Outdoor spirituality: some tasting notes

Author: The Revd Richard Woodham

Published on: 1 March 2017

Environmental crises, from global warming to the catastrophic loss of species, follow the pattern of the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. Paradise lost, through a failure of care.

The story introduces a God who unveils creation, animal by animal, as if to a friend. Whatever the Man called them that was their name.

God’s friendship with humanity was renewed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; who asked his disciples to consider the flowers of the field and birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). Consideration for them, as well as of them? If so, involvement with conservation projects follows.

Out on the marshes, I find myself whispering birds’ names (as it were) into the ear of the Creator who befriended Adam. In that moment, I have a sense that all is not lost.

Again, wildflowers between graves in conservation churchyards, speak to me of the resurrection hope and a world to come in which Paradise is restored.

In the original Easter Garden, Mary mistook the risen Lord for a workman (John 20:15)! The gospels recall similar encounters with Christ, who is revealed at the breaking of bread; not least, meeting his fisherman friends in Galilee (John 21). Walsingham is widely recognised as England’s Nazareth. How about England’s Galilee as a pilgrim destination? North Norfolk and/or the Broads are both strong candidates for the title – places where one can come apart and rest awhile, or get into a boat and go over to the other side.

Echoes of Galilee abound in the Broads. Sauntering across the meadows, or paddling a canoe to St. Peter’s (the fisherman) Church at Belaugh, I pass wild flowers, birds and a boatyard – where chippies mend boats, as Jesus probably did for his friends. He would go up into the hills to pray. I climb to the ancient church and “kneel where prayer has been valid”.

Churches in heritage landscapes combine with nature to form the sort of places Celtic Christians called “thin” – where the presence of God is palpable.

In a profound stillness, in All Saints’ Church, Horsey, at the breaking of the bread, I hear, but fail to identify, birds that are calling in the distance. Later, I discover they are Common Cranes. (Whisper their name as a prayer!) Although rare in Britain, 30,000 of them winter in the Hula Valley of Upper Galilee.

On a practical note, Norfolk Wildlife Trust hopes to secure the Cranes’ habitat by purchasing parts of Hickling Broad. An appeal has been launched, which I am supporting.

How about you?

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The Revd Richard Woodham

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