God is in the waterfalls; God is in the trees.
God has never spoken to me inside the walls of a church. Sitting in a pew watching the red and orange stained glass hues fall lightly over the faces of people otherwise absorbed in worship, I have never felt the overwhelming presence of God.
This, along with many other complicated reasons, is why I don’t go to church.
But does this fact automatically mean that I am not inherently religious?
I would like to think that the scope of religion reaches further than merely the commitment to an institution or a priest or a book that supposedly sits atop all other forms of spirituality.
God is in the waterfalls of the Upper Peninsula. She calls to me from the cascades of natural springs that have seemingly been falling for eternity. They will continue to fall no matter who chooses to watch them; this is what gifts them their nobility. They ask for nothing from us, yet we are still graced with the ability to gaze upon them in awe. This, I think, is God.
God is in the cloudy sunlight that filters through lines of pine trees. She shines her light upon my face in reminder of all things beautiful and natural and real and true. My worship is not a formal one. It is more of a spiritual journey towards the realization that we as humans are so small, so tiny and minuscule in the scope of the universe; none of these day-to-day details will matter to the God who shows herself in the raindrops racing down foggy window panes or the tongues whose heat melt snowflakes for eternities.
In many places, West Michigan specifically, this idea that religion can look different than a church and a priest and candles whose smoke smells of oldness and wisdom seems to be seldom seen or heard about in passing. Why is this? Why can’t the overlap of spirituality and traditional religion be more than just a spot for ‘the others’: the ones who were not able to subscribe to an idea so seemingly foreign and far away.
It is hard for me to imagine a God who observes Sunday mass and thinks “yes, this is what makes religion. This shows your devotion to me.” Is devotion to God not also devotion to nature? Is a commitment to religion not also a commitment to humanity?
If God takes refuge in our earth, why do we continue to soil this sacred ground? And if God wishes plentiful life on all people, then why do millions continue to suffer from old-world problems?
Instead of building churches upon the very dirt that Mother Nature works so hard to bring to life, our worship should take place outside in the grassy wilderness that is our forgotten home from long ago.
As Anne of Green Gables once so wisely said, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”
I was never taught how to pray. The only prayers that occupy space in my mind are the verses spoken over dinner around my grandmother’s table and the song lyrics that hold strings to my spirit. This feeling of prayer is one that presents itself to me most often in the form of writing, both my own and others.
To sit and write about life and love is a prayer. To sing loudly to a song that encompasses your holistic being is a prayer. I pray every day when I speak words of kindness to those around me; compliments and questions and friendliness feel more like a prayer than those that have filled my ears on Christmas mass in or any time preceding or succeeding.
From what I have gleaned from my time spent inside traditional religious institutions, God speaks to everyone. If this is true, then she speaks to the birds and the trees. She speaks to flora and fauna hidden under dozens of layers of sweet decomposition. She speaks in sunsets and constellations. She hides prayer in snowfalls and the change of seasons.
I don’t go to church, but if I did, this is what it would look like.