All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.
In the Orthodox icon of the Nativity, both the star and the cave are prominently depicted. This is because they represent nature. The theme of the Nativity, as we have already reflected, is best stated by the Evangelist John, who summarizes it in John 1:14 saying, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. The Nativity is the day that the Creator came to be part of His creation. Thus, all of the creation is present—the faithful believers (Mary and Joseph) the poor shepherds, the educated magi, the angels in heaven, the star, the animals, and the earth itself, which offers the cave. All of creation rejoices at the presence of the Creator in its midst.
There are many people who struggle to believe in Jesus Christ. I was going to write, there are many people who struggle to believe in Christianity, but Christianity is not what we believe in, it’s what we practice. We don’t believe in a “what,” we believe in a “who,” and who we believe in is the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each fulfills a different role.
Let’s step back for a moment from the Holy Trinity and just speak about God. Most of the time, we say we “believe in God,” and we aren’t specific about the persons of the Holy Trinity, and that is fine. The greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. It doesn’t say “love Jesus,” or “love the Holy Spirit.” God is Trinity—to love God is to love all three persons of the Trinity.
In the moment we struggle to believe (and for those who don’t believe), the place to start/restart is to affirm that there is a power greater than us in the world. I don’t like term “higher power,” because that is too carefree—choose your higher power. My “higher power” is God. What is useful in the phrase higher power is the acknowledgement that there is a power higher than us working in the world. So the best place to restart our faith, or to find faith, is in nature, to realize that someone greater than us created everything.
I have always loved going to National Parks—I have been, among other places, to Yosemite (CA), Sequoia (CA), Kings Canyon (CA), the Grand Canyon (AZ), Bryce (UT), Zion (UT), Glacier (MT), Yellowstone (WY), Rocky Mountain (CO) and Acadia (ME). All of these places have breath-taking vistas, mountains and canyons carved by glaciers, and powerful forces of water (rivers, waterfalls or the ocean). There is no way that a human being can create these things. There is no company, or doctoral dissertation that can create these things. Scientists and geologists can explain how these things evolve, but the impetus for their creation rests in a Divine design. What about rain, thunder, wind, gravity, the placement of the moon which affects the tides and so many other things in nature? Again, the creation of all of them points to a power greater than us.
The beginning of faith is a belief in a power greater than us—God. It goes back to Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Someone greater than us made us. From a commonsense perspective, either something lesser than us made us, one of us made us, or something greater than us made us. A lesser being cannot create something greater than itself. We cannot create even equal to ourselves. Of course at this point you might be thinking of the new phenomenon of “artificial intelligence” which is creating entities that think faster than us. But no artificial intelligence is going to have the emotions that we have—no artificial intelligence will experience love, passion, triumph or despair. One day a bunch of robots might play sport on television, just like artificial figures play out in video games, but no video representation of sports captures the passion of actual people playing.
Going back to nature, when I am in a natural setting, like a national park, or even at the beach, the “song” of nature confirms the presence of God. The crash of waves, the roar of waterfalls, the stillness of a mountain range, a gentle stream, these all point to the handiwork of God. It is as if nature worships God, singing hymns to the Creator continuously, each part of creation offering its own unique sound. Natural settings help to confirm the authority and the reality of God, which is why we need to spend time in nature.
We are influenced by what our peers are doing. If we are in a group of people and everyone is singing—at a concert, or in church—we are more likely to sing. Our life will get in sync with what is going on around us. If we are in nature, and we can turn off our noise (i.e. don’t hike with headphones on) and appreciate the sounds of nature, we can also worship with those sounds, we can be in sync with these sounds. As I am typing this message, there is a gentle rain falling outside. It is a sound I cannot create, but I have paused several times while writing to appreciate it. Because it is a sound of nature, which ultimately makes it a sound that praises God, and a sound that I can also use to praise God.
The foremost of the Patriarchs, Fathers before the Law came, brightly shone forth by means of faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as very bright luminaries. Thereafter all the Prophets and all the Righteous were from them lit up as lamps, and thus they began to shine; Therefore by the rays of their God inspired Prophecy they illumined all the bedarkened creation. (Exapostelarion, Orthros, Sunday before Christmas, Sunday of the ancestors of Christ, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Have you visited a place where you saw the earth as worshipping God?