By Eddy Ruble CBF field personnel in Penang, Malaysia
Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
I have always connected with nature and creation. Several years ago, I moved from road running to trail running in the woods. During the pandemic, my refuge became weekend hikes and trail running in the jungles of Malaysia. Walking prayer became where I found rejuvenation of mind, body and soul. “Forest bathing,” or as the Japanese call it, Shinrinyoku, has proven to be beneficial physiologically, psychologically and spiritually. It reduces stress and builds up the immune system as one inhales the microbes present in the forest and as one absorbs the sights and sounds of nature along the way. Combining physical exertion, nature and the spiritual elements, each step and each breath become a prayer of connection with creation, with God, and with my inner being. As I run, the sun’s first rays filter through the jungle canopy. The forest floor is bathed with golden streams of light. Monkey troops send out audible alerts from the treetops as I pass below. The screech of a sea eagle pierces the sky above. The sun’s rays of light activate a cacophony of alluring song birds as the dawn’s katydid songs fade. I love being out in nature. Nature’s healing power is amplified in the dawn hour.
Often, when I start my hike, my mind is filled with thoughts, tasks, responsibilities, or emotions layered deep. On particularly stressful days, I may feel the tension in my chest. With each step I climb, with each breath, I inhale rejuvenating oxygen while absorbing the serenity of the jungle. Starting at sea level, my hikes always begin with an uphill climb. How long does it take for my mind to slow down, for the thoughts to dissipate? Twenty minutes, maybe 45 on a stressful day. But inevitably, at some point, a shift occurs. Usually, the change is so subtle that I am not even aware there was a switch. By the time I turn around and start my journey back, my mind has shifted, my spirit has lifted. The stress and strain of life has evaporated in the dawn mist. I breathe in. I breathe out. As I make my way downhill, with a quickening pace and the agility of a trail runner, euphoria and joy fill my soul. I feel alive, firing on all cylinders!
I can never recall a time at the end of a hike or run when I didn’t feel better than when I began. Never have I thought I wasted an hour while out in nature. Why? Because that is where I find God. It is where I connect with creation and myself. God met Moses on a mountain top. God met David in the Judean hills while he shepherded sheep. Jesus was known to withdraw from the crowds and go up on a hill to pray. I meet God in profound ways, surrounded by creation on jungle trails, as my prayers harmonize with my movement and my breath.
Pray, Practice, Ponder: Praying with the Five Senses Sometimes we struggle to pray because we struggle to be present in our mind, our body and our spirit. Being outside can help us become present, reconnecting us with nature, with ourselves, and with God’s presence all around us. The following practice, often called the Five Senses Practice, is a simple way to become more present. It can be used before prayer or as prayer itself. It can be done outside, or looking out a window if that is more comfortable for you. Notice: Five things you can see. Allow your gaze to linger, memorizing the details of each one. Four things you can hear. Notice the loudest sounds, and then the quiet sounds below them. Three things you can touch. Find different textures nearby, even your own skin. Two things you can smell. Inhale deeply as you do. One thing you can taste—any sensation lingering on your tongue.
Eddy is a CBF field personnel serving in Penang, Malaysia with his wife Cindy. Eddy works as CBF’s International Disaster Response Coordinator. To find out more about their work, click here.
This prayer appears in the 2022-2023 edition of Prayers of the People, the annual prayer guide of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, edited by Rev. Meg Lacy Vega. Download the digital version or order free print copies of Prayers of the People at www.cbf.net/pray.