Best Ways to Pray in Nature

Meditation Monday

by Christine Sine
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by Christine Sine

Creation sings, giving glory to God. It’s easy to imagine this while out hiking in majestic mountains or watching the explosion of color as the sun sets over the ocean. But it happens all around us, every day, every moment, if only we’re alert enough to notice. One way to hone our sense of wonder as we join with creation in praising our Creator is to discover this symphony of worship in our own backyards or neighborhoods. or local parks and green spaces.  Even a concrete jungle has greenery popping up between the cracks. It’s Earth Day, and many of us are wondering how to best celebrate. Getting out into creation to pray might be the way.

The garden is my sanctuary and, in it, God beckons me to draw near.  However the suggestions below could easily be applied to your favourite park, nature walk, beach or even to an urban walk where you notice the “weeds” growing up through concrete or in vacant lots. 

Last week I shared a couple of possible practices for walking through nature and alighting our lives more fully with the presence of God in nature. Lectio Tierra and Leaf Rubbing are some great ways to help us pray as we enter God’s world. However there are lots of other ways that the garden, neighborhood walks and forest wandering can stir us to pray. 

Experiencing nature with all of our senses can provide doorways  into this ongoing celebration of God.

Lectio Tierra: This was the focus of my post last week. This is really a simple way to pray that works well in the garden, in the neighborhood, or surrounded by nature in a forest. In the garden I simply wander around asking what God would like to speak to me through. It could be the splashing of birds in the birdbath, a particular flower or vegetable, or a worm wriggling around in the moist soil. The point is to find that element in the garden that seems to catch your attention, stop and take time to observe it. Try to discern its story.  Discover the intersections of that story with your own, and sit with this common message from God shared with another of God’s creation.

Star Gazing: There’s something special about going outside on a cloudless and moonless night and looking up into the heavens. This is a delight that many discovered during the COVID lockdown when we were not allowed to wander far from home. Unfortunately in the city the lights often obscure the night sky, but if you have the opportunity to get out into the country for an overnight stay, take advantage of the darkness when  the stars seem to pop out of the sky. I always feel so small and yet so awe-struck by wonder sitting under this bejeweled canopy. Even images of the sky and particularly the incredible images from the James Webb telescope  are also helpful ways to enter into this kind of prayer experience. They fill us with awe and wonder at the immensity of of our God. 


Lilac in the garden

Enjoy the smell of Fragrances: It’s not just the stars that compel my thoughts toward God. Scents from all around the garden flood my nostrils with a banquet of goodness. Some fragrances are most powerful in the morning, others after rain, others in the evening. Wander round the garden or through the neighborhood at different times of the day and evening your senses attuned to the fragrances around you. Today I walked out and smelt the lilac blossoming outside my office window. Its heady fragrance only seems to last for a few days but how intoxicating it is during that time.

Go out and smell the flowers around you. Which ones are particularly appealing to you? Which ones make you wrinkle your nose in disgust? As I do this I’m reminded of a passage from the Revelation to John: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand”. Indeed, the whole creation seems to join in my prayer, and that in itself fills me with wonder. Does God love all the scents in the garden or is it just the fragrant ones that rise like incense? I think all of them are like incense. After all some animals and insects are attracted by what think smells awful. Learning to appreciate the full range of scents in the garden and comparing them to our prayers, some of which I think might “smell bad” too is something to contemplate. 

Releasing Fragrance with Touch: I love to meander the garden touching various plants as I go. Brushing up against the lavender or the rosemary, my senses are engulfed in a wonderful fragrance while running my hands through the hyssop yields a skunk-like odor. Not something I like to do very often. The Apostle Paul talks about our lives being an aroma to the world around us:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 2 Cor. 2:14-16

Personally I’d prefer to smell like lavender to the world rather than the skunky smell of hyssop. “Lord, make my life a pleasing fragrance to those around me.”

While rubbing my fingers over the tomato leaves, a very strong and distinctive fragrance is released. It’s not pleasing, nor is it offensive. It’s an odor that reminds me of the oils in the leaves that protect against aphids and other pests. I’ve never thought of odors as protection and yet in the garden there are many. “Lord, how can my life be the oily balm that radiate a sense of protection or peace in my neighborhood?”

Savour the Taste:  A walk round the garden in the summer in particular can provide a smorgasbord of tastes for our enjoyment. The cherry tomatoes which I plant by the gate especially for this purpose, beckon every time I walk by.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good” says the psalmist in Psalm 34:8. Tasting fruit, flowers and leaves as we wander is a wonderful way to savour the goodness of God and give thanks for the wonder of God’s presence around us. 

Praying Barefoot: If you don’t have bark dust all over your garden or prickly leaves like from a holly tree, this is a fun way to get out of a praying funk. Walking barefoot can be very therapeutic. Evidently, as I discussed in my article The Spiritual Practice of Walking Barefoot,  it not only improves our balance and body alignment but strengthens our muscles and helps our brains develop. It anchors us in the earth from which we are created and for which we are responsible. Shed your shoes and socks and slowly walk through the garden. What do you feel? Sauntering through the soft, cool grass you might be reminded to pray for those who live in harsh climates and rarely experience this kind of comfort. A sudden poke by an unnoticed stick might prod you to recall an area of pain or brokenness in your life or a relationship that needs healing. Pray for wisdom and pray for avenues and opportunities to bring healing. What are the textures you feel as you wander through the garden? How do they relate to other areas of your life? Bring these things to God in prayer. If you want a more detailed example of this, 

Pray While You Weed. So much of what we do in the garden is done on our knees, in the position of prayer and weeding is a great exercise to encourage us to pray. Each weed I pull reminds me that there are still weeds in my life and that of my neighbours that need to be pulled. When the soil is healthy and full of nutrients or covered by a good layer of mulch they are much easier to pull too. Maybe our lives are the same. When we are spiritually healthy and well covered with the goodness of God the “weeds “in us are easier to pull too. Weeding is therapeutic, enriching and nourishing for our souls. 

Death and Dying: At this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, most of the plants in the garden are coming to life with great vim and vigour. However it will only be a few months before they begin to fade. There is a cycle to all of life, and far too often we avoid admitting that we, too, are a part of that cycle. Wandering into the garden I notice at once the sunflowers. Towering over the summer garden like golden-crowned princes, they seem to make the garden glow. But during this season, that brightness is beginning to fade, like the grandfather whose spark and wit still brightens a room even though worn around the edges. Full flowers dazzling in their brilliance is what I want to see. The fading flowers remind me that life, here, has its limits. Many lessons can be found in one plant.

  • Why is it that I have trouble enjoying the full cycle of life?
  • Is there something in death I need to embrace to be fully alive?
  • What does the presence of flowers from a single plant, some just begging to bud, others in full bloom, and still others starting to fade…
    • what do they have to teach me about God?
    • what do they reveal about the beauty of generational diversity?
    • which flower am I on this plant and how do I feel about that?

This is but one example of exploring our own mortality in all its beauty and brevity by intentionally praying in the garden.

These are my top ways to pray in the garden. What have you tried?

(Note this post is adapted from one written several years ago by Andy Wade.

Join me May 11th 9:30-12:30 PST for a virtual retreat Spirituality of Gardening to learn more about praying in the garden. We will discuss connections between community, spirituality and gardening. Explore the wonderful ways that God and God’s story are revealed through the rhythms of planting, growing and harvesting as well as the beauty of nature. This webinar is for anyone who admires the beauty of God’s good creation, likes to walk in nature, sit by the ocean or just relax and listen to the birds in the trees. It is based on Christine Sine’s my book, To Garden with God and each participant will receive a digital copy of this book. Register here.

This virtual retreat will help reconnect us to the wonder of a God who is all around us in the natural world. We will discuss not only how the life, death and resurrection is lived out in the garden, but also how to enter into the wonder of God through creative practices like contemplative nature walks, Lectio Tierra, creating a leaf rubbing, walking barefoot, and others. This will be a fun, instructive and interactive session. I hope you will join us. 


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