Jesus was praying in a certain place. (Luke 11:1)
We understand that, don’t we? Sometimes we just pray, we turn our thoughts towards God, wherever we are – in the car or at school or work or on Facebook or reading the news, whatever. But we also know about having certain places, special places, where we come to pray. We know that God is everywhere. But there are certain places where it’s easy for us to feel close to God. It’s easy to share our thoughts and feelings with God, and to listen for God’s voice in our hearts, and feel God’s love around us.
Some of those certain places are places like this – places made by people. Churches, temples, mosques. But some of those certain places are natural places. Humans take care of them and protect them, but their beauty comes from God, and from Nature, which is God’s.
Often, when I ask people where they feel closest to God, they say, In Nature. And they seem to feel a little guilty about it! Like they think it’s a bad answer. It’s not a bad answer! Christians have known for a long long time that Nature shows us God’s glory and love and power. It’s in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and there are voices all through 2000 years of Christian tradition that tell us we can meet God in the natural world.
We heard one of those voices a little earlier – Thomas Traherne, who lived in the 17th century. And he says, God made the world to be enjoyed, and God made you to enjoy the world; so it makes God very happy when you do what you were made for, by enjoying the natural world!
What’s your favorite thing in Nature?…
Have you noticed that in Nature, the more you notice, the more you find to enjoy and appreciate? When you look harder, or you learn more, it just gets more amazing, doesn’t it?
My friend B, who is a nature educator, introduced our Creation Care Task Force to the work of naturalist John Muir Laws. Laws gives us a really good definition of love: Love is sustained compassionate attention. Sustained compassionate attention.
Let’s unpack that. Sustained means you do it for a while. You don’t just take a quick look and then move on.
Compassionate means caring. It means you look at something with a warm, open heart.
And you know what attention means,because your parents and teachers use that word, don’t they? When something has your attention, your eyes are on it, and not just your eyes, but your mind too. You’re focused on it. You’re really there.
So: Love as sustained compassionate attention. You could absolutely apply that to other human beings – but right now we’re talking about love of nature. And the great thing about love is that, just like a child or a plant, if you feed it, it grows. Laws says, Every time somebody has an opportunity for sustained compassionate attention with a leaf, or a bug, or a tree, they fall in love a little bit more with the natural world.
And for us that means we also fall a little bit more in love with God, whom we know through the beauty and order and complexity of Nature.
Our Creation Care Task Force is still doing its work, but here’s one conclusion we’re reaching: We have a special gift and mission, here at St. Dunstan’s, to invite people deeper into love of nature, love of Creation. To offer ourselves and others opportunities to practice sustained compassionate attention. That’s where the gift of our grounds points us -and even our nave, where we are right now, where we can pray and sing and reflect while we look out at birds and trees and flowers and snow and rain. Where instead of stained glass, we have Nature’s beauty.
From here we went into this amazing exercise in sustained compassionate attention!