The updated version of this post can be found here.
Midwinter in the northern states, especially after the holiday lights are taken down, makes me want to hibernate. Slate skies hang low over naked trees and ragged ground. The happiness I take from nature’s changes in the other seasons now withers into weariness of the dark and cold.
Sometimes, my absorption of current events threatens to paralyze me. I feel helpless amongst the hugeness of the ills plaguing society. As a Bahá’í, I know that complete retreat is not an option; I must actively serve humankind. Yet, at least for me, finding space away from the turbulence of human affairs is necessary for spiritual rejuvenation. To refresh my own ability to engage in society, I need to draw from the spiritual world. The nearest threshold to that world for me is Mother Earth. But what to do in the darkest months, when she lies frozen?
My mother, who taught me to delight in nature, recently called my attention to a prayer revealed by the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh:
Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence.
In this passage, the grandest imagery of nature—sky, sea, summits—serves as visual evidence of the power of God. Without a doubt, grandeur moves the human spirit to recognize our own insignificance compared to the Creator. I’ve had that realization gazing up at redwoods, across the expanse of oceans and seas, and down deep valleys—as well in the immensity of huge cathedrals and mosques. Yet, aside from the occasional travels that take me to such places, my daily life lacks such spectacles; even the sky in this season refuses to show off its heights.
Yet, “every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty.” Everywhere on this planet, earth is under our feet—earth that signals God’s power and bounty.
The prayer continues,
…I can hear from the whisper of the winds the sound of Thy glorification and praise, and can recognize in the murmur of the waters the voice that proclaimeth Thy virtues and Thine attributes, and can apprehend from the rustling of the leaves the mysteries that have been irrevocably ordained by Thee in Thy realm.
Earthy sounds—whispering wind, murmuring waters, and rustling leaves—testify to divine glory. Even in its winter shroud, the earth speaks through pattering rain and muffling snow.
Further, without journeying to more breathtaking environs, I can enhance my access to nature’s small “ensigns”—flags waving down the spirit. To the left of my desk, the window looks upon my birdfeeder. Year-round residents including nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, and cardinals alight there. To the right of my desk, a large terra cotta pot emits fast-growing leaves of daffodils and hyacinths, as eager for springtime as I am. Inside the soil lives an earthworm that migrated indoors with the bulbs.
Of course, I still yearn for the rejuvenation promised by summertime: basking on sun-warmed grass, surrounded by verdure and birdsong, insects busily working around me. But until then, nature quietly speaks of divine power, easing our careworn spirits and coaxing them back into the tumult of society.