My family and I were on vacation together in Sisters, Oregon. Of course, with three small boys and nine people all together, the noise level in our rental house was pretty high. Being the introvert that I am, I decided to go for a walk. The air was crisp, clear, sunny. It was a stunning snowscape around me. The pine trees plastered with snow. Snow piled four feet high on roofs and the side of the road. When I got back to the house I saw the porch chair that had been inviting me to stop and linger. Since I was fully clothed for the cold I grabbed a wool blanket from inside and accepted God’s invitation to be, to linger, to absorb the beauty around me.
Being quiet and connecting with nature has always been a place of knowing God for me. So, I sat back in the chair, cozy in my warm cocoon. Gradually, I became aware of the symphony around me. The sun was shining and, even though it was still below freezing, the snow on the trees was beginning to fall due to the sun’s heat. It did not fall in clumps but shimmered down like crystal rain. The sun hitting the falling tree avalanche became a shower of teeny diamonds. First I would hear the snow beginning to release from the tree. Then I turned to see the glimmering show. Next, I’d hear another release to my right followed by the shimmering rain. Oh, another right in front of me. Ooh, there is one far off to my left. I found myself in nature’s concert hall listening and experiencing a one-of-a-kind symphony.
I sat and absorbed this mesmerizing display of God’s creation for quite some time. Then a thought struck me. What if me sitting, watching this show, being fully taken by it was actually making this display of nature even more glorious. Could it be by me being the audience I became part of the delight God was creating?
I believe God created all of creation. His image is in the trees, the snow, the sunshine and in me. God told me by accepting the invitation to enjoy the symphony of snow falling from the trees that day the symphony became even more glorious. How can that be? I was just a clump of humanness sitting in a chair observing the glory around me. I don’t know the answer, but I know this experience with God’s creation fully captured me. I carry the images and sounds with me. I share them with others and I see their hearts well up with joy from the picture formed in their own minds. Maybe they have experienced something similar. Maybe they have heard the call to stop and be a part of God’s creation.
There are other lessons I heard God speak while I watched the snow fall, like patience and letting God work in his own time. But, the most important lesson is knowing I must listen for the invitations from God to stop, be still, listen, be with and in nature. Hear and see God’s display of delight. I would not have experienced what I did had I not paused to absorb what was already happening all around me. What might capture my attention today? What delight does God have to share with me this day? Lord, help me slow myself enough to hear your gentle and persistent invitations to be at home with you.
My hometown has received much more snow than usual over the last few weeks. Usually during a normal season, we do not get more than a dusting of snow. But this time, we have actually received around 4-5 inches. I know that doesn’t seem like much but around here it practically shuts everything down. After the snow, we’ve had quite a cold spell, which has allowed it to stick around for over a week. It makes the yard and the sides of the road breathtakingly beautiful. It makes the roads, sidewalks, and parking lots treacherously icy.
This morning as I was spending time quietly in God’s presence, a little bird caught my attention. It flitted from branch to branch on the tree outside my window. The temperatures were well below freezing. What a cold morning for such a little bird to be flitting about! I felt invited to consider the bird and God’s care for its very survival.
The first thing I noticed was the bird was occupied and didn’t seem cold. The bird would puff its feathers out to contain the warmth of its little body in defense of the coldness of the morning. What a creative and involuntary design to keep warm. Such an amazing and creative design, a gift from the Creator.
The next thing I noticed was the bird seemed to be finding something in the tree to eat. It instinctually knew where to find food in a dormant tree. This was a gift from God as well, this knowing of where to find the food and things it needed as well as the provision of those resources.
Later in the day, I noticed a bird much like this one jumping branch to branch to reach a limb closer to the heat of the sun. An amazing gift of being drawn to the warmth and the ability to do so. This little bird knew how to take care of itself and all its needs were provided.
As I think about this little bird living out a faithful and contented life, I am drawn to wonder how this all applies to me. Jesus spoke about God’s provision in the chapters containing the Sermon on the Mount.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life (Matt. 6:25-27)?”
I noticed through the little bird flitting around on a cold, frosty morning, that God had provided the resources and the abilities, natural bodily impulses, instincts, and knowings for its survival. As for humankind, this is true as well.
God seems to call us to know and be known. It seems in the letting go of what we perceive as important and following the path before us, God provides. God provides as we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit. As we learn to discern God’s way from the world’s way; our instincts, knowings, intellect, and understandings become more in-tuned with the heart and will of God.
On the way, God provides the resources we need, the opportunities and abilities to show up and be seen as well as to notice the Spirit’s movement in, through, and around us. It seems the invitation, at least for me, is to continue walking toward faithfulness with open hands and an open heart. I can discern, or at least imperfectly discern, and keep walking, showing up, allowing God, myself, and others to vulnerably see me and within that vulnerability, receive them. If I can do this with an open heart and open hands, then maybe I can love the one in front of me.
Sometimes the pathway seems treacherous like walking in these icy conditions. We are only invited to take the time to notice the stunning beauty around us. I, all of us, will do this so very imperfectly. And that is completely okay. It seems it is in the journey and not the destination. That understanding allows me to open my hands and to open my heart.
Have you ever noticed that when you take a walk with children, your hands start filling up without your awareness? As I raised my daughters, it seemed this flow of items from their hands to mine continually happened.
One morning while I sat quietly with God, I noticed tears were especially close to the surface. With this noticing, I became aware I held many things. Some of what I held was due to the busyness of life, with the growing demands on my time. Some of it was relational issues and struggles. Some of the weight was due to questions regarding the future: financial and vocational. What was the way forward for me? Was I being faithful and responsible with my decisions which impacted my financial security and provision?
Noticing the concerns I held seemed to be an important awareness. Not judging myself for holding them was equally important. That is part of the gift of living a life with a God who intimately loves us regardless.
Living life with that realization allows the space to bring the questions one holds to this loving God to discover God's view. This place of non-judgment allows the vulnerability with oneself and with God to see the fears, doubts, and lies you may be holding. This is the gift of space I allowed myself.
Some of what I held was completely beyond my control and I needed to set it aside. The real issue was not about the concerns I held; but what was behind the fears that kept me from letting go and walking forward in freedom. In some of the issues, I only needed to know I held them and to let all of it be in God’s hands while allowing myself to step into what I can do to live in today with what I know today.
One of my favorite places to go when I struggle with making sense of my world is a labyrinth. It offers a quiet and physical space to discover what I am holding onto and my way forward. It offers an intentional physical representation of our inner journey. One walks the path in a thoughtful and prayerful pace. On the way in, one is encouraged to allow God to show you the invitation to release whatever you might be holding. During the walk, it seems as if you are moving closer to the middle, your destination. Though you soon discover you become even further away as the path leads you to the outside edge once again. Through the process, it is important to notice without judgment your own heart, feelings, and thoughts throughout the journey.
As one enters the middle area the question to ask is what God has to say about what you have noticed on the way in. You are encouraged to stay in the middle as long as you feel you need. On the way out you can pray through what you can take out into the world, your life, from this time together with God. The labyrinth can be a great place to experience an inner awareness with regard to your relationship with God, yourself, and the world.
From my own process, I was reminded of an earlier conversation with regard to Exodus. The Israelites were instructed to follow the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). They followed a step by step journey without knowing where they would end up, yet hoping for the Promised Land. Along their way, God took care of their physical needs with a daily provision of manna and quail.
As I remembered the Israelites, I noticed the parallel between their journey and my walk through the labyrinth and my own personal journey. I resonated with the daily provision and the step by step journey without a clear resolution or goal. I am only invited to do the next true step. That is it, just the next true step. I can remember what I have previously sensed to be God’s lead. This step by step journey I am now taking lines well with what I have understood as the way forward. I may be wrong or I may be right. Regardless, I am only taking the next true step. And that is all I/we are invited to do. As you enter this new year, what do you notice you are holding?
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!