From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Prayer which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes”

“Prayer which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes”

In May, I wrote about the pilgrimage, prayer on the way. For some prayer comes more naturally through the senses than through sitting in silence. So this month, we’re staying outside and considering ways of praying amidst nature.

Although humans often act as though we are separate from nature, and try to control it as little gods, we are part of it and intimately bound up in it. The whole creation is fearfully and wonderfully made, and is intricately connected. God’s glory is to be found in expected and unexpected places, in natural processes and relationships as well as fleeting blossom.

We don’t have to know the names of things. Prayer is not about collecting species, or appreciating only rarities, but about allowing ourselves to notice and be captivated, standing and staring or crouching down to peer into a flower, and closely observing and wondering. In the Color Purple, Alice Walker wrote: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

Simply going for a walk is a path into prayer. Sometimes you might be more deliberate, and practice an awareness walk. I have a couple of leaflets of walks aimed at helping you to pay attention to your surroundings and how you move through them. Others suggest a Lectio of Nature, in which we can ‘read’ nature to become aware of God’s presence.

The Quiet Garden Movement nurtures access to outdoor space for prayer and reflection, flowing from Jesus’ example and invitation to ‘Come away… and rest a while’ (Mark 6.31).

Those unable to get out might still be able to bring nature in – house plants, a view of the sky, birdsong through an open window, and on the television the exotica of the Green Planet or the (sadly thinning) commonplace on Springwatch.

Duns Scotus wrote of haecceitas and Gerard Manley Hopkins of inscape, the true nature, essence, or particular ‘thisness’ of a thing. Can we come close to seeing and scenting a spray of the lily of the valley as God might see it? Hearing the chatter of a treeful of sparrows as God might hear them? At this time of year, consider the shine on the petals of a buttercup, or the spindrift of cow parsley and hawthorn framing a footpath, or even ants farming aphids in the garden. Do you truly know the skin on the back of your hand? It’s astonishing.


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.