Reading The Book Of Nature As A Spiritual Practice For The COVID-19 Pandemic
The forced isolation that comes with the Corona Virus Pandemic can be viewed as a gift when seen as an unprecedented opportunity for engaging in a variety of spiritual practices that require solitude. What if you thought of these days as the Jews consider the Sabbath—the most sacred of times? A time to cease, rest, reflect, delight, and pray. Using these days of self-isolation as a Sabbath to nurture your inner spiritual life will disarm fear, sustain hope, pull you into a solidarity with a suffering world, and prepare you to bring Jesus’ teachings to life when you reenter your everyday world. The Spiritual Practices we will be sharing in the coming weeks are mostly meditative and are specifically chosen because they are best observed in silence, stillness, and solitude.
All creation reveals God, so there is no greater location to encounter God than in nature. The following spiritual practice is called “Reading the Book of Nature” using the ancient prayer process of Lectio Divina. With this exercise, immerse yourself in nature and allow it to become your “monastery,” a place of ultimate solitude.
God’s Two Books
Evidence strongly suggests that God has given us two inspired books from which to learn His ways: the Bible, and nature. Tradition, personal experience, as well as two Scriptures back up this belief:
- 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
- Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have clearly been seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear we can see God’s activity and hear His voice in both Scripture and nature.
The Book Of Nature
The Bible and the life and words of Jesus are the full manifestation of the truth of God, but nature has much to reveal to us about God as well. Paul in Romans 1:20 makes it clear that God reveals himself in nature, and therefore, men are without excuse. The creation account in Genesis also makes it clear that nature is a manifestation and witness of God’s truth in the world. In fact, even God in observing His creation admires it. All of creation then is worthy of our attention, admiration, joy, and delight.
This is further verified through a careful reading of Holy Scripture which reveals that many of the most well known and loved stories of the Bible occur outdoors. And, that most of Jesus’ parables were set in nature and that Jesus’ favorite places to commune with God were on seashores, mountain tops, and gardens. Similarly, God followers throughout the centuries have read, delighted, and meditated on Holy Scripture, but many have also discovered that the book of nature can be read in a like manner.
Using Lectio Divina To Read The Book Of Nature
One of the great treasures of the Christian tradition of prayer is Lectio Divina, an ancient Christian form of meditative prayer that is being rediscovered and reclaimed in our time. Lectio Divina is a Latin term meaning “holy, divine, or sacred reading,” which is reading we believe to be divinely inspired. This tradition of prayer comes from a Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures which was called haggadah. Haggadah was an interactive interpretation of the Scriptures by means of the free use of the text to explore its inner meaning.
A post on restoringeden.org provides the following adapted process of Lectio Divina for praying in nature. Restoring Eden is a movement of like-minded people who see a strong connection between our Christian spirituality and our role as caretakers of creation.
The natural world has a variety of ecosystems, each a unique creation of God worthy of meditating upon. So, regardless of where you live, there are many places to choose from to practice Lectio Divina in nature.
Step 1. Lectio (reading)
When you come to creation, you immediately recognize that the natural world does not observe the same pace and rhythm as the hurried and harried modern world does. This is especially realized when you experience nature in a remote or rural location. Begin by being attentive to the natural order around you and its rhythms. Being attentive may simply mean observing the vegetation or animal life of the area and being aware of their intricacies.
In this step of Lectio Divina you typically read and mull over a specific passage of Scripture until it sinks deep into your heart. The same can be done in reading nature by focusing on a specific rock, bush, tree, insect, or animal that catches your eye. Or, by focusing on specific sounds in nature. Research from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School has shown that listening to nature sounds can positively affect our bodily systems and help us to relax. Focusing in on one specific aspect of the natural setting around you gently draws you into God’s presence and creates space where God can speak and act. You may find it helpful to use a journal to write down and organize your observations.
Step 2. Meditatio (meditation/reflection)
In this step ponder what you have seen, felt and heard, being attentive to what it means. Jesus uses nature as a metaphor in many of his parables. Using a metaphorical lens to reflect upon the natural object you have chosen is helpful to discerning the possibilities of what God might want to say to you.
Step 3. Oratio (response)
In this step try to pray spontaneously in response to what you have seen, heard, and felt. Allow yourself to dialogue with God, thanking and praising Him, lifting up your observations allowing Him to touch you and change you by His word.
Step 4. Contemplatio (contemplation/rest)
This final step is characterized by simply loving and focusing on God and His attributes. In Contemplatio you rest in God’s presence, assured of His hearing and responding to your needs and confessions.
You may wish to close by reading this quote from Wendell Berry: “The Bible leaves no doubt at all about the sanctity of the world that was made, or of creaturely or bodily life in this world. We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy.”
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Posted on April 21, 2020