Review: This Outside Life

Gentle Reader,

I believe God wants us to notice it all.

– p. 7

Misty mountains, rippling prairie grasses, towering trees and multiple lakes – these are all around me, and have been all my life. For years, I was dulled to their beauty. Though I knew from a young age that I preferred the quiet of country roads and barely-beaten paths to the noise of cities, nothing in my surroundings seemed unique or unusual.

Then I took a long walk one early autumn evening, in the time when the sun disappears and twilight spreads its mysterious cloak over the earth. I watched as a glorious and indescribable array of colors – gold, violet, fiery orange – danced across the sky, putting on a spectacular show for any who cared to notice. And notice, I did. It was as if God arranged that display specifically for me, to remind me of His goodness and constant presence.

Crickets began their song. Frogs joined in. The colors faded into the gray-blue of the thin place, when the veil between this world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In that moment, I began to understand why God called His creation good.

In This Outside Life: Finding God in the Heart of Nature, Laurie Kehler calls the reader to connect with this goodness in order to foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with God:

Spending time in nature is healing. It can draw you closer to the creative heart of God. It can help anxiety. It can help ADHD. It can give you a new perspective. Spending time outside is good for your insides. It’s no wonder that Beethoven, Einstein and Steve Jobs all took long walks outside. It quieted their minds and fueled their creativity. In 1910, hiker and philosopher John Muir noted that we were a “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” We need to reconnect with nature now more than ever. … I want you to step outside and find the heart of God in nature. … He’s there. He’s everywhere.

– p. 13-14

Having never known a day without anxiety, even stretching back to my earliest memories, I can attest to the truth of her statement. The worst days are made better when I take the time to get outside, whether that is going for a hike, wading in the always-cold river or digging my hands into the dirt of my garden. The fresh air and physical activity shift my focus from whatever is scaring me and onto the sound of birds singing, the scent of pine trees, the touch of grass on my skin. God lays His hand on my head and says, “Rest, child. Rest.”

Kehler not only makes this call, but issues another, to remember that we need to connect with others within the context of outside. To step outside of our homes, workplaces and traditional worship centers. To gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and drink bad coffee:

Community and connection are the antidotes for anxiety, isolation, and depression. A caring community cultivates contentedness. This is reflected in the Hebrews passage where it states: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (10:24-25 NLT).

– p. 93

I read this and a fond memory rises to the surface. I am a young teen, baby cousin balanced on my knee, watching the crackling fire and listening as my dad and uncles tell ridiculous stories. The whole family is present. Grandma, her five sons, their wives, her fourteen grandchildren (two more would be added in years to come), plus a few friends who came along. None of us have had a decent shower because the campsite is as basic as can be. The boy cousins are all about this; we girls, less so. But despite the grime and grit, we are happy.

I think of another campfire, more recent. Church family gathered around. I sit, shivering despite the flames and several layers because warm is not really a thing I ever am these days, with a big dog at my feet, just waiting for a bit of s’more to drop. People drawn from various backgrounds and experiences, whose only commonality is Jesus. And He is more than enough.

This is the point that Kehler makes, time and again,

…the romance of stars and how they hint at a loving an imaginative Creator. I like to think of His hand scattering the confetti of brilliance across the carpet of sky. I like to ponder God’s immensity, artistry and care for the great and small things He has made.

– p. 116

Yes, great and small, the Lord God made them all.

Spending time in nature is meant to drive us not to worship the creation, but the Creator. It is a choice to slow down and refocus, reprioritize. The world and its break-neck pace will not give us permission to do so, and thus we must be intentional. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, lace up the boots and go. Have a spot of adventure, done with a dash of daring. And then sit, whether on a mountain peak or in the midst of a perfectly plotted rose garden, wrapped in silent awe and wonder.

For the King made all this. He is so very good.

Kehler’s words will stay with me for some time to come. Definitely recommend this one.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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