Today I have a special treat for you Diligent readers: a guest blog post on faith by my dear friend Sarah.
After a few adventures post-college, Sarah returned to western New York, the area where she grew up, to pursue her dream life. She spends her time farming, teaching nutrition/cooking classes, supporting community gardens, and making fabulous folky music with her band. Sarah was raised Catholic, and is actively involved in her local Unitarian Universalist church. When I asked her to write about what deepens her faith, she wrote about presence, connection, and finding peace in nature.
Here are Sarah’s thoughts on what deepens her faith:
Lately I have been feeling somewhat numb, a bit listless. Maybe I’ve simply grown lazy about bringing presence to my daily routine. Maybe this is part of my process of grieving a dear friendship I recently let go of. Whatever the cause, I’ve been leaving less space for growth, change, and surprises in my daily interactions. I’ve learned the hard way that the more I’m in the habit of living this way, the more subtly irritating it is to open up and allow space again.
Of course, allowing space for movement—surrendering—is the only way I feel alive and loving and myself. Sometimes it’s tempting to try and overthink myself back into a state of surrender. When I am lucky, I go outside instead.
The change that happens is immediate. Do you feel it, too? No matter which point of off-kilter I’ve wandered to, there is something that meets me there, enfolding me in a different way of being. When I come entertaining purposeless, mouse-chatter thoughts, my mind is filled instead with Real sounds: the wind engaging everything it meets. Waves meeting sand. Birds communicating. When I come drained and distant, all that moving and shaking rubs me on all sides, and I’m reminded that I’m a part of it whether I’d been feeling it or not.
This evening I took a walk by a Lake Erie beach, located a stone’s throw from my apartment. I’m always delighted by the strange texture of snow-covered sand under my boots. I soaked up the look of silhouetted branches against the sky at dusk. And I thought about the possibility that there shouldn’t be a distinction between my state of mind during “alone” time—nature time—and my time with others. When I am outside, I find myself free of expectations. (Who am I to expect nature to cater to my desires?) I don’t fear judgment. What is left is a state of openness to receiving. I’m observing what is, rather than anticipating what “should” be, or what used to be. That is a space I want to bring to every person I meet.
Why shouldn’t nature be a teacher for loving others more fully? After all, everything I encounter outside is interaction—things doing what they do, and making what they will with each other, and becoming other things without angst or second-guessing. I believe the modes I encounter and am invited into in nature—acceptance, presence, freedom—are a reflection of God, a face of God. When mental prayer starts feeling like I’m forcing it, I am honored to have such intimate access to Spirit by just getting off my chair and opening the door. Prayer sometimes feels like my own choice and action; nature makes it perfectly clear that if I’m moving with the Spirit, it is an act of grace. I thank God for the relief of being humbled.
Walking along the water, I crunched countless white mussel shells under my boots. The sand was covered with them. I thought about how crunching by creatures like me turns those shells into part of the sand. Some of that sand will end up in someone’s veggie garden, and the minerals will become part of their bodies. I thought of how some of the atoms in my body used to hang out in mussel shells, and trees, and birds, and wind. And I came to the thought that always makes me smile with relief: my body isn’t anything special. I’m subject to all the same cause-and-effect rules as everything else. We are all part of a humongous system that never stops moving things around and making things new. No matter what our Spirit experiences when this life ends, I find it awesome that our living bodies are all reincarnations of millions of creatures—every physical part of us is made of recycled stuff billions of years old. How humbling that we are not our own! For me, these physical realities affirm things Jesus told us about finding peace and reality in selfless love (love meaning unity, oneness, communing). Selfless love is the reality operating under the radar of our self-centered struggling, whether we chose to acknowledge it or not.
I halted my brisk walk and stood still, watching the rippling water. I was blessed by the reminder that it is easiest to watch God’s movement when I’m still.
I am grateful to Sarah for sharing her beautiful words! What reminds you to be aware of God’s presence, or to stay connected to the world around you? Where do you encounter the face of God in your everyday life? How does it feel to notice that you are part of the huge system of God-breathed creation?