The Kotzker Rebbe, a great Hassidic master, once asked someone “Where is God?” The person responded, “Everywhere!” “No,” said the Kotzker Rebbe. “God is where He is let in.”
Obviously, one of the difficulties with finding God is that God is invisible. It is quite difficult to try to find something you cannot see. Of course, there are many things that we cannot see but can find or feel. For example, if we are outside on a windy day, we can easily feel the wind on our face and hair.
For me, the best place to feel God’s presence is out of doors. I have always had an appreciation for things in nature. As a child I enjoyed taking a walk through the forest near my childhood home, especially in the fall when the colorful leaves dropped to the ground. I would often collect the leaves, admire their many colors, press them, and put in a book, trying to label them as I went along. It was in the forest where I felt close to God. I think it was a combination of the trees and the tranquility of the place.
One of my first memorable spiritual experiences was at a summer cup in northern Ontario, Canada. Sabbath services were held outside on the shore of a lake. All of the campers and staff were required to wear white clothing, and there were white birch trees all around. As we all rose to recite one of the final prayers on the Sabbath eve, the sun shone through the treetops and made our white clothing glisten. The birch trees sparkled too. I felt my body tremble as I looked up at the magnificent sky, and I knew that what I was feeling was mysterious and unlike any other experience. It was exhilarating!
Just last week I led a Friday evening prayer service in Wildwood, New Jersey. Services were outside in an amphitheater on the Atlantic Ocean shore. It was a beautiful sunny day with perfect temperature, and the enthusiastic participation of the congregants in the singing and musical instrumentation was filled with energy. Once again I felt that special connection to the One on High.
I recently read an article in The New York Times entitled “Enjoy 2 Hours a Week in Nature, Doctors Say.” The article by Knvul Sheikh presented medical data that spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is good for you. The writer detailed a wealth of current research which shows that escaping to a neighborhood park, hiking in the woods or spending a weekend by the lake can lower a person’s stress levels, decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of allergies and cardiovascular disease while improving mental health and increasing life expectancy. Doctors around the world have begun prescribing time in nature as a way of improving their patients’ health. A study in The Journal of Scientific Reports recommends that 120 minutes a week is required to yield full benefits. The study examined 20,000 people in Britain who took part in the Natural Environment Survey. It reported that people who spent two hours a week or more outdoors reported being in better health and had a greater sense of well-being than people who didn’t get out at all.
Maybe that is why I look forward to my upcoming vacation in in the Poconos so much, as I anticipate the leisurely walks in the forest, relaxing on my float at the lake, and gazing at the clear night sky with its glowing stars (and shooting stars). It increases my health and well-being, and my connection with my Maker. I wish you peace, tranquility, and time to enjoy and be rejuvenated by the beauty of nature.