“Awakening to New Wonder”

God is bigger than church. Church isn’t the only place you’ll find Him. For a long stretch, church was one of the last places I looked. Nothing against it, but I felt like I connected with God better in nature than in a building.

I still talk to God more outside than I do inside. My most prayerful places are by the water. I treasure those times and those places. Yesterday, Harper and I took our dog walkabout to Wye Island, a place where I have run close to 30 miles at once, have run at night, have lost keys, hiked, reflected, prayed. Our walk didn’t disappoint, following trails, sitting, listening, reading and praying by the river; and Harper would have liked to have chased down her first buck, though I’m not sure what she’d have done with it if I had let her go.


I’m a slow learner, and have never been one to take anyone’s word for anything. I have to find things out for myself, experientially, even though it frequently means falling on my face and dusting myself off, eventually coming to the same realization that was suggested at the beginning.

If we only look for God in church, we are selling ourselves, and Him, way short. But I realized I was selling myself, and Him, short by choosing to only look for Him outside a church. And part of what that comes down to is misconceiving “church,” as being just a building, or a set of beliefs. And not seeing it as a people, coming together to worship, quite literally to be the body of Christ, alive in the world. I like the way Richard Rohr looks at the Trinity:

God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you, “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us, and even me.

It’s that understanding, of having God alongside us, and working through other people, and finding that, feeling it, knowing it much deeper when I started to find other people walking their own walk, struggling with their own questions, coming together to worship and to pray and to help one another. Finding church.

Yesterday sitting along the Wye River and this morning in church, I felt grateful; an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Thomas Merton explained what I felt better than I can explain it:

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything… Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. – Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

I’m a work in progress. That’s all I will ever be, trying to put one foot in front of another along the path and not be distracted chasing every other SQUIRREL! life throws at me. But gratitude and prayer are pretty good at helping sustain and focus me when I pay attention.

This morning’s sermon was about praying. Can I pray? Can I pray always? Can I pray proactively? Can I be persistent, not just praying when I am troubled, but also when and because I am grateful. The sermon closed with a prayer from Archbishop Desmond Tutu (which he adapted from Sir Francis Drake), which I felt in my bones:


Disturb us, O Lord

when we are too well pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord

when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the abundance of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord

to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.


Author: Michael Valliant

I am a father, a writer, a runner, a hiker, reader, follower of Christ, a longboard skateboarder, stand-up paddleboarder, kayaker, novice birder, sunrise chaser, daily coffee drinker, occasional beer sipper. I live in Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where I am the Assistant for Adult Christian Education and Small Groups at Christ Church Easton by day. I am on a walk of faith, a spiritual adventure, following where God leads, sharing my story as it unfolds.

2 thoughts on ““Awakening to New Wonder””

  1. I like what you say about seeking God in nature.

    I’m not terribly religious but I read a bit of theology. I take the idea of the divine seriously in the sense that I consider it an important idea worth considering.

    I too go out in nature frequently to seek the divine. I’m not sure what it is but I go out in the woods and on the water in my kayak to seek it.

    The Old Testament theophanies occurred outdoors. God was manifest in nature. He often appeared as storms.

    People get it wrong about what the ancient Hebrews were up to. They were outside all the time and they felt the Presence of God (also ‘gods’ as they went in for idolatry in big ways and they did so frequently according to the Old Testament) in nature.

    Some say that reading and discussing God is philosophy while going out and feeling Him is religion.

    I am, by the way, Jon Jacobs. I play bass on most Sundays at the 9:15 service at Christ Church.

    Feel free to respond or not to respond. I’m not at all easily offended.

    1. Hi, Jon – thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! I think you are spot on with religious traditions through the ages doing a better job of pointing out and celebrating our connection to nature. A pilgrimage wouldn’t take place indoors. It seems to me a disservice to God, creation, etc., to try to constrict Him to a specific time and place. And if you go by the notion that God created everything, nature would seem an appropriate place to find Him.

      I think what I have found over the past year especially, is the equally real dynamic that fellowship, like-minded people coming together to worship, to look for answers, to help each other out, is another place that God lives, and that even those of us who crave solitude, do well to find a community of faith, who can encourage us, inspire us, make us think, see things differently, and recharge a bit. And myself, as a music lover, but having zero musical talent, I thoroughly enjoy you all playing and the type of music you bring to the service–refreshing, uplifting, and moving. Very many thanks!

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