Me, Myself and God: Prayer in the Woods of Western Massachusetts

This weekend was perhaps the most perfect weekend, and let me tell you why…

When I was in California this past summer, while my roommates went to church somewhere in Oakland or San Francisco, I would head out into the wilderness and enjoy the wonder that is God’s Creation. Ordinarily, I am the full-on church-going type who enjoys the sitting, standing and liturgical cycle that church entails; but sometimes I just need to be free and enjoy God’s initial creations, which most certainly excludes physical manifestation of a church building. I haven’t had the urge to be outside as strong as I did this afternoon since I came back from California nearly 9 months ago. A friend of mine and I have taken to running along with the setting sun, which both allows for the perfect temperature here in Northampton, but also the perfect opportunity to see the beautiful sun setting below the Western Massachusetts farmlands, and also the clear sky afterward.

The Mill River Path is perhaps my favorite part of my Smith experience; I have been running on this path since I was a first year, both alone and with companions. It has been the forum for my excitement, frustration, sadness and unrest. It has willingly taken my sadness, my mess-ups, my pain, my happiness.

As my time at Smith races toward its finish line, I see that God and I have been together all along on this path. We have communicated through this path. At times, when I didn’t think I could ever find the answer to a looming question or decision, I would go for a brisk run on the path, and all my problems would be solved – however temporary the solutions were. I could “run it out” (as I would often find myself saying…), and miraculously, at the end of it, I would feel more at peace, at rest. I would feel more confident in myself, my decisions, and my overall ability to make the “right” decisions for me, and only me. While I can’t begin to say that God was with me each and every time I went for a run by the Mill River over the last 4 years, because that would be far too many times for a busy man like Him, but I think that much of my prayers over the last 4 years have been said by the Mill River.

Once in a Bible Study I went to, the host led a discussion about “The POWER of Prayer,” whatever that means. He discussed how it was our “Christian Duty” to pray every day that the country would be delivered to God, and “His Will would be done.” (Whatever the heck that means, who really knows? Christianese at work…) We then proceeded to go around the circle, talking in detail about our prayer styles, how often we prayed, and what we most frequently prayed for. The normal BLAH BLAH BLAH (meaning the “I’m praying for the starving children” or “I’m praying for my job” or “I’m praying for the raise at work” etc.) came and went, and then it was my turn. I frequently admit that I am not an active “pray-er,” and no matter what, I will never lie about that fact. For me, my faith is more about the work I do and the conversations I have; so, of course, I proceed to say as much, and almost immediately, the leader of the group begins to say something along the lines of, “Well, if you aren’t actively praying, God has no way of knowing that you LOVE Him, or that you are living FOR Him. How is He supposed to help you if YOU SIMPLY DON’T PRAY?” Not a surprising response, but what does one do in this situation? Good question. For the longest time, I thought that the only way to pray was to get down on your knees and pray for the safety of my soul. Never did I think that prayer could be creative, constructive, let alone EXCITING! I love being outside, whether it is running, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and if given a choice, I would spend the rest of my life in the great outdoors! Why not pray outside while doing something that I love? So, for me, being outside, immersed in His Creation, is the way that I pray. It is the way that I commune with God, talk about my feelings (of all sorts, positive and most certainly negative…), and thank Him for everything that is going on in my life.

So what is so wrong with my rather unconventional prayer style? In my opinion, obviously nothing! I mean, lets be serious. These photos…who wouldn’t thank God for such an amazing skyline? Its hard to look at that view and not think that God created the heavens and the Earth just for me! So, just because I don’t sit down on the floor – or rather kneel down on the floor – and say, “Dear God…” doesn’t mean that we don’t have proverbial coffee together; in some way, I think my way of prayer is special. It is me sharing a part of me with the guy that created me…who made this thing a part of me in the first place. God put the running bug in my heart, and in some way, it feels like the best way to thank God for that is to keep running – or perhaps, TO RUN MY HEART OUT JUST FOR HIM. So I’m sorry if anyone out there doesn’t like the fact that I pray in a rather untraditional manner, that’s your right. But when I run, I feel as though God is right there with me, helping me to figure out my life stuff, however big or small.

Today I had the opportunity to be a part of God’s natural creation, to just be alone and reflect in how amazing He is…how amazing His creation is. I wasn’t trying to figure out anything major, or perhaps, I wasn’t trying to figure out anything at all. I’m just getting back into physical activity after having to take 6 months off due to an injury, and it has been without a doubt a challenge to take it easy. Baby steps, everyone has been telling me, baby steps. But I don’t do baby steps that well. I jump head forward into things, not looking at the consequences that I will most certainly have to pay for later on. But this time, I have taken it more slowly, and so running has come to mean something even more significant in my life. My normal means for prayer for a short time was taken away from me, or rather, God was saying that I need to find another way to connect with him. Either way, now that I am able to run again, I feel as though I have gone from the occasional chit-chat with God to a full on relationship again. I mean, just look at the view! –> How could you not thank God for such an amazing view of nature?

This summer gave me the chance to reconnect with God through nature – to find a way to connect with God that only I would see him, hear him. Some people pray in their rooms, others pray out loud. I pray when I run, hike, ride. I pray when I am out in nature, because when the wind blows, the sun shines, the rain falls, God speaks, smiles, cries. God’s emotions are so deeply embedded in nature, and I feel so strongly connected to him when I am unbridled by walls and doors. No matter how bad my day may be, a short run in the woods beside the Mill River and I will have the clarity and answers I needed to fight head on. I feel brave, strong, confident.

Thank God for God; His Creation not only keeps me sane, but it keeps me driven to build my faith. I can chat with my best friend in nature – God.

But more importantly, find creative ways to pray, because how you pray is between you and God, and no one should determine how and where you speak to God. That is up to both you…and God!

…Go With God!…

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