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“We create wonderful places by giving them our attention, not by finding ‘pristine’ places that will bring wonder to us.”

So advises biologist David George Haskell in his marvelous book The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, which I read through slowly a few years ago, taking a few pages each day, pretty much like a devotional.

One of the tasks of being a pastor and teacher is to provide resources for folks looking for help, information, inspiration, or care.  If I know someone’s interested in a topic or dealing with some issue, and I read an article or book that fits with that, I’ll often send along a recommendation.  When people come for pastoral care, sometimes they want to explore a topic further, and I’ll do my best to make suggestions.

So, I thought, this spring and summer, I’ll write a series of columns I’m calling “Resources for Living,” and every week I’ll make some recommendations on a topic of interest.  I’ve got a handful of topics in mind, but if there’s one you’d particularly like me to write about, please let me know.

As it is April, when we start working on our gardens and lawns, celebrate Earth and Arbor Days, and begin enjoying more outdoor activities, I thought I’d start with the spirituality of our connection with nature.

Of course, the best recommendation is just to do it!  Go outside and pay attention!  Go for a walk at Fontenelle Forest, going all the way down to the river, spending a few hours soaking up the woods.  Or hike along the ridges of the Loess Hills at Hitchcock.  Or watch a sunset at Lake Standing Bear.  Or whatever outside activities work for you.

But if you want to go further, here are some ideas.

Haskell’s book narrates how he spent a year watching a one-meter sized square in the woods.  It’s amazing what all happens in such a small space that we don’t see when we don’t give our attention to it.  His book is similar in that way to the classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, which is always worth pulling off the shelf again, or for the first time.

Another classic is The Practice of the Wild by the California poet Gary Snyder.  He teaches us to respect the wildness of the world and highly recommends lots of walking.

Should you be more interested in the science of awe, I suggest Dacher Keltner’s recent Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.  He’s not just writing about awe and nature, but that is one aspect of the book.  Or, you might listen to one of the many interviews he did on various NPR shows when the book was released.  Here’s a link to the On Point interview.  I like to listen to such things while cleaning the kitchen and cooking.

An excellent theological reflection on nature is Belden C. Lane’s Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality.  I read that book one summer while on retreat at Kaleo on the River, our state church campground.  Some of it I read while lying under a tree beside the North Loup River, at a place where a beaver dam had created a verdant and vibrant wetland.  Pack the book along for your summer road trip through the West.

So so many poets, of course, write about nature.  Two deeply spiritual, recent poets that have enriched my faith and attention to the natural world are Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver.  Start with his book A Timbered Choir or her American Primitive.

For children, check out Linsey Davis’s The World Is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings.  The family in the book enjoys their yard, the zoo, the farmer’s market, all with attention to the ways God is present in a summer Saturday.

If you prefer listening, go check out On Being with Krista Tippet.  Maybe you once listened to her radio show while getting ready for church on Sunday mornings?  Be sure to check out her website now and how excellently it curates material about faith and spirituality.  She’s also still doing podcasts.  On her website you can find so many episodes with poets, scientists, and more about the awe and wonder of nature.

Check back next week for the next installment in this series of columns, Resources for Living.


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First Central Congregational Church