I was traveling by train from Germany into Austria, face practically pressed up against the muddled glass, neck craned. The Alps shot straight up all around me, so close that their towering peaks were mostly hidden from view. As my eyes took in mile after majestic mile of rock and tree, I was moved by their wild untamed nature.
I tried to imagine what this land had been like before technology and trains. I marveled at the spirit of man that had taken on this landscape and made it home. Even then, the rocky crags beckoned me into a wild adventure and spoke into my spirit. They reminded me that man was created to face and overcome challenges. Through these mountains I heard an invitation to embrace the life of adventure and challenge that God was placing before me. I heard the voice of God.
Speaking Your God Language
Have you ever had a similar experience of God speaking to you through nature? Perhaps you stood next to a mountain range and felt awe at God’s grandeur, or sat by an ocean basking in God’s peace and felt it enter your spirit.
For many people, nature is actually the primary way they deeply connect with God. Raised in Sunday School, I learned a simplified formula for growing closer to God. It went like this:
“Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
That little song held a lot of truth, but there’s more to the story. As unique persons, we connect with God in unique ways. These unique ways of connecting make up our spiritual temperament or “God language.”
In her book, What’s Your God Language?, Dr. Myra Perrine expands on nine distinct ways that people connect with God, from the activist who experiences God through confronting evil, to the traditionalist who encounters God through ritual and symbol. Try to picture intimacy with God as a destination on a mountain top. Now picture multiple trails leading up to that destination. Each God language, or way of connecting, is a separate trail leading to the same place.
I remember feeling confusion and even guilt back in high school when I didn’t connect with God through worship like other people experienced. I thought there must be something wrong with me or with my relationship with God. Now I suspect it was simply that corporate worship wasn’t the language God and I were speaking. God communicates deeply to my heart through beauty, quiet, grandeur, and parable in the natural world. I have a “natural soul.” In God language terms, I am a naturalist.
Finding God in Nature
The Bible is full of stories of people meeting with God powerfully in natural surroundings. I think of Moses and his burning bush in the wilderness, Elijah enduring earthquake and fire on a mountain top and finally hearing God in a gentle whisper of wind, and Jesus going up on a mountain to pray. Yes, even Jesus went to meet with God in the natural world.
Myra Perrine writes this of the naturalist:
“Something inside their souls comes alive when they are surrounded by God’s splendor in nature, be it the mountains, the desert, the plains, or the beach. For Naturalists, just being outside can dramatically increase their awareness of God, since witnessing the Lord in nature comes easily. They might see a massive rock formation and be moved to reflect upon the rock-solid faithfulness of God, or they might see His gentleness as a breeze blows through the trees, or they might sense while hiking in the heat of the day that God is an oasis who restores our dry, dusty souls.”
Is that you? Have you recognized this important part of who you are and honored it? If you’ve been living your spiritual life unaware, or not prioritized being in nature, you may be robbing yourself of the connection and encouragement God has for you.
Naturalist or Not
As a naturalist who lives in a big, noisy city, I need to get out sometimes. I try to connect with God at home through prayer or contemplation, but I still feel disconnected. In an age of increasing urbanization and technology takeover, it can be a lot of effort to pursue God in nature. Time away from life and tasks in the city can feel selfish. I need frequent reminders of the difference nature makes in my experience of God in order to keep it as a priority.
I’m a firm believer that nature doesn’t need to be your top connecter with God to be effective. Just as I can receive from God through corporate worship even though it’s not my main language, there are gifts in the space, silence, beauty, and symbolism of the natural order that can draw all of us deeper.
So the next time you feel a tug toward nature, how will you respond? Will you open yourself up to the possibility that this call is actually God’s special invitation to meet with you? Will you open your heart to hear what he has to say?
This summer — today even — I hope you’ll get outside and soak in the beauty of God’s creation. Spend a day away from your normal surroundings and travel to the beach or the mountains or just a field nearby. Maybe it’s enough to put some fresh flowers on the table or nurture a new houseplant. Either way, you’re invited to discover and experience God in a new way. I hope you will accept!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Megan Beehler lives in Long Beach, California, where she recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities. She is an avid hiker and hammocker who continues to be inspired by God’s creative wilderness.