I grew up as one of those socially awkward kids. I had a best friend (like we all need) and a handful of other friends I palled around with. But mostly I wasn’t that outgoing and didn’t enjoy big social gatherings. My older brothers called me “anti-social.” That was a time before we had Meyers-Briggs scales or Enneagrams, before we began to recognize introverts as a normal part of society.
I’m still that way today. I’ll generally choose a quiet night at home to going out with a gang most of the time. I still prefer reading a good book or having morning quiet time to being out and about among the clash and clang of masses of people. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times I feel the need for personal interaction with friends, even the occasional larger-scale social engagement. I’m not completely anti-social; it’s just that my natural proclivity is toward an internal focus rather than external.
That makes nature at the same time overwhelming for me but also awe-inspiring. As a kid, I used to love looking up at the winter night sky, seeing the stars and constellations. I’d stare at those far away lights through the fog of my breath until my neck would ache. Or standing on a beach, gazing at the ocean for hours. Or standing in awe at the foot of mountains up close, or woods so thick with trees you could get lost in them. These things inspire such open-mouthed wonder and amazement, I just have to stand there in silence. You know what I’m talking about.
I think we need those moments. I think they touch our souls. Maybe it’s the language of God. The vastness and incomprehensibility of creation. We see our smallness in comparison, and yet there’s a pull, like we are somehow connected to them. Something in us is drawn to them. “Deep calls to deep” is a phrase that comes to mind.
In the gospels, Jesus is described as often sneaking away in the early hours of the morning to be alone and pray. One gospel writer describes it as his personal habit, his custom. What strikes me is that he seemed to prefer doing his private praying outdoors. He doesn’t go to an inner room or to the roof top, as was sometimes the custom. Often his disciples would have to go hunting for him: “everyone’s looking for you!” Popularity has a price, it seems. In one story, after the famous last supper, knowing the awfulness of what was about to happen, Jesus feels the need to pray. But he doesn’t start a prayer meeting with his friends in that upper room. Instead, he chooses to be out in a grove of olive trees, and invites a few of his disciples to come along with him. And while he’s deep in his private time with God, they’re either falling asleep or chatting among themselves. Not everybody feels the call of the deep as much as others.
There’s something about being outdoors. Maybe looking at the stars, or the pinks and golds of a sunset. For me, when the weather permits, it’s often quiet coffee time in the green space in my backyard, surrounded by trees, chattering squirrels and birds fluttering around. A peace settles on me that I don’t find when among a lot of people, or even sitting alone in my livingroom.
Psalm 147 says the LORD determines the number of stars in the sky and calls them each by name. He covers the heavens with clouds, and the hills with grass. He provides food for the animals and hears when the young ravens cry. But among all these, he takes special delight in those who revere him.
I’m wondering if being outdoors and allowing ourselves to be struck by the awe and wonder of creation around us is a special form of reverence. If creation is one of the languages of God, sometimes we need that alone-time outdoors to hear it.