The forest becomes a balm for my soul

One of the most important qualities for both writing and for deep spirituality is the ability to notice. I’m convinced this is true, definitely for the former and increasingly for the latter.

Writer’s block, to me, seems little more than the mind fogged over, clogged in a way, unable to process the story, or the setting, or the characters in anything but a cursory way. This inability to say anything piles on, stifling creativity, creating frustration. That’s a big reason why I find I need to go outside, not only to revel in the beauty of God’s creation but to also stimulate my own creativity by noticing, noticing something whether it be a tree or a bird or now that it is dark the stars.

I’m constantly amazed by my inability to grasp what I see, able to think there is nothing to see when I give a cursory glance. Still the same trees, still the same wee creatures, the same birds, the same plants, the same view on the horizon, the same view within. In moments of dullheaded impatience I say nothing because I honestly think there is nothing to say.

If I wait I slowly begin to see again. The forest becomes a balm for my soul and stimulation for my thoughts, gradually pointing out curiosities and expanding my ability to see anew. “Have you seen this?” the forest says, “Or maybe this?” “Have you looked at an inch tall cedar sapling, or noticed the new yellow wildflowers blooming?” “Did you hear that?” the forest suggests. “Was that a mountain quail, or maybe a flicker? What’s that raven doing flying around so acrobatically high above? Is it looking for something or just reveling in the fact it has wings?”

Questions are provoked, my soul’s inquisitiveness is stimulated, the clutter of unseeing is washed away by the sheer creativity of nature’s infinite complexity. Look at the broad scene of the forest with all the trees, or take a square inch patch of ground, anywhere, and see what wonders can be found.

This noticing is a Spirit gift, I think, and why it is so connected with a deepening spirituality. For the ability to notice, the ability to see, the ability to break through the lie there is nothingness is the very essence of a thorough thanksgiving. It is this thanksgiving which makes the difference between a celebratory faith and a pharisaic religion. “Do this, do that” becomes “Have you seen this?!” or “Look at that!”.

I suspect this is why nature is so much more an effective cathedral for me than any church building and why it is a balm for my soul provoking prayer, worship, and devotion. In it, surrounded by it, feeling it, seeing it, touching it, I am reminded of what to see and how to see and that I should see. I am provoked to see and in seeing God’s creation around me I am renewed in my ability to see God’s creation in me, God’s recreating in me through the Spirit in my inner life and in my outer.

This is the marvel, isn’t it? Look at that hummingbird fly by, land on the branch then hover before the feeder. Look at how God has shaped my life to turn me into someone he can use for his own purposes. Look at how grandly God is working through all of this world, steering and overcoming, stimulating and guiding, leading and helping people in circumstances entirely different than my own to all the same goals so we can find a gathered unity in his Spirit, from all different directions we worship the same direction.
That is a wonder. I am called to this wonder, able to participate in it, joining with the chorus of the Spirit’s substantive work, whether it be in the midst of a beautiful forest or in the throng of the communion of saints.

The Spirit who made the cedar, and the raven, and the chickadee, and all the beauty of everything I see when I go outside is indeed working in me to shape me into something beautiful, to shape all people into something beautiful compared to which even the seeming innumerable stars of the night sky cannot compare.

This is his work. This is his majesty. He doesn’t sit back and insist on a groveling, sad, dirty people. He doesn’t give the barest of gifts. He is the maker of beauty. He is the creator who is characterized by giving.

Too long inside, whether because of work or distraction or illness, and I begin to forget. I forget how to see. I lose my ability to notice, and have nothing to add in writing or in prayer because I honestly, in my dulled ignorance, think there is nothing to say.

Ah, but there is everything to say. The words can become endless in exploration of God’s infinite creativity. It is not a mark of God that I cannot be thankful or do not notice or lose sight of his work in this world or in my life. It is a mark of my occasionally sotted self. This is the true terror of sin. It blinds me, hides me, covers me. It dissuades me from noticing, it lies to me there is nothing to see and instead entices me to lash out at the nothingness of this boggling existence.

And so I step outside and let my mind go. I push myself past the lies to feel the stimulating breeze which massages the limbs of the trees and arouses my true self. I stare at the clouds or at a tree or at a single blade of grass. I listen to the birds or the squirrels, or other animals which might be about. I remind myself of this broader world, of the world which God has indeed creating which is not at all safe, we’re never promised that, but it is beautiful and it is deeply real. It is overwhelming and complex. There is so much to take in, so much to see, to the grandest of heaven’s stars to things so tiny they are beyond my sight.

Yet, this very complexity provokes my soul to notice, leading it slowly down the road from blindness to sight, to seeing more than I could have ever imagined. From feeling there is only nothingness to realizing the amazing qualities of a glance in any direction.

In seeing, in noticing, I am taken from my stupor into renewal of thanksgiving. Always noticing, always provoking, always stimulating, always pointing out new and beautiful and true is the work of the Creator Spirit.

In noticing I am led to thanksgiving. In thanksgiving I am led to prayer. In prayer I am led to hope. In hope I am led to faith. In faith I am led to love. And in love I am led to notice yet more, embracing the world as Christ loves it.

To think, I honestly thought there was little to say or to see. Silly me. Sinful me. Thank God for his continual salvation which brings me always out of darkness into the light.

This was written June 16, 2006

A few years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because these were written in 2006 and 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next 20 days or so.

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