The only thing I was sure of that evening when I left Columbine after the shooting was that everything had changed. The next 3 days I shut myself into my house and tried to make sense of the suffering I saw. As I binged watched cable news I would find myself screaming at the TV, “this changes everything!” the game had suddenly changed that day after the first shooting for both me and the nation.
It took me over 18 years to start to make sense of what I saw that day at Columbine. In many ways, I still have not made sense of it. I did finally find peace, however. Where did I find that peace you may ask? In nature.
Those dark days after the shooting while trying to figure out how my life had changed, I found peace in nature. It started with long walks around my cookie cutter Colorado neighborhood. I would walk with my dog for hours in circles around the block, praying, crying, and sometimes stopping to look at the views of the mountain’s towering over town to the west. Before long my dog and I took to trail running and long mountain bike rides to ease the pain. Going out in all types of weather and all seasons I learned something very important. God uses nature to heal us.
It was in nature that I discovered the cycles of life. I found comfort in watching fall turn into winter and everything die off. The season finally matched my mood. Cold, windy days fit the reality of my heart as I hiked, biked and walked my way through the winter abyss.
Then something strange happened. Winter turned to spring.
During that transformation of season, I discovered the restorative aspects of nature. Things long dead and buried sprung forth from the earth again in joyous displays of growth and re-generation. Flowers bloomed from dead soil, trees sprouted new buds and glorious bugs like mayflies and butterflies hatched in waves of birth and creation. Spending almost every single day outside I was able to get a first-hand view of this glorious transformation between seasons. This witness of the work of God taught me an important lesson about life and healing.
I am not the only one wired this way. So are you.
Do you ever look out the window on a sunny day and just feel the need to be outside? Do you roll your car windows down on a nice day? Have you ever had a long day and just instinctively gone to play golf or go swimming or walked around the park? What is it about eating outside when the weather is great that just feels so right? Do you go out to eat on a nice day and set outside on the patio? The fastest growing trend in home décor right now is outdoor spaces. I bet you, or someone you know has a fire pit in their backyard and you have set around it this year just catching up and hanging out. Lets face it, you need what nature has to offer. You are wired for it. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? I had a lot of time to think about it as I wandered through the woods every day.
I think it is because nature gives us a blueprint for life. In all that nature is, we see a reflection of the kingdom of Heaven. In spring we see life burst forth like I saw so long ago in Colorado. The dead and dry ground suddenly turns into lush green pastures filled with blooming trees, shrubs and bushes. In spring we see new life, new hope, and celebrations.
Summer is filled with long days and glorious time spent with friends and family. Isn’t it crazy how in summer, when you get home from work, you have more energy and you are more willing to go outside and BBQ or go to a baseball game or have dinner outside with friends? How do you feel after work in winter? I bet you are not excited to go outside. In the midst of summer, it seems like it will never end and most of us crash onto the couch tired when we get home in winter.
The fall brings a crispness to the air and a rush to get in “one last trip” or one last swim. In fall we are reminded that the only constant in life is change. The never-ending summer suddenly meets the first cold morning with dew strung over our car windshield like an unwelcome guest.
Soon fall turns to winter and we are reminded that everything dies. Everything has a season, everything has a life cycle. Everything leaves for a while. It is in winter that we struggle the most. Often in Winter, we find a silence from God that becomes defining. Oswald Chambers calls this, “the shadow of Gods hand”. It is in this shadow that we shrink back, we do not dwell as much as we exist. Many of us, have been simply existing for months, years or maybe even decades.
Then something amazing happens. Spring begins. It starts with a single brave flower. Often times this lone flower is in the crack of a sidewalk, or a long-forgotten garden. Alone standing out triumphantly announcing spring is coming. When we notice this single sign of spring something inside us rejoices, something hopes. New life is on the way.
Long dead things will rise again. In nature, we see this cycle of life up close and personal. Are you tired? Worried? Is something inside you dead? Has something been stolen from you? Your trust, your faith your idea of safety? Are you scared? Lonely? Hopeless? Take heart…. spring is coming. How can you have your religious spring sooner? Simple. Go outside.
Go outside and see Gods creation. Go for a walk, play golf, ride your bike, take a lunch to the lake or that park you saw the other day with the great shade tree. Buy a hammock, not everything in life makes sense while swinging in a hammock on a great day but a lot of things do. Let me tell you a secret I learned the hard way. God designed you to crave nature, don’t fight it.
Our bodies need sun, our moods change with the seasons, our hormones ebb and flow with the tides and the moon (if you don’t believe me ask a teacher if kids act differently during a full moon). We were made with a connection to Gods creation, it is why you are drawn to a sunny day. It is why most baseball stadiums are outside. We love being outside.
This carries over to who we are as spiritual beings. Walk around your neighborhood and pray. Go hit some Golf balls and ask God to go with you. Take a hike with your bible. I dare say God will show you a great place to stop and visit. Watch a sunset over a lake or a sunrise over the trees and you will see what I am talking about. God uses nature to speak to us. Go outside and take a listen. You may be surprised what he has to say. That is the very essence of what solo day is on Trek. Communing with God in his first creation, nature.
That is why every single trip we do has a time alone with God outside. It is just that important. It was on a solo day on my first year working at Wilderness Trek that I gave my career to God and heard the call to ministry. It was on a solo backpacking trip after Columbine that I heard Gods message for me and my experience at Columbine. It was on a solo day on a Trek trip this summer that God called me to this job. Good things happen when we meet God in his creation, nature. If you do not believe me, go outside and see for yourself. God’s creation is waiting to show you something. Will you go listen?
Paul Talley is the Executive Director of Wilderness Trek and has written several articles on his Columbine experiences. His first book, “The hard way: my journey from Columbine” will hopefully be out next year.