The prophet Isaiah writes,
10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
… and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
I am standing in Gillies Grove, Arnprior, right in the middle of an old-growth stand of Hemlock and White Pine trees beside the tallest tree in the whole of the Province of Ontario – measuring 47 metres (147 feet) high and more than 100 centimetres in breadth.Right here.
It’s one of my favourite places because it makes me feel what the prophet Isaiah expresses about how we grow, and that the end result of that growth is unmeasured joy.
Jesus told a story about tiny seeds growing from the ground.Here, I see Jesus describes, using the image of a farmer planting seeds, our healing, our growth, and our transformation. Our hearts are home to the seed of God’s truth and love whose purpose is to grow and bear fruit.
But, he also speaks of the conditions that can inhibit our development and growth. Not all the seeds can grow to their fullest because the condition of our hearts do not make it possible.
As Christians, our sickness of the soul comes from a profound lack of love in our lives – love for self, love for another, love for creation and love for God.
How does love grow from our hearts? How do we heal the wounds and put down the barriers of hate, mistrust and greed that block the flow of God’s love through us?
In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic crisis, Richard Rohr recently said, “Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness.”
During this time of social distancing from other humans, it is still possible for some of us to go outside. In truth, for me, making a connection with the beauty of creation out of doors has kept me sane, grounded, and connected with God. I have seen more people outside sitting, walking, visiting, exercising than ever before. I have a feeling we will all have a newfound appreciation for the outdoors when this time of “sheltering in” is over.
Fifteenth century Swiss physician and philosopher of the German Renaissance, Paracelsus, asserted: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”
Perhaps in a time of great rate of change, we can discover fresh ways of being in tune with ourselves, with others and with God by connecting a little with the wonder of creation.
In closing, I’d like to lead you through a short, meditation you can practice next time you are outside.
“The invitation is simple: Walk slowly [or sit still], while silently noticing what is in motion in the forest. There is always movement, even when things seem perfectly still. Strands of a web drift in the air, trees move in the breezes, birds fly by, and squirrels scramble in the branches, grasses bend, insects crawl. . . .
[Notice these subtle movements] until you become accustomed to it.
Walking slowly [or sitting still] for more than a few minutes is, paradoxically, stressful. . . .[Normally, our minds and our bodies are going at high rates of speed, so slowing our minds down can cause us anxiety because we don’t know what we will find there. But] … because the mind and body are a single entity, slowing our body will also calm our mind. . . .
The eternal movement of the forest gives our minds something to engage with. Just as with sitting meditation the breath is always there and available for watching, in the forest there are always things in motion. Your mind will drift, and many other thoughts will arise. When they do, gently bring your attention back to noticing what’s in motion.
When you find you have automatically sped up, come to a complete halt for a moment. It’s an opportunity to fully give your attention to one thing, noticing how that thing is in motion. After a brief pause you’ll be ready to continue your slow walk.
I recommend that you walk [or sit] like this for at least 15 minutes. That’s enough time for your mind to go through several cycles of distraction and calming.”
Like in the storytelling of the scriptures, being in nature is an actual experience of true presence. Some have suggested that creation was the first bible.Saint Paul wrote in the opening chapter to his letter to the Romans, that “Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature … have been understood and seen through the things God has made.”
By ‘reading’ creation and focusing our attention in nature we can grow in appreciation of God’s truth and love. Because we experience it for ourselves. We feel it in our bodies. Creation thus offers us a wonderful expression of God’s love and truth growing in us.
Richard Rohr, “Love Alone Overcomes Fear: A Message from Richard Rohr about COVID-19,” Center for Action and Contemplation (March 19, 2020), https://cac.org/love-alone-overcomes-fear-2020-03-19/
Paracelsus, in Selected Writings (Princeton University Press: 1988), 50.
M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature (Conari Press: 2018), 34–35.