Beholding Heaven on Earth

By Paul John Roach
Beholding Heaven on Earth

When I was a teenager growing up in Cardiff, Wales, I would often go on walks to the hills that surrounded the city. It was a beautiful area of farms, meadows and heavy woodland. …

What made this place so significant for me? … Something in my soul responded to the quiet beauty of this ordinary place, and I felt as though I were beholding a part of nature’s mystery and order. Arising from my simple watchfulness, I always felt renewed and ready to go back to the world of football games, school and girlfriends with a greater sense of possibility. Today I would probably call my time gazing at the streams in the wood mystical experiences, moments of recognition where inside and outside, Spirit and matter are one.

I believe we have all experienced similar moments of connection with nature and place. When such a connection is made we realize that wholeness or holiness is all around us and within us. It interpenetrates the world we live in. So often, the busyness and complexities of our lives take up most of our energy. Times of connection and attunement seem like pleasant but unrealistic dreams.

Yet these are not unrealistic aims. Coming into relationship with nature and finding a sense of place in our environment are not luxuries or the special preserve of nature mystics and poets like Wordsworth, Thoreau or W. B. Yeats. They are essential components to living a purposeful and contented life.

Study after study has demonstrated that children from urban settings who have been introduced to nature, to trees, and even to pets are better adjusted and less violent than those who have not.

… This reconnection to a deep order of things can begin quite simply with a walk. As the great naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, wrote, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

The deeper sanity and peace offered by the natural world are gaining currency in the mainstream press also. As I was writing this article, I picked up a copy of USA Today and, as if by synchronicity, the headline in the Life section read “A holy place big as all outdoors—believers connect with God outside religious structures.” Yes! In the article that followed, Rabbi Jamie Korngold, author of God in the Wilderness, wrote, “You can make yourself so breathless with wonder and exhaustion that you can’t say no to God”. This visceral approach grounds us in the vitalities of the body. One’s breath and heartbeat are God’s rhythms coursing through our bodies. The body of the universe (outside) and our physical bodies (inside) become one. ...

Rabbi Korngold further comments, “You can have a similar awe experience watching rain on a city windowsill. You can have it with every breath. You can get spiritual endorphins going in your own backyard.” …

So this is our work, our joyous responsibility as human beings involved in a larger creation ... to acknowledge and appreciate the presence of Spirit in the grass growing beneath our feet, in our own place where heaven and earth meet in the magnificent interplay of the human with the divine.

This excerpted article originally appeared in Unity Magazine. Paul John Roach is senior minister of Unity Church of Forth Worth in Texas and host of World Spirituality on Unity Online Radio.