Four Spiritual Practices: Gardening, Hiking, Journaling, and Running
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
A trail near my home.
There is no one definition of spirituality. Philip Sheldrake notes that while Christian spirituality includes belief about God and the quest for the sacred, there is also what he terms contemporary spirituality – an alternative to “exploring the deepest self and the ultimate purpose of life.” This spirituality places emphasis on personal wellbeing, journey, inner harmony, and happiness. L.G. Underwood and J.A. Teresi characterize spirituality as an individual approach in search of meaning and purpose, and ‘transcendental truth.’ Kathleen M. Dillon and Jennifer L. Tate define spirituality as “experiencing the presence of a power, a force, and energy or a God close to you.”
My spirituality, grounded in my Christian faith, belief in God, and prayer is my source of strength and comfort in difficult times and my sense of awe and wonder in everyday encounters and observations. I incorporate spiritual practice in my daily life to give me strength, to talk to and to experience God. God is always present when I garden, hike, journal, and run. Gardening, hiking, journaling, and running are all forms of spiritual practices that involve my mind, body, and spirit.
George Bernard Shaw writes, “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for Him there.” Indeed. I find God in my vegetable and flower gardens. They give me great joy. Butterflies, wasps, bees, and bumblebees feast, dance and also find great pleasure in my gardens. And in those creatures, I find God, too. Whatever obstacle or adversity I may be facing, the gardens provide respite and refuge amidst the weeds, fertile ground, blooms, and the fruits of my labor.
Gardening yields an abundance of spiritual calm. As I engage my body muscles, my mind is still and quiet. Almost always, a chorus of singing and chirping birds perched above on trees or power lines accompanies this stillness. I listen to their calming chatter and I contemplate. I set my worries aside and have a silent conversation with God. The physical act of gardening and weeding is a spiritually soothing exercise that nurtures my spiritual health.
Photo credit: Jon Gilbert
John Muir wrote: “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” Indeed.
A few years ago my family and I hiked in Grand Canyon. The moment I arrived, I was in complete awe. I could not fully grasp what was before me and how my body felt. I was but a mere spec on the planet. Paralyzed with awe, I could only stare at the majestic canyon with a quiet smile as my eyes joyfully welled up. I felt God’s vast presence. Speechless, I could only whisper in my head, “This is God.” The Grand Canyon, like God is beyond comprehension. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me. This moment was a God experience.
And this is how my hiking trips to the national parks leave me. I am overcome with awe and wonder of the beauty and spirituality that radiates from the landscapes, trails, the forest of trees, wildlife, and even from rock climbing in Acadia and rock scrambling in Shenandoah. I experience calm and connection with awe-inspiring nature and wildlife. I absorb the calmness and stillness of the landscape. I listen to the silence of the trails and mountains, the pecking of the woodpecker, and the movement of wildlife.
Photo credit: Jon Gilbert
I. Edward Brown wrote, “There is something about journal writing that causes us to meditate…to receive spiritual impressions in the process of such pondering…you will have cause to rejoice at how the Lord has been sensitively involved in guiding and watching over and those you love and care about.”
I keep a journal. It helps me to talk and listen to God. I journal about events in my life – those that have caused me great pain and suffering – the surgeries I have endured, my health challenges, workplace harassment and intimidation, and individuals who have not been companions on my journey. I reflect on John 16:22 – Let no one steal your joy.
I journal about all my blessings – my family, grandchildren, and my encounters with strangers and friends whom I have helped, and who have helped me. I write about my joys, hopes, concerns, anxieties, and prayers. God is listening and knows every word I pen. And even in the darkness of the clouds, I end my journal entry with positivity, for there is always a silver lining.
Missionary and Olympian Eric Liddell once said, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” Indeed. Running training mile and ultra distances from 50 miles to 100 miles is my time with God away from a chaotic world, whether I am running in the woods, mountains, or on roads. It’s my time to give thanks to God for the gift of life, for every mile, and for the gift of ultrarunning. It’s my time to pray for others and to ask for guidance in any challenge - personal, professional, or health – that I may be experiencing. God and the saints are present and guiding me along. I recite the Rosary, pray to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, and to my beloved ascetic saints.
Photo credit: Jon Gilbert
Ignatius of Loyola tells us that God can be found in all things. Indeed. I find God in nature – in gardens, trails, mountains, national parks, and in writing spaces. These are spiritual and sacred spaces. They help us to heal and renew in difficult times, to pray, to celebrate life’s blessings and gifts, to nurture our spirituality, and to bring us closer to a higher authority. For me, spirituality is rooted in God, Christ, and the saints who accompany me in daily life and in the spiritual practices of running, gardening, hiking, and journaling.
This article was originally published in Thrive Global.