It’s Sunday afternoon, and my son, Jack, and I have arrived at the woods for what I call “nature church.” Once a month, we put on hiking shoes and visit a forest preserve to witness the beauty of God’s creation. Brown leaves carpet the earth and barren branches scrape against an opaque sky—today creation looks a little haunted. 

“Look at all that water!” I say, shaking my head and pointing to the fat puddles obscuring our path. “Maybe we should go home?” 

“No!” Jack shouts, barreling through the damp underbrush. “This way, Mommy.” 

We plunge into the woods, and puddles greet us at every turn. Jack isn’t discouraged. He twists and weaves and gallops onward, all the while calling, “Follow me!” 

I’m trying to teach my son how to notice the Spirit in nature, but the lack of sun and the stinging wind make me think that the Spirit has actually settled indoors with a book and a hot beverage, and perhaps we should too. 

He is growing so fast, just as they said he would, and I wonder if he is taking in any of this. Have I said enough about God? Will he remember this practice?

Now Jack is climbing over a fallen tree and urging me to do the same. A patch of emerald green catches my eye, and I wave him back to admire it. He leans in close, strokes the moss with his hand and remarks, “Whoa, this is cool.” 

I smile. “Isn’t it nice to see a touch of color? But you have to slow down to appreciate it, you know,” I say. 

Poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Listen, maybe such devotion in which one holds the world in the clasp of attention isn’t the perfect prayer, but it must be close.” As Jack and I huddle together, heads bent to the moss, I realize we’ve adopted a posture of prayer. I want to tell him this moss is evidence of God’s handiwork, but he is already ambling toward a giant hill. He is growing so fast, just as they said he would, and I wonder if he is taking in any of this. Have I said enough about God? Will he remember this practice? 

When Jack reaches the hilltop, he bellows, “Look at me, Mommy!” I raise my eyes and catch my breath. Amber sunlight engulfs his face, and the surrounding leaves look like a pool of copper pennies. My son whips down to the bottom, giggling with delight. “Your turn!” he says. 

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I answer, still shaken by the transformation. This is what I need to pay attention to: my shining son, the leaves, his laughter, the gift of this day. Surely the Spirit is here. 

“Follow me, Mommy,” Jack says, grabbing my hand and tugging me to the hill. So, I do.

Practices

  • Nature walk: With your children, hunt for beauty in the natural world. Point out what inspires awe and allow yourself to be surprised by what they show you. 
  • Picnic devotional: Enjoy a family picnic in your backyard or at a nearby park. Bring along your favorite prayer, spiritual poem and/or Bible story to enjoy with your meal.
Erin Strybis
Erin Strybis is a content editor of Living Lutheran. Find more of her stories at her website and on Instagram.

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