As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God’. But we sometimes need to get out of the city to really feel it.
We meet at Grants Picnic Ground, Kallista in the Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges National Park on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Assembling around a picnic table, we start with a prayer. The words of St Basil the Great invite participants into a place in their heart where they can begin to listen to God’s presence in nature. ‘I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator.’
Our walk begins in silence. With no phones or cameras, we walk through Sherbrooke Forest, taking in the magnificent Mountain Ash Eucalypts. These are the largest flowering trees in the world and can get up to 100 metres in height. They are the protectors of the forest standing tall providing cover for the understory trees, plants, animals, birds and insects.
The Mountain Ash eucalypts speak to me of our life journey. They are majestic in a gnarled broken way. They reach for the sky high above, yet in the journey of growth they often become twisted with broken branches and holes in their trunks. The top half of the tree loses its bark lying in strips along the bottom half and in large piles on the ground at the base of the tree. It looks such a mess, as our lives often do, yet this mess forms the compost for the roots of the tree bringing new nourishment and food for the next part of the tree’s life. We too need to be stripped of the outer parts of our life from time to time to make way for the newer life emerging within that will take us on the next part of our journey.
The Mountain Ash, like all eucalypts, are regenerated by fire. They need fire to enable them to bring forth the new life again. They die with dignity and are left blackened and bare, but the seeds within the tree are released by the heat of the fire to bring forth the next eucalypt. This speaks to me of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We are called to die to our self from time to time in our lives to allow the new life to emerge. This experience invites me into a different relationship with the earth and God. It challenges me to rethink how I will live differently with the earth now.
Our walk goes for four hours in total – two hours, followed by lunch, followed by two more hours walking. At the end we have a Magis Circle, where participants share their experiences.
Some say the silence was a challenge at first, but after a while, they began to notice new sounds, new sights and new feelings. Each of us has had different insights in our time among the trees.
When I walk in Sherbrooke Forest I experience a deep stillness of the earth welcoming me into peace within my heart, a peace that is difficult to know in my busy distracting world of city life. Just as the Mountain Ash trees seek to provide a place of hope for all the understory trees, plants and animals, so they invite me into this too.
The Being with God in Nature Ministry at the Campion Centre of Ignatian Spirituality offers a number of prayer walks and nature retreats. For more information go to www.campion.asn.au/nature.
View the reflection questions and activities for 'Walking with God in nature’ here