On a recent visit to Emery House, a friend humorously remarked that waking up to his dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong is not quite the same as the real thing. What my friend said is funny, because it goes without saying. Of course it’s not the same! There is a lot more to the early mornings at Emery House than the gradual light of the sunrise and the frenetic clamor of birdsong. Waking up in clear and observable nature gives a person an awareness of being part of something larger, greater than one’s self. That’s why I like to pray here.
Daily, when I look at the grass, observe the breeze blowing the leaves of the birch trees, see the wildlife scamper and the birds soar, I reconfirm my own communion with nature. In recognizing this abundant beauty of my world at Emery House, I know conclusively that I am part of something more, that I am an element of God’s created and resplendent order. As a result, I have come to realize, to believe, that no human is or ever will be the Creator. God has graciously crowned us with glory and majesty; the capability and the glory belong to God. And therein lies the problem with dawn simulators and other artificial re-creations of nature which continue to pop up all around us in shopping malls, natural history museums, video games, theme parks, science fiction, and other representations of our affected and exaggerated temporal existence. We have taken nature out of context. We no longer view it as a Masterly flow; instead, we think of nature as an easy selection from sundry conditions that we can turn on or off, just as one presses the control button on the dawn simulator. In taking nature out of context, we do the same to ourselves. Our sense of being one with the process, progression, and pattern of our natural world is lost, and the illusion of personal control is given.
The human urge to control nature is no surprise. God gave human beings stewardship of the environment. But rather than try and adapt it for our own purposes, to satisfy personal comforts and individual needs, we have a responsibility to work assiduously to live in harmony and joy with nature. The natural world is more than the sum of its parts: Each part is splendid and necessary in and of itself, but when combined within the context of our earthly life, creation gives meaning, dimension, and flavor to daily living. It directly points us toward the reality of a divine and excellent Creator. Once we discover or reconfirm the existence of our Creator, it is instinctive that we want to pray.
Our chapels, churches, and cathedrals, when done right, are man-made extensions of the natural world. Sky, earth, seasons, and a celestial energy pervade worship-done-well. We see the statues, crosses, and pictures; the light and shadows of the naves, transepts, and buttresses; the sounds of the clergy, choir, and congregation working in accord to praise and thank God. At Emery House, the Chapel and nature are one. Large windows let an abundance of light inward, yet perpetually draw the eye outward toward the meadow and the river beyond. When we worship in our Chapel, we do so in communion with nature, praising God and honoring God’s creation by this process. Indoors or out, good days and bad, we lift our voices to our Creator to acknowledge all that God has given to us; it is our thanksgiving for the life we have been granted to live in God’s world. This worship experience de-centers me; it takes me out of self-absorption and pride and guides me toward reflection and prayer. It brings to mind that this is our Creator’s domain, and God is in charge. I am glad to remind myself that this is true.
Our world is a complex place. More and more people are living in situations where their contact with nature is limited. Just take a walk down a major avenue in a city on any continent. The honking of car horns, whirring of fire or police alarms, clanging of industrial machinery – they overwhelm the ear and sometimes the mind, body, and spirit, as well. That is why many city dwellers leave town to go hiking or kayaking on the weekend. It is why they grow herbs on their window sills or install a table-top fountain in their entry areas. It is why they purchase the dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong. Humans adapt and find ways to bring nature in some makeshift form into their lives. But that is not the same as living with nature. Waking up near the pastures of West Newbury, or any natural setting where God’s glory shines through, has its benefits for those seeking a life connected to prayer because being one with nature reminds us that we are part of – and actually dependent on – creation. I like living up here; I like praying here; I like rediscovering God here. I have no need for the dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong. Emery House is as close to nature as you can get. Emery House brings me closer to God, too.