It has gotten quite hot here at this old house. A friend and I went out Plein air painting this morning. We were out in the east part of the county around some mini-lakes with a lovely view of the mountains. We found a spot under a covered picnic pavilion where there was a nice breeze so we were fairly cool and bug free. Since West Nile has returned to Boulder County, I needed to pay as much attention to the presence of any mosquitoes as I did to my art work. My friend is a semi-professional oil painter; I am a visual artist wannabe. I have a lot to learn and my friend is very generous in her advice.
There is something special about being outside while doing an activity. Working in nature always makes a mundane task feel more special. Think of a picnic vs. eating at your kitchen table. The fare at the picnic may be less elaborate but somehow it tastes better. Nancy Roth in “Awake My Soul!” quotes the environmentalist David Orr who said that “we are bound to living things…by ‘biophilia’ [which means our desire to be connected with the rest of life in the natural world], which begins in early childhood and ‘cascades’ into cultural and social patterns.” With the alarming decrease in the amount of time both children and adults spend in nature, a crucial connection with the rest of life is being weakened or even lost.
Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to describe symptoms found increasingly in children who rarely if ever “play outside” and, in some cases, are showing signs of behavioral problems. These problems include a lack of respect for nature. See, for example, the increasing evidence of graffiti in National Parks, an area a few years ago people would not dream of defacing. Or a lack of compassion for wild animals and their habitat requirements. It is thought by some, as well, that depression and attention disorders can be due to a lack of regular interaction with nature.
This is all rather controversial and not everyone agrees with the diagnosis or the symptoms. However, Nancy Roth pointed out that many people “find God” in nature. My question is if nature is less a part of people’s lives, due to fear of strangers, a general inertia in life or an overzealous desire to protect wilderness that makes it hard to interact with unspoiled places, might that impact one’s ability to even ask God questions? The Desert Fathers and Mothers saw Creation as a “Scripture” equal to that of the Bible. They spent time meditating on creation as much as on Scriptural texts because they believed that God’s handiwork taught them a lot about God, themselves and others. If one is disconnected from nature, doesn’t that leave out a huge portion of the text about God’s work in the world?
Suddenly, being in nature is more than “fresh air and exercise”! It becomes a way of learning about God, ourselves and the world. If we don’t spend much time with God’s creation, are we losing something important to our faith formation? Is it stunting our children’s growth in faith? Meanwhile, Psalm 19 continues to remind us that:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
The question for us today is, will we come to know that voice of Nature praising God for ourselves?