Nurtured by Nature

Originally written by Cameron Abernethy for St John’s Church, Edinburgh

I wonder how many of us have sat or knelt down to pray and found our minds overwhelmed by distractions. It can be all too easy for our desire to pray to become lost within the demands of life. When I find myself in such a circumstance I go out from my flat and spend time in God’s creation. This can involve sitting in the Botanic Gardens, walking around Holyrood Park or gazing out over Newhaven Harbour. The change in place enables me to leave behind my many distractions and let my awareness settle on the present moment. Such direct experiences of nature reveal something of God’s goodness and grace expressed through the beauty of creation.

The psalms celebrate the wonder of God’s creation repeatedly and often employ powerful imagery from nature itself to explore our relationship with God. One useful technique is to take a psalm and spend time pondering its words within nature. Below are some suggestions for praying with the psalms, inspired by the surrounding creation.

Psalm 1: The righteous person is like a tree planted by streams of water.  Find a tree and take time to truly see this wonder of creation expressed in trunk, branch, stem, leaf, flower and fruit. Notice the areas of growth within your own life and consider what fruit might you be bearing.

Psalm 16: You have made known to me the path of life.  As you walk along a path bring to mind your own journey with God over the past few days, weeks, months or years. Allow yourself to notice those times of closeness with God and give thanks for them. Allow yourself to notice when God felt distant, or even completely absent, and be aware of what was going on for you then. Where are you on the journey with God at this moment?

Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Take a few moments to enjoy the sky, the clouds as they drift by, perhaps even the sun as it rises or sets. Let your mind wander as you drink in the very glory of God revealed in creation. Notice the feelings within your heart, the sensations within your body as well as the thoughts in your mind.

Psalm 42: Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Sit beside a waterfall or the sea and listen to the movement of the Spirit within God’s creation. What do you need to flow into your life from God? What is the grace you would ask for from God to pour into your life today?

Psalm 62: God alone is my rock and my salvation.  Take a moment to pick up a stone or a pebble and hold it in your hand. Let yourself become aware of its shape and how it feels in your palm. So often David found rest, security, shelter and safety within a rocky cave. Perhaps there is an area in your life where you need God to be your rock, to offer shelter and sanctuary to you. Talk to God about this as you hold onto the stone or pebble.