After a lifetime of a love affair with nature, I’ve discovered words that express more adequately why it matters so much to me.
When I was a child at summer camp, a counselor said every afternoon when his duty ended that he was going off to the woods to commune with God.
This recollection comes to mind from time to time when I’m alone out on a trail.
Now just the other day, browsing through Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, I came across a passage which intimates why I may have that recollection.
Permit me to share it, for you too might have a similar reaction.
“People who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort do not rightly love God.
They love God for their own advantage.
This love, even of the highest object, cannot unite the soul to its divine Ground.
Like other emotions of the heart, sensible love intensifies the selfness, which is the final obstacle in the way of such union.
Consequently, it is only if we abide in the peace of God that passes all understanding that we can love God.
And we have to go by way of the humble, and very ordinary peace, which can be understood by everybody —
Peace between nations and within them.
For wars and violent revolutions have the effect of totally eclipsing God for those involved.
Peace between individuals.
And peace within the individual soul.
For personal quarrels and private fears, loves, hates, ambitions and distractions are, in their petty way, no less fatal to the development of the spiritual life than are the greater calamities.
Peace from distractions and emotional agitations is the way to the higher peace of God.
The woods and mountains give me that peace beyond understanding.
It’s hard to have worldly distractions when on a woodland trail.
Even in inclement weather, I’m comforted at a deeper level, despite discomfort on the physical.
I recall with a bit of nostalgia that when I was a teen I had to walk over a mile to catch public transportation to high school.
In winter I’d face freezing winds so cold they’d frost my cheeks and ears.
But then, when boarding the bus I’d laugh in relief at its warmth.
I felt that same sense of relief coming into a warming hut after a good frosty day of New Hampshire skiing
And an even warmer sensation climbing into my cozy sleeping bag at the end of a below-zero Colorado Rocky Mountain winter climb.
There seems something preternaturally pleasing of even the rawness of nature.
It is times like these that I feel the closest to the heart of it all — to the quiet near the Love of God that my camp counselor communed with back in the Michigan woods.
And what Huxley refers to as that “peace of God beyond understanding” at the divine Ground state of our being.
Re-reading the Perennial Philosophy reminds me that this peace of God beyond all understanding is Love.
I think it kind of puts into words what we also get in deep meditation, which of course the wise say is indescribable.
It does seem though a freedom from the attachment of love to any specific “thing.” But more that this embracing nature seems to be something more “universal.”
I like that idea, for it broadens the notion of God’s love to all and everything.
And it gives me a more concrete meaning to the Gospel message that God Is Love.