Last month, a friend and I went for a magical late-afternoon paddle in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. A graceful great blue heron swooped over us. The white neck of an erect snowy egret shone in the marsh grass where he stood sentinel. Above us, an eagle spread wings wide and dipped and soared on warm drafts.
By sunset, peach painted the sky, and in the stillness, the evening calls of the birds were symphonic. A lovely peace settled over me. I watched from my kayak as the last nature revelers of the day exited the refuge by bike and car.
I remembered how often over the years that last partaker to leave the refuge has been me. Living west of Boston, caring for a busy family and business, I always found Plum Island my regeneration spot. Even if I couldn’t get to the island until late afternoon, the last hours of the day were rich in shimmering shoreline reflections, the skittering of sandpipers’ feet and rolling sage dunes. Driving out of the refuge at sunset, I’d hug the inspiration close as I drove home.
Why does the beauty of nature move us to depths of feeling? I think it’s because we see God’s handiwork in nature. Each creature, each sunset, in its individuality, tells us something more about God’s unfathomable goodness and beauty. It touches us, because we, too, are His handiwork, made “in His image and likeness.” (Genesis 1) We feel a kind of oneness with the grand Creator and His universe. And that is deeply settling.
Truly transforming moments come from discerning the spiritual significance of what we see around us — whether of rocks that can’t be beaten down by the storms of life, or of a lily with its simple trust. “Consider the lilies of the field,” taught Christ Jesus, “how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Sermon on the Mount— Matthew)
As a follower of Christian Science, a religion which teaches universal spiritual laws of harmony, I’ve often pondered this statement by the founder of the Christian Science church, Mary Baker Eddy: “Nature voices natural, spiritual law and divine Love. ... The floral apostles are hieroglyphs of Deity. Suns and planets teach grand lessons. ... In the order of Science, in which the principle is above what it reflects, all is one grand concord.” (”Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the textbook of Christian Science)
Later, Eddy describes birds as corresponding “to aspirations soaring beyond and above corporeality ....” How many times has the soaring of a bird reminded me that I, too, possess the spirit to be lifted above life’s trials, and to soar!
Such insights can bring us healing. As a teenager, I was healed of chronic seasonal allergies, and later of a cat allergy, by realizing the all-goodness of God’s creation. I remember when the Biblical words from Genesis 1 that God saw every thing He had made and “behold, it was very good” really hit me. It dawned on me that God’s universe was all good because it was actually made of spiritual ideas — such as beauty, grace and poise — and that there wasn’t anything in such a universe that could cause suffering. (How could there be anything harmful in the beauty represented by spring blossoms, or in the grace and poise that identifies a cat?) Ultimately, my prayer was an acknowledgement of the allness of divine Love.
We are blessed to be living in a place where nature’s lessons abound. More than 300 species of birds frequent Plum Island, So don’t miss the majesty of a snowy owl this winter or the flash of a white-tailed deer — reminding us of our God-given resilience and joy of life.
Gail J. Miller is a Christian Science practitioner and a member of the Newburyport Christian Science Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist) at 22 Inn St.