Another slightly revised re-post originally written 4 April 2008.

Allow me to continue talking about nature and what it has meant to me. I love nature very much, and find considerable joy in it–I know this probably comes across in my journal, but probably not nearly enough to convey the real magnitude of my love.

Unfortunately, love of nature was one of the things that attracted me to paganism when I was in my late teens… and, of course, led me away from the Church. I’m not blaming love of nature for that, of course; it was my own ignorance and lack of serious reflection upon my faith. I felt like the only time nature was ever mentioned in the Church was when man was lorded over it. And I didn’t think that was very fair. I found the stories about St. Francis to be silly and sentimental and cliche.

Before I knew it, I was reading books about “being one with” nature, about Wicca, and about “white magick,” and also touches of Buddhism and Hinduism. And I was really fascinated and enamoured. At first, it all seemed so serene and even and balanced. But before long, I began to realize that, at best, I myself was becoming silly and sentimental and cliche. Worse than that, I was losing my ability to look at nature objectively, to feel delight and wonderment at its other-ness, to explore its mysteries, and to think rationally about it. Worst of all, I found that in studying and practicing magick and other occult arts, I wasn’t loving nature or other people or anything at all–in reality, I was lording myself over everything and everyone, and (so I thought) I was just casting myself in the role of that all-powerful God I had come to despise along with everything else Christian!

In the end, I was very disillusioned and very deranged. I generally kept acting the role of the kind, peaceful, harmless, benevolent, loving “good witch.” But it was just like a game. It served my purposes. In reality, I veered about in some of the darkest places a soul can go: materialism, atheism, false rationalism, satanism. I forgot my genuine love of nature. I’m not really sure how much genuine love I had for my fellow man–even my family and friends! The devil is good at imitating love… and I probably was too.

Needless to say, my life was falling apart in these days. I was generally in denial about it, of course. I couldn’t possibly fail, after all. If I did acknowledge it, it was only to blame others–especially God, my greatest enemy (yes, I was usually one of those “atheists” who really just hates God). Eventually, everything hit rock bottom, and my parents–who have always represented pretty much everything that is good in this world to me–came to rescue me and give me a fresh start.

Two unrelated things happened which, together, had an enormous impact on me, though I didn’t realize it at the time: I got a kidney stone, and it snowed. That probably sounds really strange, doesn’t it? Let me say that I just hate going to doctors and hospitals. But the pain from the kidney stone was such that I was begging to go! It transported me right out of myself, beyond all my likes and dislikes, beyond my worries and fears. My parents got me to the hospital. Once they got me settled in a bed, they gave me an IV of some really strong pain-killer. The drug transported me in a different way. It made me calm, and while it made me tired, it also gave my mind a certain fleeting clarity. I remember I had to go to the bathroom, and my mom walked me down the hall. We passed a window, and it was snowing! I was drawn to the window, where I stared in awe at the big snowflakes coming down, and was enchanted by how white and softly luminous the world seemed. Some of the flakes were gathering on a dark green little evergreen shrub. I didn’t think I’d ever seen anything so beautiful in my life! It was like being in a different world… it was like being a different person. In a moment, my mom brought me away, and the moment was over. But that glorious moment would remain with me, in secret.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it was about that time that I began to think of God as something other than an enemy. I’m not sure what it was that made me start going back to church. Not regularly, or with any real level of commitment, but still. I remember sitting in the car with my dad one evening, outside a church. I remember asking him, “What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve been wrong all these years? What if I was wrong to leave the Church? What is going to happen to me? I don’t want to go to Hell!” I think my dad was really shocked, but also relieved and hopeful–he saw a chink in the armor I had built up around myself. Of all the things I had come to doubt–at last, at last, I was beginning to doubt my own doubts! After that evening, the world began to look much different and much brighter to me.

It helped that we were living in a very beautiful place (right outside Louisville, Kentucky), where there are four distinct seasons. After living on the Gulf Coast for so long, I found myself getting really excited about the spring flowers and the summer fireflies and the autumn leaves and the winter snow! My love of nature slowly began creeping back into me. And with my wonder at nature, my wonder at God began to grow. They went hand in hand, really. This process took several years. But I felt I was becoming more myself again. And God was becoming an object of love once more, rather than of hatred.

As I know I’ve told before, my real religious conversion happened when I lost Patrick, my first true love and my future husband. On that evening when I got the news, God showed His face. And He showed it in nature. As beautiful as the snow on the evergreen had been, it was nothing compared to that evening. It was 28 April 2005, about 7:30 PM, just after I’d gotten the news of Patrick’s death. I was outside waiting for my uncle to pick me up. The sky was unlike anything I’d ever seen: rose and gold and blue and violet and white. There was a soft, sweet-smelling breeze, and on the breeze were tons of little white blossoms from a tree next door. All I could think and feel was that I was beholding something much greater than myself. And it wasn’t anything threatening or oppressive–it was something good and tender and protective. And actually, it wasn’t an “it” at all. It was a Person. It was God. He was there. He was gazing at me with that magnificent sky. He was coaxing me with the sweet wind. There was a great thrill of expectation everywhere–He was waiting to see what I would do now. Would I finally come back to Him, or would I reject Him yet again, for the millionth time? I could have done either. But faced with that glorious vision, I just left everything behind–all the hatred and the darkness and the catastrophes of my past years. I chose Him! I chose Him, and I loved Him, and I submitted to Him… and to this day, even though that was the most horrible evening of my entire life… it was also the most beautiful.

While that evening provided a kind of Road-to-Damascus conversion experience, my conversion was really quite slow.  There were many struggles, many relapses on my part, and many dreary days after that. But as time went on, the world was set aright, and I regained my proper place within it. By the time a year had gone by, there was no trace left in me of the silly new-ager, the brooding occultist, or the demented God-hater. I regained my mental and emotional appreciation of nature. I wasn’t “one with it”–and that was as it should be. We can’t fully appreciate nature without a certain detachment from it. God, in His wisdom, built that detachment into us by making us fundamentally different than any other creature. He made us more like Himself than any other earthly creature. He elevated us above every other creature. Not so that we could lord ourselves over nature, but so that we could serve it and tend to it and love it and care for it and explore it and work out the puzzles of it and call down God’s graces upon it.

The glory of being human is that we are between God and nature! Never completely separate from either, of course. But we have our very own, very special realm, with its own special responsibilities: stewardship toward nature, worship toward God. Sometimes the two overlap, as they did today for me–but paganism it is not! The Christian loves nature because God made and also loves nature. To the Christian, all creatures have value and worth because God created them and holds them in being. The Christian naturally makes an excellent scientist because he can regard nature objectively, while also with sheer wonder at the same time. The Christian regards nature as an elaborate gift from a lover to delight His beloved. But nature also serves as a reminder of man’s failing. When things go wrong in nature, it is because of the fallen world man’s sin has created. Both sin and grace come into the world by way of man; of all creatures, only man can sin and only man can be restored to grace. Therefore, the Christian has a particularly strong understanding of just how much nature depends on us… and just what hangs in the balance.

In short: nature has been very integral to my spiritual life. I would go so far as to say that, for any of us, how we act toward nature and where we stand with God are very closely related. We can’t truly love one if we neglect the other–before long, we will have neglected both. If we are very, very fortunate, we might also regain both.