Day 3 Divine Encounters in Nature
While it is true that the church and much modern day religion has become obsessed with words and buildings, the Bible is actually full of divine encounters that take place within the natural world. For example, Moses encountered God before the burning bush; Jacob wrestled with, and received God’s blessing, by the river Jabbok; the Prophet Elijah heard the “still small voice” while sat in a cave; Paul had his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus; Jesus visited mountain tops and desert places to commune with his Father; and the disciples witnessed Jesus transfigured in a deserted place.
The Bible is full of stories of people encountering and experiencing the Presence of God and angels in the natural world, far more than in temples or places set aside for worship. It is predominantly outdoors, in the midst of life in all its myriad forms, that divine encounters took place, that people came face to face with the holy.
The spiritual writer Christine Valter Paintner speaks of the Earth as being the original cathedral, temple, or church; that long before we began to worship God, and seek God’s presence, within buildings we set aside for such things, it was within the natural world that worship, prayer, and divine contemplation took place.
Sadly, over the centuries we seem to have forgotten this and we have narrowed our relationship with God down to particular places and rituals. Now, some of my favourite holy places are churches and chapels, and places built for retreat and prayer; but if they become our only places of holy encounters we miss out on a great deal. Hills, rivers, valleys, woods, fields, gardens, parks, mountainsides, coastlines, caves, wild and desert places, are all beautiful places of worship, prayer and contemplation. If we limit ourselves merely to buildings, as beautiful and holy as they may be, we miss out on a vital aspect of our relationship with God.
My daily walk up into the woods is just as important to my spiritual health as my prayer and meditation in church. The natural world is a window into God, a doorway we can step through into the holy.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.
Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight –
why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look,
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said.
“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Wherever you go today spend just a little time to just
stand still, breathe deeply,
and listen to those words of Moses to God:
“the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Reflect on times when you have been out and about in the natural world
and suddenly been aware of God’s Holy Presence.
What is your Burning Bush Moment?
The Bright Field by R.S Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.