Contemplation of Nature’s Offerings
Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef.
A quiet space, a walk in the fields.
Sounds muted, muffled.
A bird calls in the distance. Another responds.
Butterflies conspire quietly
between the greenery.
Contemplation of nature’s offerings.
Contemplation doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s incredibly simple. When I tell myself I’m entering into a contemplative space, it’s as if everything else sort of blurs around me, and the center focuses more sharply.
My physical surroundings become secondary to my inner state of mind and heart. Beatrice Bruteau confirms that “what interferes with our living a contemplative life is not the busy, noisy, confused, demanding, harassing world in which we must earn our living and care for our families. We like to blame this environment, but that is not really the source of the disquiet. Even if we could go to the country, have nothing much to do and no threats to our comfort, we would take our own noisiness with us.”
That said, our physical surroundings do matter. My family and I recently relocated from a busy urban neighborhood in Washington, DC, to a rural farm in Holland, Michigan. The differences in our physical surroundings are plenty–yet as Bruteau notes, peace requires more than a change in scenery.
There was much to love about the city and the neighborhood we left behind. Yet undeniably my wife and I have both felt and experienced a kind of inner calming since arriving in our peaceful location, situated on the edge of my in-law’s spacious flower farm.
The sheer expanse of sky that one experiences in wide open spaces tends to nurture an inner expansiveness through a sort of spiritual osmosis. Simply walking beneath this wide blue sky does its own sort of inner work on one’s soul. In this soft, subtle space, I find myself renewed and refreshed.
It has been a delight to see the way our four children have eagerly embraced our new setting, despite the sadness of leaving good friends behind and facing the uncertainty of a new school this fall. All of that fades momentarily as they race along the fields of yellow sunflowers, sprouting gladiolas, and colorful zinnias–chasing kittens, chasing each other, chasing summer.
Simply sitting in our backyard provides plenty for contemplative nourishment, as the kids run about, the fields lay open and the woods beyond beckon. Gerald May also noted the effect that simply being outside can have when seeking connection with the Spirit: “I find it best to be outdoors, away from the habits of household and civilization. Familiar surroundings always seem to demand certain activities from me. I sit a certain way in a chair, act a certain way in a room, think along particular lines in a particular place. Outdoors, especially in a fairly wild place, I’m much fresher, more immediately available for whatever inspiration might come.”
If you’re longing for a contemplative re-connection to nature and to the earth–wherever you are– perhaps you might consider next weekend’s online retreat with Shalem’s Ann Dean. She is leading a Contemplative Earth Awareness Retreat Day, available to be experienced next Friday, Sat or Sunday, July 18-20. (Also being offered in November 2014). For more information, or to register, click here.
Wherever we are, Bruteau reminds us: “we can be peaceful, even in the midst of contemporary life, because what is really pressuring us is the insistence of our own demands. Once we are convinced that these demands can be let go, everything will begin to look very different.” So whether you find yourself in the city, in the suburbs, out on the prairie, in the woods, or even at the office, may you experience the inner calming that comes with tuning your mind and heart to the ever present Spirit.
Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com. Photo by Christy Berghoef.