Nature and Wellbeing

Close your eyes for a moment. Relax. Sit quietly. Then, recall a time when, for you, everything felt right. For most people, this exercise returns them to childhood. Let yourself recall and describe the place where you were when you felt this way. You may be surprised to discover just how vivid and tactile the memory is. For many people this place will be outdoors and include a tree.

Those of you who actually stopped reading and engaged the memory exercise (I understand the compulsion) returned to a numinous place where heaven and earth intersect. The Celtic people called these “thin places.” Our deepest longings and highest hopes are built on the reality of such places.

Numinous experience isn’t so common anymore; not that it couldn’t be—we just tend to live in ways that preclude the possibility. The consequence is one of feeling empty, not-right, dislocated, and dissatisfied. And of course, emptiness needs to be filled up. Our consumer culture is very good at doing just that. All that filling up, however, fills in the thin places. Hungry for what cannot satisfy, we end up even more dissatisfied.

One of the ways of dealing with this dilemma is to return to that childhood memory. Where were you? What was around you when you did feel that all things were working together for good? Many people will say, “I was outdoors. I was in nature.” Cultural anthropologists tell us that we now spend ninety percent of our time indoors. We’re cut off from the places where we could feel well. Moving from house, to attached garage, to air-conditioned car, to work—we miss the sun, rain, and clouds. We’re experiencing what author Richard Louv calls nature-deficit disorder.

Louv is in the vanguard of those calling for a reconnection with nature. All the research is now indicating that some engagement with the natural world is necessary for healthy human development, for acquisition of social skills, and for spiritual formation. Not to be outflanked, our commercial culture is has responded by packaging nature as a product (you just have to pay for it): think Caribbean cruise, motor home, road trip (with Wi-Fi hot spots), or “greatest vacation ever!”

Reconnecting with nature won’t come “naturally” for us; we’re in a place that the Bible calls alienation. This is, however, exactly where the grace of God intercedes. For Christians, the Good News isn’t so much a formula as an invitation. The voice we hear from God says, “You’re going the wrong way. Turn around.” For us that turning might begin with a walk after dinner, bicycling to work, gardening …

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