Worshiping WITH Nature (Rev. Tom VandeStadt)
“A tree glorifies God by being a tree.” Thomas Merton
There’s more than one way to interpret the phrase, worshipping with nature. We can say, we’re the ones worshipping and nature is the setting in which we’re worshipping, the inspiration for our worship, or the means by which we’re worshipping. But it’s we who’re worshipping, not nature. Or we can say, we’re worshipping and nature is worshiping. We and nature are worshipping together. Nature with us, we with nature.
I love worshipping with nature, when nature and I worship together. For me, that’s the most natural and spontaneous way to worship. It’s my favorite way to worship. I lead another kind of worship every Sunday morning in a building that separates the people worshipping from nature. Walled off from nature, this other worship feels unnatural, too artificial and contrived. In my soul I know much that’s essential is missing.
I’d rather worship with nature. For one thing, other than assembling my camping gear, I don’t have to prepare anything when I worship with nature. There’s no liturgy and sermon to write, no hymns to choose, no bulletin to format. When I worship with nature, I just show up and let nature take its course. In nature, worship happens naturally. Nothing is scripted. Awe, joy, love, gratitude and more naturally arise and I express them freely. In place of prepackaged hymns, prayers and sermons, it’s “Oh my God, that sunrise!”
Nature is naturally itself, and in nature I’m more naturally myself. Especially when I go for an extended time, sleep in a tent, hike up and down mountains, cook, eat and bathe outside, expose myself to the weather, watch the sun rise and set, let the dark remain dark, and keep silent most of the time. Just the dog and me. With the trees, mountains, water, sky, stars, critters and birds. All of us just naturally being who we are.
Thomas Merton wrote, a tree gives glory to God by being a tree. Each tree is a particular tree, a unique tree that will sink its roots into the earth and spread its branches into the air like no other tree. The more the tree is itself, the more the tree is like God. If the tree tries to be something else—a different tree, something other than a tree—then it’s less like God. Of course, Merton was writing about us. The more we are who we are—without masks or pretense, without trying to be other than who we are—the more we are like God. God is I Am Who I Am. We glorify the One Who Is by awakening to our natural self and being who we are. That’s worship.
You can worship with nature anytime. Nature glorifies God all day and all night. When I take off for the outdoors, nature draws me quickly into its worship. My dog and me, with the trees, mountains, water, sky, stars, critters and birds, all together glorifying the One Who Is by being just who we are. Natural and spontaneous, uninhibited and joyful. No pomp or ceremony, no reverent masks or pious incantations, no beliefs or doctrines. My favorite worship.