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Over and around

24 October 2014

Let the beauty of the earth, God's creation, inspire your prayer, says Daniel Wolper

WHEN I ask people where and how they experience God, most of them will tell me a story about being in a natural environment. Whether it is a sunset, the view from a mountain, or the song of a bird, people see, hear, and feel God through God's creation.

Recognising God's presence in nature does not mean that the things of creation are God. Obviously, a tree is not God: first of all, a tree doesn't do much other than be a tree; and, second, when the tree dies, we do not say that God is dead.

There are multitudes of ways to pray with the natural world. The natural world surrounds you, and you can begin this prayer by noticing this world anew. The part of the country where I now live offers up some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen. Yet when I talk to people here about these beautiful celestial displays, what I sometimes hear is that they have stopped looking at them.

Perhaps you already take walks in a park or around your neighbourhood. The next time you do this, look up; see the sky. Look at the trees or the flowers. Listen for the birds. Then draw your attention to the one who created all this. Realise that God is all around you. Ask yourself: "Do I see Christ in the birds and hear the Spirit in the wind?" As you ask the question, allow yourself to be drawn into the silence of prayer. Listen for the voice of Jesus.

Your relationship with food holds another opportunity for prayer with nature. Unfortunately, more and more people relate to food in the way a car relates to fuel: they zoom into the service station, fill up, and zoom off. But your eating and meal-preparation present rich avenues for prayer.

As you prepare and eat a meal, take the time to think about your food. Everything you are eating came from the earth. Everything was nourished by the sun and the rain and the care of a person who spent many hours growing the food. Feel the love and the care that live in each bite you take. Allow gratitude to arise in you. This is what St Francis of Assisi felt as he wrote: "Praised be my Lord for brother wind, And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather, By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment."

Maybe this attention will prompt you to notice and change unhealthy eating habits. Perhaps you will realise that you desire to eat more slowly, or you may want to take the time to eat and prepare fresher and more nourishing food. These desires reflect the presence of a loving God, of one who formed you from the earth and nourishes you with the earth.

A third way to pray with nature is to practise another type of prayer in a natural setting. For example, while on a solitary hike, I often stop and spend time in silent prayer. I also use bike rides as a time to practise the examen after a Sunday service or a planning meeting. During these times of prayer, the presence of God in nature reinforces my other prayer practices.

As you practise a variety of prayers in nature, you will find yourself more drawn to prayer whenever you are outside, when you are cooking, or any time you encounter the natural world. This tendency often develops when people are on retreat in a beautiful natural setting. The more the retreatants pray, the more they are drawn into the created world where they can hear God speaking to them.

This is the last of four edited extracts from Creating a Life with God: The call of ancient prayer practices by Daniel Wolpert (BRF, £7.99; CT Bookshop £7.20); 978-0-85746- 244-2.

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