I can tell when I’ve had too much roof over my head and not enough sky. I get grumpy. The top of my head hurts. And I feel lonely in my otherwise cozy home.
That’s the state I was in when I attended the recent Annual Meeting of the Wyoming Association of Churches. Between knee problems and the damned computer, I hadn’t spent much time in my hiking boots this summer. It was more time indoors than outdoors.
By the time I got to our Annual Meeting, it had been raining for several days. No big desire to get outside there, even though it was gorgeous Grand Teton National Park. One rainy morning featured outdoor worship led by the inestimable Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer. A gifted liturgist, she used nature itself to convey the message of worship.
When do you feel part of the whole of creation? she asked us.
With rain dripping on the hood of my jacket, my mind wandered back to the first time I ever went hiking. It was a small, narrow path in the leafy woods of Connecticut, just wide enough for one person. There was something about hiking on that footpath through the trees and ferns that made me feel right sized.
Ever since then, hiking on small narrow paths through leafy woods has brought out that same sense in me.
So why not do it more?
Is it just me, or does it seem that the older you get, the less permission you have to spend time outdoors? After all, there’s WORK to be done: most of it requiring one to be hooked up to a laptop, modem, cell phone, or other electronic device. Or getting in a car and driving somewhere. There’s precious little time to just be. Especially outdoors.
Fast forward one week. I was in Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest. Another gorgeous place. I was there to lead the 10th Annual Ecumenical Women’s Retreat. Right outside the lodge where we were staying were trailheads that took one deeper into the canyon. But alas, it wasn’t part of my agenda to hike. I had WORK to do–to get ready for the day ahead.
But something or Someone lured me away from the lodge and the parking lot to the trailhead beyond. There I found myself walking, picking up speed as I went, up a narrow trail through a colorful fall forest. Three quarters of a mile later I had ascended 1000′ and was standing on top of the canyon wall. Enshrouded in fog, I was breathing hard, in need of water and exhilarated!
Coincidence that I found myself here? I think not.
A few weeks ago, I realized that being in nature is what gives me a sense of purpose, spiritual connectedness and raison d’etre. It’s the place that makes me happiest. It wipes away my worries, slows down my mind, and connects my soul with the great I AM. It doesn’t require a certain amount of money or time or skill or expertise.
But more of us are doing it less and less. Richard Louv, in his best seller, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” writes about the pitfalls of not spending time outdoors: depression, lack of creativity and imagination, lack of problem solving skills.
All of that has increased with digital and electronic play having taken the place of unstructured time outdoors. Not only for kids, but adults too.
Two winters ago, I wound up with Vitamin D deficiency, a clear sign of too much roof overhead and not enough sky. Too much work and not enough play. I’m bound and determined to not let that happen again!
This Wednesday night begins the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in which people spend time in a “sukkah” or booth as a sign of God’s providential care during the Exodus from Egypt. Interestingly, this temporary structure is kosher only if you can see sky through the roof!
Now, that’s my kind of holiday!
No sukkah in my back yard this year. Even so, I’m shutting off the computer, logging off of Facebook, and getting outside. Under the big night sky of Wyoming.