My summer reading list has included a book titled, “Sacred Pathways,” written by Pacific Northwest native and pastor Gary Thomas. He opens by asking three very useful questions:
How do we learn to love God through the lessons of life?
How do we keep this love fresh?
How do we grow in our love and understanding of God?
Thomas proposes that we accomplish all three by spending time with God. The trick, of course, is to cultivate a relationship utilizing your own gifts and interests. To tap into the real you, Thomas suggests there are distinctive ways people relate to God. By identifying our own, we can draw nearer to God and to the people around us.
In Part 1 of Sacred Pathways, Thomas identifies nine paths and offers general descriptions. In Part 2 he writes in greater depth, offering readers the opportunity to look more deeply into each pathway, identifying those that best represents them.
Noting that he loves to be “in the middle of a deep forest or high on a mountain or out on the water,” Thomas calls himself and those who especially love God out of doors “Naturalists.” He goes on to explain that while God clearly calls people to corporately spend time worshipping, learning, and serving, Naturalists often prefer to spend an hour fly fishing or hiking than participating in a group service. They may also see God’s beauty in nature as more moving than understanding new theological concepts, participating in a formal religious service, or serving in social causes. They will sit in church pews but are moved to the depth of their beings when photographing a surfacing whale.
Scripture comes alive for Naturalists when they move outside. This means they may prefer to take a walk, finding a place outside to read their Bibles. Or, they may simply choose to paddle a kayak, quietly allowing the sights and sounds around them to prompt Bible lessons or specific scripture learned in more formal settings.
Naturalists see God most clearly outside. Thomas tells the story of John Glenn’s final journey into space in 1998. Then 77 years old, Glen told of feeling overwhelmed with the presence of God while looking at the Earth from space. A Naturalist living on Whidbey Island, surrounded by snow capped mountains, wildlife, and crab-rich ocean waters would agree.
Naturalists find rest in the outdoors. Knowing this, they set aside specific time to be outdoors, knowing they will meet God on some level. While outside, they usually ask God to build their levels of faith using the surrounding beauty, the variety of sights and experiences, and the depth, height, and strength of their outdoor experiences.
Surely hymn writer Maltbie Davenport Babcock was a Naturalist, for he wrote,
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.