BEING with Nature

 “In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir[1]

When I was younger, my friend and I would shoot birds out of the trees.  After night church, me and the pastor’s son would shine flashlights up into the trees and shoot the birds with our pellet guns.  It pales in comparison to what we pay for others to do in factory farms these days, but it was still cruel!  Before I had a pellet gun, I burned ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.  It was just part of being a typical kid in the time and place that I grew up.  I’ve given up hunting all together, but there is a part of me (even as a vegan), that still respects hunting for food. 

So, given my past, it surprised me the other day when I was warming up my car and listening to a bird singing.  It was most likely the same type of bird that I pelted with lead not that many years ago.  I realized that this bird is the first thing I hear when I awake every morning.  It is most likely a robin, because this pair have been building a nest about 10 feet from our bedroom window for the past few years.  The first year, we watched them build the nest and now they come back every year to tidy up and get ready for the new arrivals.  It’s pretty exciting and we look forward to it every year.  It’s not only one of the signs of Spring, but it’s an example of new life!  I like to think they trust us, but we know they are mostly just doing their thing and trying not to get eaten by another animal. 

The rabbits and squirrels are a little more elusive.  Every once in a while, we see the squirrels scamper across the porch or chase each other up a tree.  The bunnies move around and don’t let us see them too often but we appreciate it when they do.  There is a family of foxes in town, the occasional snake and the moles that migrate around just below the surface.  In our area, it would be easy to spot deer, wild turkeys, racoons, opossums, and coyotes. 

The main thing I miss about hunting is sitting in a tree stand in the very early morning.  As the sun would creep up to the horizon, the animals would make themselves known.  Before the white noise of civilization rang out, the birds began their singing.  As light began to emerge, the creatures that roam the land began moving.  Some were gathering food, some were coming home from the night’s hunt, and others took flight from their perch just above my head. 

There is great diversity in nature, but there also seems to be a steady rhythm.  It is almost like a drumbeat—it is persistent and predictable.  Nature doesn’t have to be coerced into living.  It follows an ancient pattern that seems to me like authenticity.  Everything I observe in nature has this in common:  every part seems to know what it is and where it is.  Nature doesn’t long to be somewhere else or to be something else.  It is in session with the present and at peace with its identity.  These two things are what I long for – presence and authenticity.

When the robin’s nest was dislodged last year, we helped them re-establish it.  But even before we were able to help, they had already begun rebuilding.  Nature reacts to disturbances and changes, but not with a panic or despair.  It simply alters its course or adapts.  The fact that we have a dog drove the moles out of our yard, but I’m sure they simply relocated.  The rabbits moved nearby for the same reason.  I’m mindful that everything I do on my property affects the parts of nature that are there.  But nature doesn’t seem to get angry or depressed.  It seems to adjust its course without missing much of a beat.  I don’t always respond this well to change.

Another interesting aspect of nature to ponder is the soil.  In the dirt and clay and sand that lays beneath my feet are all the nutrients for most of living things on this planet.  As plants grow down into this “earth,” they draw up into them the vital minerals and vitamins that they need.  Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, and other minerals are all there ready to be extracted and used by all of creation.  The amino acids that form into proteins, the carbohydrates that break into energy and the phytonutrients that provide fuel and function to most everything here, is found in this soil.  But how does it get there? 

This question led me to my compost pile.  I keep a container near my back door.  It is where we discard all our plant scraps including peelings, expiring fruits and vegetables and anything plant-based that we can’t use any more.  It reduces our trash load and eventually get’s moved to an upside down bucket that serves as our compost pile.  I mix in some leaves and yard waste and even our coffee grinds and over time, the waste becomes something useful—dark rich, compost that feeds the soil.  It’s a small model of what happens naturally all over the world.  When things die, they are acted upon by nature and repurposed into life giving forms.  You might call it the circle of life, but to me it seems like one big choreographed dance.

To observe nature closely is to understand this parade of life through all its being born and dying and we briefly catch a glimpse of how death leads to resurrection and resurrection to new life.  I often resist change, but change is not only probable, it’s imminent!   Change will happen naturally, and nature is only delayed briefly by the disruptions.

Recently I started sprouting again.  I buy sprouting seeds from the internet that are made of broccoli, radishes, clover and alfalfa.  It is called “broccoli and friends.”  I put some seeds in a jar and keep them wet for a few days, and like magic it turns into these little tiny plants that are chocked full of nutrition.  When I watch this happen, I see the Divine contained in that little seed that quickly becomes a highly nutritious (and very tasty) sprout.  What I know from research is that all of the potential for that entire plant is found in that tiny little seed.  As scientists probe deeper into molecules, they find this majesty deep within all things. 

To be honest, I wrestle with whether a holy being would require worship.  I just don’t see God or the Creator or Source being that needy.  I think if any being is self-assured, I think it would be the one that created all this.  Most of nature doesn’t wait for approval before it proceeds.  Only those that we domesticate and tame seem to have the same delusions as us.  The plants and animals don’t have to have praise to continue doing what they do.  My assumption is that the creator of these beings simply IS and that is enough.  If the accounts are right, the revelations of God reveal him to say “I am” several times.  To exist is not only what matters, but it is enough. 

So, nature brings me back to a simpler and richer mode of existence.  It reminds me that being where I am and who I am is not only enough, it is also magical and mystical and teaming with life, death, resurrection and then new life once again.  As I start another new day, I have heard the bird sing.  His song leads me out into the yard where I catch a glimpse of one of the creatures doing it’s thing.  I peer down at the soil, and just for a moment, my mind is able to almost comprehend the universal and cataclysmic dance of the universe.  That’s where I find humility these days – that’s where I find truth – it’s where I draw energy – its where I find life!



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  3 comments for “BEING with Nature

  1. April 10, 2020 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic essay! Two quick points:

    First, I’ve heard many hunters say experiencing nature is a major reason they hunt. I’m not against all hunting, but I suggest they replace their guns with cameras. You get the nature experience and everybody lives! : )

    Second, I think worshipping God actually enhances God’s well-being and ours. I don’t think it’s all about God needing His/Her ego stroked. But as a relational theologian, I think what we do affects God. And worship — done well — has positive benefits for our own well-being.



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