Some of my earliest memories are exploring the forty-five acre farm I grew up on. I remember my cousin showing me how to find spit bugs and thinking it was a miracle that hundreds of these little bugs were there wrapped under leaves and yet I had never seen them before. I remember catching tadpoles and feeling pond mud ooze between my toes and I can vividly recall the lift of fireflies into the night sky and the tickle of their feet and wings in my cupped hands. I remember climbing the big hill and feeling the wind in my hair. That wind and the beauty around me caused me to speak prayers aloud knowing in that place, without a doubt, God was with me.
Nature has been an important part of my spiritual journey, but I do not think this experience is unique. The more steeped I become in a theology of childhood and the more I work with children, both rural and urban, I realize that nature is inextricably linked to a knowledge and awe of God. Children (and adults) need nature. We need to experience the world that God created to know and love this God who created.
I think there is a tendency to believe that it is in the majestic vistas that we can connect with God, and certainly that can be true. However, it is in the minute and even mundane details of creation that we most often see the amazing nature of God. In looking around at the grass below our feet and the clouds above us, in marveling at the miracle of the simple and plentiful seed’s growth, or in seeing the fallen branch up close with new eyes, we see the wonder of the created world.
“We see… that the world is wide, that things are sweet, that people are sweet, too; that, indeed, we are compassed about by an atmosphere of sweetness, airs of heaven coming from our God. Of all this we become aware in “the silence and the calm of mute, insensate things.” Our hearts are inclined to love and worship; and we become prepared by the quiet schooling of Nature to walk softly and do our duty towards man and towards God.” (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves; 98).
The good news of knowing that God is particularly present in the simple and even small things of nature is that one does not need to go backpacking into the mountains to find Him. A stack of river pebbles in the hands of an inner city child can cause them to question the great force of water that led to their masterly formation. A bouquet of daffodils studied and drawn in their perfect intricacy can show the majesty in which God clothes His creation.
And as one begins to see God in the great and the small pieces of creation there is no option left but gratitude. “Some people have the grace to be tenderly and reverently thankful to the author of a great book, the painter of a great picture – thankful, if less reverently so, to the discoverer of a great invention. What daily and hourly thanks and praise, then do we owe to the Maker and designer of the beauty, glory, and fitness above our heads and about our feet and surrounding us on every side! From the flower in the crannied wall to the glorious firmament on high, all the things of Nature proclaim without ceasing, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty” (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves; 99)
In leading children to study nature and standing with them in awe and thanksgiving, there is not much that needs to be done besides introducing the child to nature consistently and helping them truly look. You do not need to introduce them to a rambling farm or remote forest, but simply a small square of earth or a view to the sky. Perhaps, if you want to help children along in the study of nature you can model a reverence and joy in natural discovery, but ultimately stand back and watch the child respond to that which she was created to enjoy.
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