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Wild Whispers: Can creation help us hear God?

Meerkat whispering to a meerkat

For millennia, spiritual sages and saints have found solace, wisdom and divine presence in the embrace of the natural world. From the Judeo-Christian prophets wandering in wildernesses to Buddhist monks meditating in mountain retreats, there seems an undeniable connection between creation's rhythms and the human soul's longing for the transcendent. What is it about earth's elements that can attune our hearts to the sacred?

In the previous blog post, I explored how creation itself can be seen as a revelatory text, a "book" through which God speaks and reveals aspects of the Divine nature. I looked at how Jesus himself drew heavily on images and metaphors from the natural world to convey his teachings, suggesting an intimate connection between the created order and the voice of the Creator. Building on this foundation, we can also consider more specifically how immersing ourselves in nature can physiologically and psychologically prime us to more readily perceive and encounter the presence of God.

Of course God is omnipresent, and always with us - wherever we are. 

However, from the biblical stories to today, people seem to find that being more connected to wider creation - stepping away from our spaces of brick & mortar, away from our screens & digitality - helps us to hear from and encounter God.

The Bible itself is replete with instances where pivotal spiritual encounters took place in natural settings. With Moses being called by God through the burning bush in the wilderness, the Israelites receiving the Torah amidst the awe-inspiring mountain grandeur of Sinai, or Elijah's profound experience of the "still small voice" while sheltered in a mountain cave, the great outdoors itself seemed to foster a uniquely fertile ground for Divine revelation. Even in the New Testament, we see Jesus leading Peter, James and John up a high mountain where he was transfigured before them, and John the Revelator receiving his prophetic visions during exile on the remote island of Patmos. From deserts to islands, from bushes to peaks, Scripture consistently highlights how immersion in the natural world provides profound contexts for God's voice to be perceived and encountered.

In the gospels, it seems we see Jesus again and again heading to the mountains for prayer time with God. I’ve often envisaged this as Jesus wanting to get away from the crowds and city and finding a serene, silent spot on the top of a mountain. I’ve pictured Jesus sitting there still, in silent prayer. 

This might well have been the case. 

But another possibility is that Jesus loved hiking. 

boot of hiker

That Jesus enjoyed going for a big hike in the mountains to get his blood pumping, to get the endorphins going. We know today that many people are more kinetic in the sense that they focus better while moving in particular ways. 

While the spiritual motivations behind Jesus' times in nature are not explicitly stated, we can perceive clues that his embodied experiences in the wilderness, on mountains, and other natural landscapes facilitated a profound openness to God. 

This raises an intriguing query: might there be something about immersion in the natural world that can physiologically and psychologically prime us to more readily perceive and encounter the voice of God?

We've all felt it – that sense of calm that washes over you when you step outside into nature. It's more than just a pretty view. Science is now catching up with what many of us have known intuitively: spending time in nature is not only good for us holistically, it does something to us that creates a context in which we’re more open to the Divine whispers. 

There's growing evidence that spending time in nature can reduce stress hormones. This can lead to a feeling of greater calm and mental quietude. Imagine it as a way to gently ease the pressure in your mind, allowing you to be more present and appreciate the beauty around you.

Have you ever gotten lost in the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore, or felt your worries melt away while watching a sunset? That's a glimpse of something called ‘soft fascination’ at work.  Nature's gentle sights and sounds hold our attention effortlessly, allowing our busy minds to take a much-needed break. This mental refresh can open us up to deeper experiences, a feeling of connection to something bigger than ourselves.

Our brains have what's called a ‘default mode network’ - a setting where our minds rest when not actively focused on a specific task. Interestingly, this default network is activated when we're immersed in nature's scenery. Unlike urban environments that constantly bombard our senses, natural landscapes allow our minds to relax into an open awareness. This state of soft attentiveness may make us more receptive to intuitions, insights and even mystical experiences that transcend the purely material world.

Time outdoors also seems to promote increased parasympathetic activity, which is associated with bodily states of rest, rejuvenation and tranquillity. When we're in sympathetic "fight-or-flight" mode from stress, spiritual connection can feel like a dim whisper easily drowned out. But as nature helps calm our nervous systems, we become more attuned vessels able to discern the "still small voice" amidst the stillness. The gentle sounds of birdsong, breezes and flowing waters appear to have a regulating effect, bringing our mental and physiological rhythms back into balance.

There's even evidence that walking in nature can improve blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the area associated with higher cognition. Perhaps this helps explain those moments on a hike where everything seems a little clearer - our minds feel sharper yet more expansive, able to perceive connections and patterns. As our embodied experience syncs with the cadences around us, the natural world doesn't just feel sacred, it becomes a doorway to sacred encounter.

Walking in nature is like giving your brain a workout – a good one, that is! The rhythmic movement of walking seems to sync the left and right sides of your brain, leading to a sense of calm awareness.  The scientific term for this is ‘bilateral stimulation’. It's like your whole body is saying, "Ahh, this feels right." This integrated brain state can make us more receptive to spiritual promptings, that inner voice whispering wisdom or guidance.

While drawing direct connections between scientific findings and spiritual experiences can be complex, these insights from various fields paint an intriguing picture. They suggest that being immersed in the natural world can physiologically prime our minds and bodies in ways that may open us up to more readily perceive and encounter the voice of God. From reducing mental chatter to awakening embodied awareness, the scientific data hints at how the created world could prepare the fertile ground for spiritual revelation to take root within us - a compelling invitation to deepen our connection with nature. 

And this is not even considering all the other holistic benefits time in nature provides for our overall well being and flourishing.

So, the next time you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or disconnected, consider stepping outside. Take a walk in the park, sit by a babbling brook, or simply gaze up at the stars. 

Nature isn't just a beautiful backdrop – it's a powerful tool for nurturing our well-being and opening ourselves to the divine.




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