Last weekend I spent a glorious few hours running through the stunning Norwegian countryside, exploring forest trails, discovering gloriously unspoiled streams, staring in awe at lofty mountain peaks, and rejoicing in a high midsummer sun suspended in an impossibly blue sky, all with the wonderful company of an enthusiastic but remarkably well-behaved wolf (okay, he was actually a husky crossed with a Greenland sled dog, but he looked like a wolf).
As I reached the top of the ridge, a light breeze against my face and my tail-wagging companion happily drinking from a nearby stream, I felt like Norwegian champion skier and Nobel peace prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen had hit the nail on the head when he said, “It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport.” Out there in the sun-drenched, panoramic spectacle, I felt more sure of the existence of God, more loved, more connected to a wider story of creation and redemption than I have possibly ever felt inside a church. It’s easy to feel the vastness of God when 1000m peaks reach humbly towards the sky far above them. It’s easy to feel the love of God when you notice the colours of tiny spring flowers. However, as wise Mr Nansen pointed out, it’s also very easy to sit in church and think surprisingly little about God.
Don’t get me wrong – churches can be an amazing source of community and friendship. They are often valuable centres of wisdom and theological learning, places to question and share ideas. Many churches are influential organisations, able to promote social justice, act as peacemakers and extend love to those in need. Churches are perhaps the places we most often talk about God, but are they the places we most often experience God? What a tragic thing it would be to limit our experience of God to the inside of a building – however magnificent, welcoming, or trendy that building may be – for an hour and a quarter on a Sunday morning. And, in contrast, what a beautiful thing it is to be able to find God – who is always more infinite than we can imagine – in every nook and cranny of this universe.
So find God in the rousing lyrics of a favourite worship song, or in the magnificence of stone arches which have held a church, solid and quiet, for hundreds of years. But find God also on a sofa, deep in conversation with a close friend. Find God in the sound of raindrops on your car windscreen, in the joy of making others laugh. Find God in snowy mountain peaks and in the impossible green of the grass on a roadside. Find God in the harmony of a chord, in the vastness of the starry night sky and the intricacies of a dandelion. Find God in the wonder that is your body, with its millions of cells and systems keeping you alive. Find God in the silly way a lamb’s tail wags and in the wit of your favourite comedian. Find God in the deliciously zesty smell of your shower gel, find God in the quiet rhythm of chopping vegetables in preparation of a nourishing meal, and find God in the taste of salted caramel chocolate. Find God in the smile you offer a stranger, the time you spend listening to someone share their story, in that moment when you decide to do the washing up, again.
I’m a firm believer that one size of spirituality does not fit all. The ways in which I most easily experience God will be different from the ways in which you do, and that difference between us is good and beautiful and a cause for celebration (not dissonance). You may not easily see the fingerprint of God in a 35kg pet wolf, and you may do anything it takes to avoid going on a run. I rarely find God whilst singing in church, but I know a lot of people do, and that’s okay. But here’s the thing – it’s fun to find God in different ways, in unexpected places. It’s refreshing to get in touch with your spirituality in a way you haven’t before. It’s life-giving to realise that the essence of life, is in fact, everywhere.
So if you’re in church this Sunday, I hope you experience God in a beautiful way. And if you’re in the mountains, I hope you experience God in a beautiful way. And if you’re in neither of those places, or if you’re feeling weary, take a breath, look around, and have a go at finding God wherever you are.
Written by Anna Jacklin, Primary School Teacher and Pioneer