Return to Faith
May 6, 2016
-by Jason Merritt
“In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith”
– Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson,
For the past seven years I have lived, worked, prayed, and played in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This week I completed my move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join Forward Movement’s outstanding staff, an inspiring team of writers, editors, and creative people. After weeks of planning and packing, the journey afforded me a beautiful departure from my adopted mountain home, one last winding trip through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains on my way north.
As the mountains faded into the mirror, I began to think of the many memories I made in their midst, and of the deeply spiritual moments of sitting atop an overlook looking out upon what Emerson calls the “plantations of God.” I wondered where I’d find those moments in my next home—wondered how hard I would have to look to find God’s masterpiece in the city.
I have always been drawn to nature. Drawn to the ineffable healing that a deep breath of fresh air can have on lungs weary from the difficult conversations of life. Drawn to the cathartic rhythm of flowing water–whether it be the salty waves of my Florida youth, or the rushing mountain creeks where I discovered my obsessive desire to quietly cast a fly for hours in the hopes of bothering a brook trout for a spell.
Clarity can be found there. Perhaps you too have experienced the moments of peace and prayer that nature effortlessly provides. Perhaps you too have wondered if you can find those same moments once you’ve returned to the concrete and steel.
This week I was waiting to cross a street in downtown Cincinnati on my way to the office, focused on everything but nature. Spring is bounding through the city however, and a breeze moved through a nearby tree, the leaves casting a familiar tone my direction. I looked up from reading emails on my phone and allowed my eyes to drift up to the clouds passing between the buildings, on their way to greet another city—and perhaps another soul in need of clarity on a hectic day.
It was a short, but successful moment of prayer and peace. Even better, it was a reminder I greatly needed.
We often spend our lives seeking reason and faith among the complex worlds we have built around ourselves—and we may find it on occasion—however, my hope is that today you will take 5 minutes to seek them in the wondrous creation that had been gifted to us each day. It may be a little harder to find in the city or office, but I assure you it’s there if you seek it.
Look up. Look around. Look down, even. See the beauty of creation. And breathe.
Remember, you can always come back to the Blue Ridge to visit – There is an Episcopal Conference Center – Kanuga – where we go to be in the mountains in October. It is a lovely place and shortly the rebuilding of the Inn will be completed – so think about it.
How funny that you should mention Kanuga, Martha? I just moved to Forward Movement last month after serving for six years in the Marketing and Communications department at Kanuga. I hope you have a visit planned soon! The renovated Inn is going to wonderful!
Sometimes the tiny moments of awareness are the soul-saving work of the Spirit’s bringing prayer to us. Look for the tiny signs of life with the plants that find a way to emerge in the most unlikely places.
I appreciated your references to the power of water to lure your attention. I lived near Chicago and enjoyed Lake Michigan, but with each trip near or at the oceans, I realized my soul was aching for salt water. It took until I semi-retired to move near the waters of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Even if I move away the calm and peace I have gained has changed my life forever.
Tom & Ann Tibbatts
I grew up in East TN. not far from the Smoky Mountains and I spent a lot of time in the woods and not realizing how much of an impact that would make on my life. Jason Merritt’s contribution is a confirmation to the way I feel about God’s woods. Today my wife and I are blessed to live in five acres of woods in NW, CT. and we thank God for this incredible blessing.
Best of Luck in your new situation. I was born and raised in New York City. I certainly can relate to your difficulty, but here is something I used to do. I would try to listen for birds in the trees. On the avenues that was impossible, NYC is jut too loud, but on the side streets I would hear them. Close to nature standing on concrete!
A great piece, Jason. We’ll miss you and miss knowing that you are at Kanuga and on Mason Dixon Lane.
Jason, this is a beautiful read. Touching heart and soul. I am sure I will read it many times. Thank you. I doubt you will recognize my name. I am Natan Conner’s mother. He was in Jessica’s class. I am from Cincinnati and I am sure you will find many beautiful places to rest in natures peace. Cincinnati has an amazing park system. Eden Park and Ault park are close to the city. Lots of people are usually at Eden Park. Ault Park is more spacious so you can find more places to be alone. Some of the larger parks have some trails. Sharon woods for one. A little known trail goes through Red Bird Hollow in Indian Hill. I think you will find places to commune with nature. Thank you for sharing this beautiful meditation
You pinged me! I have to make a decision and your article greatly helped me see my way. Many thanks!!!