Looking for a way to explore God’s Good Creation? Here are a set of daily practices and rhythms which can become the beginning of prayer and a chance to grapple with what it means to be a created being.
Gratitude for the Gift of Creation
The world that God made is a beautiful gift and we are a part of creation. I encourage students and parents to make their way outside for attention and prayer and to give thanks. Being outside with intention and attention causes us to look for ways to receive the gift, care for it, and share it with others. It challenges our exploitation and abuse of creation. We respond to creation by reading, paying attention, drawing, and creating, and these are acts of prayer and expressions of gratitude to the God who made the world.
Wandering Walk (aka Nature Walk)
Start simply. Get outside every day for 30-45 minutes. On hot days, plan to go out in the morning and at dusk or even early nightfall. On cold days, layer up and head on out. If you have an older child or one who needs support looking about and paying attention to the world, you might look for a tree, bird, butterfly, or turtle guide. Look together for things to notice—the beautiful texture of moss after rain, a small hole in the ground (where might that go? What creature might live in or pass through it?), the sticky feel of the air, the tickle of a brush of grass or mosquitos, a broken egg shell or a snake skin, an animal skull, a gall, a dead bee, a living beetle, a cicada shell. A backyard or neighborhood creek is a perfectly appropriate place for exploration. Empty lots in the middle of a city can also be full of wonderful sights. A place doesn’t need to be “special” to have all kinds of interesting things. It is fun to do this with your child(ren), but unstructured wandering time without adults is good for children, too.
Some tips for getting started:
- Walk slowly for observations, but also take time to run and skip and move your body in different ways. How we are shapes how we see!
- Experiment with perspective. Use your hands as a camera lens to narrow your focus; cover or close one eye; with a trusted partner, walk with both eyes closed.
- Experiment with your senses. Sit still, close your eyes and listen and smell, rather than look. Pick one leaf and crush it in your fingers. What does it smell like?
- “Shake hands” with different types of trees, this is especially fun with different types of evergreens!
- Try not to trample off a path and do not over pick. The natural world is home to many creatures we can’t see and we want to leave it for them to thrive in.
Once you are in the practice of wandering and noticing, there are many things to see and wonder about. Every day, look for something outside from the story of creation or the Scriptures you are reading together (Is there anything that reminds you of light and dark? creeping and crawling things?). Bring a journal. Thick paper works best because your child can use watercolors or markers without bleed-through. Older children can write descriptions, while younger children may need help writing a word about something they found or how they feel. Children may want to bring a set of colored pencils or crayons to sketch something they see. Some may want to return to the same spot every day; establishing a sit spot, can be a wonderful way to learn how to pay attention. Remember to write down questions!
A Nature Tray: Collecting and Offering
Some of the things you see on your walks can be gathered and collected. These can be placed in jars or on small trays or in baskets for observation and drawing later. Put a magnifying glass and pencils and paper close by. If you can, place the tray at a child’s level and near the household altar, not only because it encourages curiosity about and interaction with both, but because the items you find, like the prayers of gratitude for them, are an offering. These items also mark the season, connecting the circle of the church year with the change of seasons (what does the growing dark of winter have to teach us about Jesus as the light of the world? How might the sparrows and lilies invite us to consider the life we have been given?)
Some notes about collecting:
- Do not remove or gather nests, as it is illegal to disturb them. If you have the interest, join NestWatch, a citizen science project with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Many feathers are not supposed to be gathered because of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 (you can handle them, take a photo, and then get a close-up look on this government website, The Feather Atlas). We revisit and observe regularly to see if we notice changes.
Paying Attention and Prayer
Done with attention, care, and a sense of gratitude, each of the above things, can become prayer. How can each thing you find and do be a way to worship the God who made them? How do they cause us to notice the creativity and beauty that God has given to this world? How does paying attention to the forces of nature that shape and form the world we live in challenge or encourage us to think about God? Some of these things are wonders we love and admire and some we find challenging to our faith (like the way that a hurricane can be destructive). Bring all of your questions and reflections to prayer.
Tips for Reluctant Kids
We created a video for parents supporting reluctant children on outdoor nature and prayer walks. During VBS, I encouraged our parents to find a balance between free, uninterrupted play and exploration and directive activities. The video includes tips for adults and kids to help them get started or create hooks to help them to continue seeing, even when adults might think there is no nature available; kids see and notice everything!
This article was adapted from the summer 2020 VBS curriculum written by Angela and Kim Powell, Minister of Christian Education at St. Matthew’s, Hillsborough, NC and references the work of Charlotte Mason and Joseph Cornell.
Comparison: we call it the thief of joy. It constantly causes us to feel inadequate and unworthy. It tries to rip us apart, make us over-examine our flaws, and tell us we aren’t good enough. We live in a society that encourages us to be different and unique, to embrace our imperfections and see them as beautiful, yet it also tries show us picture perfect images of what and who we should be. God bless us all!