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Spiritual diary of sheltering in place: The lifeline of nature

Lynne Baab • Thursday April 23 2020

Spiritual diary of sheltering in place: The lifeline of nature

Last week I was talking with a friend in New Zealand about the huge soothing power of nature in these strange days. Because the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing fall right now, she talked about the joy of trees with red and yellow leaves. I raved about the yellow and white tulips in our yard that we have been bringing inside to enjoy.

Our local newspaper had an article a few days ago entitled, “Here’s a mental health tip to get you through coronavirus quarantine: Find tranquility in nature.” The subhead of the paper edition said, “To get past this crisis, tap into nature whenever, however you can.” The article cites professors from the University of Washington who describe “deep, compelling” research about the benefits of nature. They mention the phrase “nearby nature,” a helpful reminder that we don’t have to hike in the mountains or drive to a lake or beach to enjoy nature. I have been getting increased pleasure from the houseplants right here in my home office and the trees outside my office window. That’s definitely “nearby nature,” as is gardening, sitting outside on a balcony or in a backyard, or walking through our neighborhoods.

One of the interviewees quoted in the article, a psychology professor, argues that nature nurtures a feeling of connectedness that we definitely need at this time. We are not alone. We are part of a bigger whole, the amazing and beautiful world. He recommends taking walks or being outside with others to cement that feeling of connectedness.

A Christian perspective adds one more aspect of connectedness. Nature helps us experience our connection with our beautiful God whose creativity is reflected in creation. “O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent” (Psalm 104:1, 2).

Nature is soothing in rapidly changing times because of the gradual change of the seasons. The changes are largely predictable, with a few unknowns: Will this be a good year for roses? How early will the tomatoes be ready for harvest? The huge number of unknowns of this pandemic have thrown us so far out of our comfort zone. At all times, but especially now, the rhythm of the year and the (mostly) predictable patterns of nature are calming and restoring.

Nature is calming in another way, too. The awe, grace and beauty that nature evokes in us are the opposite of anxiety, so we have a respite from worry. Awe, grace and beauty point us to the One who will generously meet our needs and provide for us. “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal. . . . By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches” (Psalm 104:10-12).

The abundance of nature also helps our brains switch away from a scarcity model. Wikipedia describes a scarcity model as “the fundamental economic assumption of having seemingly unlimited human needs and wants in a world of limited resources. It states that society has insufficient productive resources to fulfill all human wants and needs.” The pandemic has precipitated a scarcity mentality in so many of us, evidenced by scavenging for toilet paper and stocking up on our favorite non-perishable food items.

Nature speaks of God’s abundance, so we can let go of our scarcity fears and rest in God’s generosity. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth. . . The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly” (Psalm 104:14-16).

I am writing this post on the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. I wrote a post last month about my gratitude for so many wonderful people and events connected with Earth Day, as well as my grief for the damage to our fragile home. So many Christians and others are stepping up to care for this beautiful world. As you take comfort from nature in these challenging times, pray for the advocates who work for the care of creation, and ask for God’s guidance about how you might join in.

“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
   In wisdom you have made them all;
   the earth is full of your creatures. . .
These all look to you
   to give them their food in due season. . . .
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
   may the Lord rejoice in his works. . .
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
   I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104:24, 27, 31, 33)

(Next post: more lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

I am still trying to get the word out that my book on midlife is now available for kindle. One of the spiritual paths recommended in the book is worshipping God the creator. A friend who read the book recently said that many of the issues raised by midlife are also common in these pandemic days – feeling off balance and out of control, experiencing unexpected tears and sleeplessness – so the book was helpful to her both for midlife and for life these strange days. It's available in paperback as well as kindle.

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