…another “good thing”/ “God-gift” from our weekend at Pine Cove.
I am not a super-religious person, but I am becoming more spiritual on my life journey. I have “done” theology for years in my mind since attending seminary, and love to analyze and think about God. I have come to adopt a more Universalist approach to theology, though I continue to participate in many Christian traditions with my family and walk that path. When it comes to “feeling” God, I have long known that music is a powerful force in my life. I have also discovered that Nature, too, always reconnects me to God/ Life-Love-Source. And it is now one of my greatest joys to do “natural theology” with my children. I had this opportunity, this “gift” at Pine Cove with Michael James when we went on a “Prayer Walk” in the woods that had been prepared by the youth. 6 signs were strategically placed around the camp to draw our attention to different sights and sounds, guiding us to discover God through all 5 senses. The questions are the kind of “I wonder” open-ended questions that I always encourage parents to pose to their children to inspire creative, complex, and imaginative thought. Take the journey with us, and think of ways you can “do” natural theology with your own children if you want to expand their vision of “God” or just instill the value of thankfulness and gratitude for the many natural gifts that surround us every day – just in time for “Earth Day”!
1. We found a sign by a bench overlooking the lake. We took a seat, took a deep breath together, and looked at the water. We talked about stories from the Bible that have water in them: Jesus walking on water, Jesus telling stories by the shore, Jesus calming a storm, Moses parting the Red Sea. We thought sang the song “I’ve Got Peace Like a River in My Soul“. We talked about the many ways we use water, and gave thanks. We talked about how water is a sign for life because people can not live without it, and how we use this symbol in baptism, both of us having been sprinkled from the same font, 30 years apart. We talked about how many people can not just turn on their faucets for clean water like we can – the people in Haiti (where Daddy has been), the people in the rural villages of South Africa (where Mommy has been) who carry buckets of water on their heads from the river for washing, cleaning, drinking. We prayed that we might not waste water ourselves, but help to conserve it for the Earth, that we all might have enough. We didn’t quite get to the “discovery” of God in the water because MJ was so excited to hunt for the next sign, but here’s how it could go down….Gods love for us is “deep and wide” just like the water; we experience God’s love in many ways, just as H2O comes in many forms: rain, snow, mist, clouds, hurricane, brook, waterfall, in a cup, in swimming pool, in a tub, from a drinking fountain; the lake is made up of countless individual water molecules, but together, they are a powerful force that can create good or havoc on the Earth, kinda like the human family.
2. The next sign we found was in an open field. It invited us to lie down and look up at the sky. What do you see? What do you hear? What does it tell you about God? We lay spread out, side by side in the grass, fingertips gently touching. We noticed the clouds passing quickly and the tall pine branches and trunks swaying in the wind. We heard the song of the wind traveling from tree to tree, and birds. Just like the sky, Life is always changing, but God, like the air around us, remains a constant presence. When we feel dizzy and overwhelmed, we can always lie down and breathe in God’s love.
3. Another sign was by a big tree. The sign invited us to touch, study, hug the tree which MJ did with a big grin on his face. (I don’t have any pictures – this walk was about recording precious moments in my mind and heart, and they are there. The ones above were from other moments during the weekend.) We even named the tree, “Fred”. We gave thanks for the rain and sun that helped “Fred” to grow so that he can give us oxygen. We saw a felled tree in the woods, decaying and giving its nutrients back to the Earth for the benefit of other trees: the cycle of life, the connection of all living things, the beauty of transformation and non-endings. I noticed a smaller tree, and saw a rough patch on its little trunk. I thought about how though we as people can get pretty scraped up, bruised and battered by life on the outside, we still have LIFE flowing through us, like the green veins of chlorophyll inside the tree, producing green leaves, giving oxygen, reaching out to give us breath and more life in spite of hardship. (While I was deep in thought, MJ had moved on to the playground where another sign waited.)
4. The playground: Do you think God likes to play? We decided “yes”. I said that I hear God when I hear the laughter of children. Also, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In other words, we should all be more like children, and children like to play! What would you like to to invite Jesus to do with you here? Michael James said “this”, and began climbing the little rock wall. I reminded him that Jesus used to be a little boy once just like him, and I bet he would have thought that was lots of fun! Lessons for Mommy: Play more, look for God more in the delight of my children at play, play with my children more, inviting the Spirit of God, of Complete Love and Full Life, to be at play with us.
5. We ran hand in hand down the path, excited to find the next sign….”There it is! By the bridge!” A bridge helps a traveler to stay on the path, to get across difficult places. How is God helping you as a traveler on your path? How are you a “bridge”, helping others over difficult places? Keep it simple: God sends us people to love us, to comfort us, to hug us, to listen when we are feeling sad or confused. We can do that for other people, too. “Michael James, I have noticed that you are such a good friend to Ellie, giving her a hug when she gets hurt or is sad. You are like a bridge for her! Thank you, God for friends. Help us to be good friends for people.” Then, he ran as fast as he could across the bridge, listening to the pounding of his tennis shoes on the wood. I immediately burst into song, “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water…” On our way back across the bridge, we noticed a beautiful spider web – Wow! We talked about delicate and intricate it was, how amazing that an “Itsy Bitsy Spider” made that, how each web is different like snowflakes and people.
6. We didn’t find the last sign until the next day as we were loading up the car, and he was just thrilled when we did! It was near the parking lot in front of a lovely rose garden. We were to “smell” God, notice the different colors, and give thanks for the bees and sun and rain that helped the roses to grow. We walked around sniffing, and discovered a particularly fragrant pink bloom. “There are so many smells in nature! Isn’t that amazing? Thank you God for our noses!” I taught him the phrase, “Stop and Smell the Roses,” and what it means. As we were walking away, hand in hand, I said, “Thanks for stopping to smell the roses with me!” (MJ is a great model for this metaphor of slowing down to notice good things. He is my little “Ferdinand.”) Then we spotted a brown baby toad hopping in the grass. I caught him in my hand, and we studied the terrified little guy for a minute, then MJ put him in his pocket to take him back to the cabin and show him to people. We were talking about how we even found God in a frog! Then, he decided the frog was probably too scared in his dark pocket, and released him back into the woods. And here’s the best lesson from the “Prayer Walk” – everyday, I get to discover God in my children! Now that’s a “good thing.”