Earth Day 2016: Growing Your Faith in Nature
Today's guest post is from our friend Hillary Clemens. It's an honor to have her sharing her insights with us on Earth Day about what God's creations teach us of Him. She's also created a beautiful free print for you, which you can download at the end of the post! Thank you Hillary!
Just before Christmas, I received a letter in the mail. A real paper one. Its contents were sheets of pink construction paper, kid-folded several times, damp with the smell of Crayola marker and childhood curiosity. I unfolded an imaginative rendering of a spouting whale and a letter from Anna, my best friend’s oldest child. Anna is seven and a reliable correspondent. After a paragraph of diligent writing, she asked, “Hill—why do you love the wilderness so much?”
Maybe she asked because she’s heard rumor that I lived and worked in the woods with at-risk teens once upon a time.
Maybe she asked because she’s still thinking about her first real hike last spring. We hiked three sweaty miles—at least ten kid-miles—up a cactus-carpeted canyon. Maybe she’s remembering the petroglyphs, how hard that hike was, or the botany lesson. Before we reached the car, this tired but tough little first grader had learned to identify five desert plants—one for each finger on her tiny hand: the jumping cholla and saguaro, the bursage, the papago lilies, ocotillo too.
Perhaps she asked just to be polite. She does have lovely manners.
Regardless of why she asked, the question mattered so much. The wilderness has been the garden of my faith and confidence—both in myself and in the Creator. Still, it was a hard question to answer, as are many questions of the heart.
How would I tell a child what it means to sleep for weeks on end in a wool blanket on rocky desert ground under a heavenly drape of stars? Or to wake in the serenity and comfort of light shining through the tall grass and the murmuring river? How would I tell what it is to feel the holiness of the earth seep into your bare feet? Or the belonging you feel while you walk the curving creek beds under the shadows of red cliffs? What about the sacred times when deer came close enough to touch?
How do I explain that creation fills my heart? How do I explain that it is dearly familiar and beautifully formidable at the same time? I’m not sure how to tell her that it calls me to be good—and with force. To live a life of praise and modesty. To be honest as a mountain or bird song. It demands my faith. It grows my faith. And, it faithfully, generously, even decadently provides evidence of what I hope for.
Creation shows me the character of the Creator, the generous, consoling, light-filled personality of God. It gives me solace. It has taught me that nothing ever really dies—and if it does die, it will become a new and beautiful gift. The wilderness has given me my trusted metaphors for living, loving. It is the place where my dearest friendships were born and consecrated.
I’m not sure she’ll understand quite what I mean when I say that the wilderness has healed my heart—and often kills me with delight. And how many times it has saved me.
The answer spills all over the place—like sunlight.
Emily Dickenson, Mary Oliver, John Muir. I aspire to praise like them! Somehow, with words, they have managed to catch the prayers made out of grass and the joy of the world’s shine. Someday. For now, I try to share my heart simply.
Thank you for asking me about why I love the wilderness.
You know that feeling of being with a best friend, when you are happy and excited? And how that feeling is even stronger when you’ve had a horrible, sad day? I feel like the wilderness and I have become best friends.
Now, I can’t explain exactly how this happens. But, when I am sad, being in the woods cheers me up, and calms me down. It reminds me that I am strong and capable. Anna, I’m making you a promise. I promise some exploring outside will always, always make you feel more creative, calm, adventurous, and understood. Just like a best friend would.
Another thing about a best friend is trust. I trust nature, just as I trust the sun to come up beautifully every day, and the trees to send me oranges every January. I trust that the rain will fall and there will be water to drink. When I lived in the wilderness, I received the perfect gifts of fire, food, and warm comfortable shelter from the wilderness. I didn’t always know when or how they would find me, but they were always there when I needed them, just like a best friend.
The very truest friends in life are the ones who remind you that you are a Child of God. They encourage you to trust Him. They encourage you to choose what is good, to be brave and kind. Nature does that for me too. All those good gifts I mentioned are from Heavenly Father. They are so good, and come so reliably. How can I help but trust Him? And even better – they are beautiful! God designs beautiful things! Beautiful so that you will want to touch them, smell them, stare at them, sit by them, and then learn from them. But also so that you will be AMAZED. And it’s important to be amazed. That’s when we feel small and grateful. That’s when we remember that God is really there, and has miracles up his sleeve just waiting for us. And when we are amazed by beauty, part of us wants to be beautiful, honest, and noble too.
One of my favorite writers said something you should remember. “Earth’s crammed with Heaven.” How could it be otherwise? Look who made it! I think that our Heavenly Father was so determined to give us daily, persistent reminders of what he is like and how much he loves us. Those reminders have made all the difference to me.
Hillary Clemens is a teacher, artist and explorer from Mesa, Arizona. Born in Texas, one of her first loves was the big open sky, but that really was only the beginning of what became a devoted admiration of the natural world. Professionally she's been a professor, academic advisor, wilderneses guide, and is currently striving to bring heart to the world of corporate training and development. And keeping her fingers crossed for her chance to be a beekeeper. She believes in the power of a cheerful disposition and beauty, and gets a lot of joy out of putting pen and paint to paper. She knows the power in driving miles to give a hug, seeing the good in grumpy folks, making music, and writing letters by hand. You can find more of her work over on Etsy at at https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheClementinePress.