We prepared a couple for marriage last year and encouraged them to carve out time for an intentional spiritual practice during the week before their wedding—something they could do together to remain centered with each other and with God as they entered the busy whirlwind of the wedding week.
They were getting married in Nebraska, where the bride grew up on a farm, so the couple decided to grab a six-pack of beer and a pickup truck and headed out on a country road one night for a couple hours of star gazing.
Does this qualify as a spiritual practice? Of course it does! Who can spent an hour under the Milky Way without gaining a better sense of who they are and how they fit in the universe? This couple had set aside time to touch transcendence, and the experience grounded them as they flew through the receptions and photos and dancing.
Stacey and I recently came to an appreciation of how our childhoods were shaped by these kinds of experiences of transcendence. Stacey grew up in Florida near the Gulf of Mexico and being on or near the water puts her in touch with the eternal. I was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the wind whispers the secrets of created things through pine trees. Spending time outside was formative for both of us because it was a kind of deep prayer—it was a way of being both small and significant in a vast world.
We now live in Indiana, and though we’ve tried to provide a home with space around it for our kids to have healthy outdoor experiences and playtime, it’s not the same as standing on top of a mountain. I’ve been pondering how to make sure our children are formed by a sense of the transcendent—how to invite them to those quiet, soul-searching moments where we simply rest in God.
We are lucky to have family in both South Dakota and Florida, so when we visit them, we have great opportunities to get back in touch with the natural surroundings that fed us. We are getting better at capitalizing on these trips as a family—by getting out on the water in kayaks or going for hikes in the hills.
We try to do hiking here in Indiana, and though it’s not the same as being in the mountains, it doesn’t take long to be in the woods. Trees might be our best shot at touching nature’s transcendence here in the flatlands—even a short stroll in the deciduous forest here offers a breath of fresh air. We always seem to emerge from these walks refreshed and renewed—everyone’s in a good mood.
I realize that nature is not the only mediator of the transcendent—we can share moments of quiet and solitude practically anywhere we are. One of our prayer practices as a family is to occasionally spend 10-15 minutes of silent prayer in our own rooms before coming together for our regular night prayers. In those moments, the house is still and resonant with the awareness that each of us is approaching God in his or her own way—it is a tangible moment of solidarity. Perhaps these kinds of prayerful experiences are the most important way in which we touch transcendence.
We were recently visiting family in St. Louis and made a visit to the Cathedral Basilica there. It is a massive church full of stunning mosaics—we enjoyed a tour of the side chapels and pondered the imagery throughout the building. I was impressed with what our kids could interpret on their own. The space bestowed a sense of wonder and awe, which is just exactly what I’d like to provide our family—either through the natural world or through moments of prayer: a glimpse of heaven.