By Wendy Langhans
Warning! Today’s story is NOT your ordinary “SCV Outdoor Report”. Because today is Christmas, I am shifting my point of view from a biological observer of nature to theological observer of nature.
Today, my “interpretive lens” is Christian. In this SCV Outdoor Report, I want to take a look at a recent article on the Scientific American website: “The Moral Call of the Wild”, a study that “suggests that spending time in nature changes our values”.
This study, conducted at the University of Rochester, shows “that exposure to nature can affect our priorities and alter what we think is important in life”. The researchers found that their test subjects became “less self-focused and more other-focused”. This was especially true for those test subjects who became “immersed” in the visuals of the natural environment; their priorities shifted “from personal gain, to a broader focus on community and connection with others.”
I think that anecdotal evidence for their hypothesis can also be found in a careful reading of Scripture.
Consider the biography of three important Biblical characters – Moses, David and Jesus. Each spent a significant amount of time in nature, and each contributed to our understanding of the need for and characteristics of a life-affirming relationship with God and with each other.
Moses (~13th century BCE). The first third of his life was mostly spent in the royal court as an adopted son of the reigning Pharaoh. This period as a privileged aristocrat ended when he struck a fatal blow against an Egyptian oppressor of his Israelite people. Moses fled to the deserts of Midian and spent the second third of his life tending the flocks of his father-in-law’s herds. It was only after he spent forty years the desert that God called him to liberate the Israelites from slavery and lead them out of Egypt to the promised land. As the lawgiver (10 Commandments, etc), he passed along God’s laws to His people, instructions that would help them live together in connection with God and each other.
David (~ 11th century BCE). His early life was spent as a shepherd, tending his father’s sheep. After spending time at the court of King Saul, he was forced to retreat to the wilderness for about 2-3 years. Ultimately, he became King of Israel and consolidated the 12 tribes into one nation, with Jerusalem as its capitol.
David incorporated his observations of nature into many of his Psalms, worship songs that were written by him and others in his court. Consider this section of Psalm 8:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
Jesus (~ first century CE). When Jesus was about 30 years old, he began his public ministry (Luke 3). He was baptized in the Jordan river by his cousin, John the Baptist, and then He traveled to the desert wilderness, where He spent the next 40 days (Matthew 4, Luke 4). Here he had the opportunity to view His creation from the perspective of creation.
Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 focused on characteristics of a loving and trust-filled relationship between God and humans and among humans. He incorporated many observations from nature in this sermon, including His famous “lilies of the field” caution against worry (Matthew 6: 28).
If we look closely at Scripture and history, we can find subtle traces of how God uses the natural world to teach humans about their relationship with God and with each other. Psalm 98 was written about three thousand years ago.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the LORD,
Today, many of us will be singing Isaac Watt’s hymn, “Joy to the World”, which was written in 1719:
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
But did you know Isaac Watts’ hymn was based on Psalm 98?
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Sunday, December 27, 1-3 PM. Take a look at Mentryville’s Past. Come share a bit of California history with your out-of-town guests as we explore historic Mentryville. Meet at the first parking lot after the entrance to Pico Canyon. For a map, click here.
This weeks’ SCV Outdoor report was NOT sponsored by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) NOR by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Instead, you can thank the my professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I received my MA in Theology in June, 2009. Any worthwhile portions are due to their teaching; any mistakes are mine.