As we cross country skied through a deserted section of Algonquin Park this weekend, I stopped for a minute and listened, listened for something, anything—silence. All I could hear around me was the wind lightly rustling trees far off across a lake.
There is something about experiencing God in nature that is restful. But not in the same way that kicking up your feet in the evening while watching the game is restful; restful in a deeper, more rejuvenating sense. It is as if when you look around in nature, you see the fingerprints of God, all over creation. It’s like looking at a painting and being able to identify the painter by the brushstrokes. Or looking at a sculpture and literally seeing fingerprints left behind.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
I love that… “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” Browning sets aside her normal eloquence to hammer her point home. When I think of the word crammed, I picture trying to fit my sleeping bag (which normally fits a full-grown adult inside) into a tiny little stuff-sack about the size of a soccer ball. As I cram it into place, I see if there are any little air pockets of space that more sleeping bag might possibly fit into. That is what I think of when I read that quote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” It’s as if God created the deserts, and the seas, and the forests, and the fields and wondered what other bits of heaven might possibly be packed into the air pockets, little pieces that reflect our Maker.
This week, in Mark 4, we were talking about rest. We looked at how Jesus kicked up his feet in the bow of the boat and rested, while the disciples fought the storm on the raging sea. It is the image of Jesus, comfortable in his father’s creation, at rest on a cushion, in the midst of a violent storm.
And it is that image that makes me want to look at another way to pray. Last week we looked at prayers of lament, but this week we are looking at prayers of adoration, and one specific way to pray a prayer of adoration: a prayer walk. In scripture, Jesus often retreats from society into places away from it all to rest and rejuvenate in creation with his father.
Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Again in Luke 5:16, we see, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The Gospel of Matthew similarly says in 14:23: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Jesus, in the middle of busyness and ministry gets away to spend time with his father in creation.
So, what I am suggesting this week is a prayer walk. A prayer walk can be done on skis or snow shoes or on foot; it could even be a prayer run, or bike, or canoe. But the purpose is to get out in nature to be with God. Sometimes I slowly walk through a Psalm or meditate on a verse, but other times I just breathe it in, witnessing God’s splendor all around, uttering nothing but subtle smiles and soft sighs.
If you want a Psalm to “walk” through I would suggest starting with Psalm 23, perhaps the most popular psalm of adoration. Print it out and read it, meditating on each line as you walk. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” This is a song of adoration written by David to God. We often only hear it in the context of funerals, but try praying through the meaning of it, showing adoration to the Creator.
Prayers of adoration are often the type of prayer that people struggle with the most. It seems almost childish for some—telling God all of the things you love about creation. And to others it seems too intimate—talking to God like a lover. But it is a prayer of gratefulness, of pondering, of thoughtfulness, of care for and toward God. I find it easiest to pray these prayers while in creation, as I walk about, pursuing God.
Find a nearby park, and snow shoe, walk, or ski a prayer. I think the winter is actually a better time for this because the parks are less crowded! As you go deeper, notice things. Be the person that Browning describes as “taking off their shoes.” Be someone who notices the holy in the commonplace.
Those who notice the holy in the commonplace practice prayers of adoration. Have you seen a person from the deep south witness their first snow? That is a prayer of adoration! Have you watched a child interact with a squirrel, giggling at the wonder of it all? That is a prayer of adoration! Taking delight in the things of God that others would miss; that is a prayer of adoration!
“Earth’s crammed with heaven.” Take a walk and breathe it in.
- What place have you been where you could unplug and notice creation?
- As you go for walks this week, what new things do you notice? (Write them down).
- If you decide to try praying through a Psalm of adoration, what was that experience like? Did you feel yourself in the Psalm in a new way? What came to mind as you “walked” through it?