Myths and fairytales frequently depict aspects of nature being capable of speech, sometimes because a spirit inhabits them and sometimes because nature seems to be capable of communicating with humans, though perhaps in ways we may not readily notice. Many spiritual traditions also regard elements in the natural world as alive and interacting with humans: for instance, Biblical Psalms envision seas and mountains “roaring” and “clapping their hands for joy,” and pagan and Native American traditions believe rocks and trees carry stories and truths we need to know. While we might dismiss such ideas as nothing more than evidences of our tendency to anthropomorphize the nonhuman parts of our world, it is possible that something more profound is at work in these images.
A book I sometimes consult for spiritual exercises recently sent me outside to find a place in nature that would be comforting and consoling, where I could spend time and find difficult emotions being soothed. This exercise then encouraged me to discern exactly how nature accomplished that, what went on around me in the trees and ground and sky and stream that brought consolation. For the author of the book, nature seemed able to “sit” with him the way a close friend can sit with us, without speaking, and provide a meaningful encounter.
Do you have a place in nature that has sometimes been comforting for you? If so, just how did that comfort manifest? As I experimented with this exercise, I realized that the patterns everywhere unfolding in nature, from the small patterns of animal movement and birdsong to the larger seasonal patterns of falling leaves to the myriad patterning of clouds, were the element that comforted me. Patterns reassure me that I am not adrift, that whatever is happening in my life is not random, that I am not lost however lost I may be feeling at the moment.
Poet Wendell Berry talks of finding “the peace of wild things.” I am grateful that despite the terrible toll human actions take on the natural world, it still offers its ongoing messages of peace, of meaningful patterns, of consolation when life becomes heavy and hard.