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Walking Our Faith: Finding God in beauty

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking Our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

#Walk20in20.

That’s the hashtag I saw in an Instagram post by Gretchen Rubin, a New York Times best-selling author of books on happiness and habits. It caught my eye because at my annual physical, my doctor suggested 20 minutes of exercise three times a week would be good for me.

Walking 20 minutes a day seems like a reasonable goal during the ideal autumn weather we’ve enjoyed in our mountain community with sunlight, bright-leafed aspens and moose grazing in the wetlands near my home.

My 20-minute walk with Bear and Kiki, my two Newfoundland dogs, has become a good daily habit. I bring my phone and take a photo to post on Instagram afterward. This slows my walk from exercise to contemplation. Perhaps that is the point.

An interesting outcome of these daily walks is not the physical benefit but the mental. The other day, I came back from my walk and realized that I felt calmer for hours afterward, as if I had engaged in 20 minutes of meditation.

But most importantly, I felt as if I had encountered God. On that particular walk, I stopped frequently to take pictures of dead trees that were in various states of decline and those that had fallen to the forest floor and were slowly being subsumed into the earth that recently held them erect.

I noticed how sunlight made tree bark appear silver and, as the light disappeared where the forest grew denser, the bark became golden rust and shadows eventually hid other trees further in.

In the days since then, and even now nearly a week later, I have the sense that I experienced the peace and compassion of God during that walk and that it trails me even now, as a long shadow follows our footsteps.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
— Psalm 42:1-2

St. Paul said what can be known about God is plain because God has shown it to us in the things which he has made. So when we are in nature and noticing something beautiful, we recognize its beauty because it was created by the same creator who created us. Beauty in nature reflects the beauty of its creator, God.

St. Augustine’s often quoted saying: Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, reflects the connection between man and God through beauty:

“Question the beauty of the earth; question the beauty of the sea; question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself; question the beauty of the sky; question all of these realities. All respond “See we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a profession. These beauties are subject to change, who made them if not the Beautiful One who is not subject to change?” — St. Augustine, Sermo, 241, 2: PL 38, 1134

Our longing for beauty is a reflection of our soul’s acknowledgement of God’s presence. Moments of beauty are where we find the doorway to encounters with God.

Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
— Psalm 42:7

God’s love washes over us like a wave. In every moment, he is present with us. We simply need to slow down and begin to notice.

Go outside, stand and listen to the sounds of leaves rustling. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Notice the light playing with shadows between tree branches.

Sit in a favorite chair, open your Bible to the book of Psalms and read one, just for 5 minutes. Find a verse that speaks to your heart, and read it again and again so that its beauty becomes a prayer.

We only need to pay attention to notice God with us, God for us.

Whether a conscious desire or a dull sense of grief, we crave beauty and peace right now. To immerse ourselves in it like the waters of a warm bath beneath which we slip and float, safe in God’s presence. I truly believe what we need most now is God. God who is beauty and love and peace which surpasses all human understanding and who quiets our soul and allows us to rest.

God’s beauty overwhelms the darkness, our nightmares recede, and the light of God’s love creates a new dawn for our troubled world.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
— Psalm 42:8, 11

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.


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