Going to Church (December 11th)

I really don’t have a lot of time to read, in general – mostly when I wake up in the morning, and when I go to bed at night, with an occasional few minutes scattered throughout the day. So when I do get to read, I pretty much always reach for the Bible. It’s just hard to beat the Living Word of God that brings Truth and Light and Hope into my Life!

But the Lord has also introduced me to a couple of amazing people whose writings I also enjoy from time to time.

The first is Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who developed an incredible and constant relationship with the Lord, so that people came from all over to ask him how he could always be so full of the peace and joy of the Lord. Brother Lawrence was happy to share with everyone the amazing truth that the path to constant peace and joy in this life is always within our reach, if we will only commit ourselves to adore the Lord, which we can practice by simply setting out to devote all our thoughts to Him. He calls it “beginning and ending every thought in Him” and “thinking of Him as often as possible and forgetting about Him as little as possible.” This is such a wonderful revelation of the Truth of our relationship with the Lord, because it doesn’t depend on our circumstances at all – we can freely practice this anytime, anywhere, with any level of income, in any career, in every single activity of every day. I enjoy reading his encouraging words in a collection of books: Practice and the Presence of God; Spiritual Maxims; and The Brother Lawrence by Joseph de Beaufort.

The second is John Muir, a renowned naturalist, a champion of preserving our wild lands. John Muir loved nature, not in a “Save the Whales” kind of way, laboring under the conviction that plants and animals are better than people, and must be saved from all things at all costs…It’s just that he was thrillingly aware, throughout every fiber of his being, that God was in His creation, the mountains, the valleys, the plains, the winds, the rains, the rivers, and all the little creatures as completely and delightfully as He is in each of us…So that, by turning our eyes away from the creations of men, and setting them upon the creation of our Father, we would quite naturally find Him and also ourselves…And then set off on a journey of amazing enjoyment quite different from anything that we could devise for ourselves, or that might be devised for us under the roofs and inside of the walls and in front of the screens that may entertain, but also distract and separate.

These men wrote, not because they specifically wanted to be teachers or preachers or evangelists, but out of a humble overflowing of their awe in their Heavenly Father. Their great love for the Lord was first, foremost, and everything in their lives, and so when I read their writings, because we share this common heart, it’s like reading the writings of a best friend or a brother. It’s an awesome reminder of the bond that we share as brothers and sisters in Christ, a bond which transcends all time, and reminds me of my eternal hope – because part of the wonder of salvation, along with living with Jesus and the Lord, along with perfect life in a world made new, is being reunited with our perfect family, those treasured brothers and sisters that we are long separated from, and then eternally reunited with!

So it’s never any surprise when I read something in John Muir’s many writings that speaks directly to my heart, like a long-lost friend…And Joe had the same experience when reading through a compilation of quotes from his books. Two, in particular, back-to-back, caught his attention so that he read them to me out loud, and we both were struck at how our feelings about nature, our feelings about town, our feelings about how to navigate this life, were not ours alone – that our hearts are tied, even through time, to others who felt then the same way that we feel now. It’s nice, sometimes, to realize that you’re not alone!

(from Meditations of John Muir, Nature’s Temple, compiled and edited by Chris Highland, copyright 2001, p.109)

You are going on a strange journey this time, my friend. I don’t envy you. You’ll have a hard time keeping your heart light and simple in the midst of this crowd of madmen. Instead of the music of the wind among the spruce-tops and the tinkling of the waterfalls, your ears will be filled with the oaths and groans of these poor, deluded, self-burdened people. Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air…

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It will help you in your efforts to bring to these people something better than gold. Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.

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John Muir found peace in the mountains, and he often struggled in the cities, where the focus of life was so often on the gold-rush, or on industry, generally on making an income, acquiring possessions, buying and selling and getting and increasing. The central truth of God just isn’t really in these things – He tells us quite clearly not to focus our attention on what we eat or what we wear, chasing after and worrying over these “necessities” like people who don’t have a Heavenly Father providing for them. Since He has given us freedom from worrying about provision, we can focus on Him, on Love, on His Kingdom…And where can we better do that than in His very creation? So for me, I find God in the forest, in the mountains, in nature much more than I find Him in the cities, in the stores, in the restaurants…even in the churches.

I so clearly remember standing in church, singing worship, and closing my eyes to picture God’s creation. I would picture what heaven would be like, the world made new, with clear gold and bright eternal light, with flowing, living water, and the trees growing along the banks, bearing fruit each month to feed all the people, and the thrones where God and Jesus will sit, with all the people lifting hands and singing praises together, one joyful family. Often, because it’s familiar to me, I would think about God’s creation, as I know it today, imperfect though it may be, sometimes veiled beneath the darkness and decay of a dying world, yet shining forth the perfection in which it was made and the perfection that is yet to come…I remember picturing God’s vast expanse of blue sky, the sculptural brilliance of His white cotton-clouds, the solemn stillness of a low blanket of grey when the high places draw down near to us….I would think of the chirp and trill of His birds, His rustling wind in the leaves of towering trees, the tripping babble of His fast-moving streamlets…And I would think about how He was far away where the ocean meets the sky, far away where the mountaintops fade into ever-more-distant mountaintops, close-at-hand where the ant clambers through the moss, close-at-hand where the hermit crab peeks out of his shell…

Why, then, I wondered, do we build a building out of 2x4s and drywall and carpeting, dim the lights, turn up the music, put up the television screens, close the doors and cover the windows…In order to remember God?

I remember thinking, “Why don’t I just go outside? Why, when it’s time to worship God, do I come in here, and close my eyes, and try to picture and remember what it’s like to encounter God out there?”

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(photos courtesy of Spencer)

(from Meditations of John Muir, Nature’s Temple, compiled and edited by Chris Highland, copyright 2001, p.113)

Then came Emerson and more preaching. He said, “Don’t tarry too long in the woods. Listen for the word of your guardian angel. You are needed by the young people in our colleges. Solitude is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife. When Heaven gives the sign, leave the mountains…”

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It’s also true that man is God’s greatest creation…That, while I find Him outside, in the trees and the mountains and the fresh air; while I want to help others find Him there, remember Him there, escape to Him there; I also find Him in them, in God’s people, in everyone in the world who God greatly desires to be restored to Him; shining forth from everyone who has already made the choice to be restored to Him…The forest and the mountains, the oceans and valleys and plains make the best church in this world…And it’s meant to be enjoyed by His Church, together! See you there 🙂

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