Gary Thomas, a Christian writer, penned a book entitled, “Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God,” and for the next few columns, I plan to base my meditations on the sacred pathways he identifies for becoming closer to God and finding an awareness of his presence in our daily lives.
Sometimes we think that if we just make a habit of having a quiet time with the Bible and prayer and attend worship services, that’s all we need to grow spiritually. But this one-size-fits-all path to God fails to recognize that each of us relates to God in different ways, and that each of us loves God in ways consistent with our unique temperaments.
In his book, Thomas lays out nine sacred pathways and the characteristics of each, so that we can consider which pathways best seem to fit us as individuals.
The first pathway is the naturalist who loves God out of doors. Such people meet God in nature, praying beside a lake, meditating while walking in the woods. In the outdoors, their hearts “soar to worship God,” seeking Him by surrounding themselves with all God has made, “looking at creation as God’s cathedral.”
Think about the familiar 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd . . . He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.” Don’t shepherds ply their trade in the grassy hills and valleys, where rivers run freely, and nourishment and thirst-quenching waters are available?
Think about the well-known Christian song, “How Great Thou Art,” sung at Billy Graham crusades by George Beverly Shea for many years:
When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!
The song speaks to how we experience the majesty of God’s creation when we are outdoors in nature, and to how we express our adoration and love to God because of what He has made for us to enjoy.
Personally, I have much of the naturalist in me. I feel close to God outdoors in the beauty He has designed. I recall the first time I stood high in the Rocky Mountains and felt the greatness, the abundance of God all around me. I felt small in comparison to the wonders of his creation. I feel the same when I look out over Lake Michigan at my home and see the power of the waves, the color of the water, the distance to the horizon.
If I can escape to a garden to pray, walk through the forest to reflect, stand at the top of a dune to look out over the expanse before me, I am content. I feel the presence of God all around me and I am grateful. I do not worship the things God created, but I worship the One whose imagination brought forth the variety of species of plants and animals, the uniqueness of each human being, the panorama of the stars in the sky, the wonders under the sea, the brightness of the light provided by day and the depth of the darkness at night.
As Thomas says, “Once while walking in a meadow and watching the sun go down, I realized that, regardless of personal pain, regardless of vocational frustration or success, regardless of financial excess or lack, if I could go out-of-doors, I’d always be a rich man.”
No wonder so many of the characters in Scripture find God in nature. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden, lush with beautiful sights, smells and sounds. Moses found God in a burning bush and on a mountaintop. Jesus Himself found rest and comfort walking by the Sea of Galilee and in the desert.
If we are naturalists, we can follow these examples, find our places of awe-inspiring beauty and majesty, where we can sense God and experience His power, His love and His presence. And there we can express to God how awesome He is and how his creation inspires us to love and adore Him evermore.
In my next column, I’ll introduce the related path of the sensate, who loves God through the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.