you may want to take the time to eat and prepare fresher and more nourishing food. These desires reflect the presence of a loving God, of One who formed you from the earth and nourishes you with the earth.
A third way to pray with nature is to practice another type of prayer in a natural setting. You will likely find the presence of the natural world enhances and deepens your other prayer techniques. For example, while on a solitary hike, I often stop and spend time in silent prayer. I also use bike rides as a time to practice the examen after a Sunday service or a planning meeting. During these times of prayer, the presence of God in nature supports and reinforces my other prayer practices.
As you practice a variety of prayers in nature, you will find yourself more drawn to prayer whenever you are outside, when you are cooking, or any time you encounter the natural world. This tendency often develops when people are on retreat in a beautiful natural setting. As the retreat progresses, people spend more time outside walking in nature, sitting on the grass, or drawing a tree. The more the retreatants pray, the more they are drawn into the created world where they can hear God speaking to them.
From Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert. Copyright © 2003 by the author. Used with permission of Upper Room Books.
Photography by Aaron Burden / Unsplash