Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.
That rainbow mountain was why I was here.
I sat on a rocky outcropping, which wasn’t nearly as flat and comfortable as it looked. Behind me was the slope I climbed to get here, a mix of rocks and dirt and plants. In front of me stretched the mountains. I was spending the summer doing pollination research in mountain meadows, and that meadow was one of our research spots. I wasn’t doing research today, which was why I was one mountain over; I had driven a fellow researcher up, and was supposed to be on my laptop compiling data. But it was warm and sunny, and that mountain across from me was stunning. I couldn’t look away.
Those mountains brought me back to God. Spending a summer living in a cabin surrounded by the forest and hiking every day to a meadow and spending the day there surrounded by flowers and watching bees—there’s nothing quite like it, and it was an intimate glimpse of nature. The research we were working on required us to watch plots of flowers for bees and other pollinators, and all that attention to those tiny details left me with an enduring love for bees and flowers, plus a deep respect for the intricacy and beauty of nature.
I grew up seeing and especially feeling God in nature. Love and grace and morality were abstract, but Creator—God as the one who’d put creation together just so, so that plants used sunlight and animals ate plants and eventually were decomposed, so that everything fit together into one smooth whole—that made sense. That was something I could almost touch, almost fit my mind around. That was something I could see all around me, something that was always familiar but always new, something that was beautiful and awe-inspiring. I saw it play out all around me; my house was next to a meadow and a forest, and I would play in both all the time. I could feel God in nature, in its intricacy, while God-talk so often fell flat. My mom would say, “How can people see this and not believe in God?” as we looked at a towering sequoia or a centipede crossing the forest floor, and I would agree wholeheartedly. God’s fingerprints were all over nature; how could people not see it? I saw it everywhere I looked.
And yet as I began that summer, I was in the midst of running from God. I hadn’t stopped believing in God: I just ceased trusting God. I wanted to be an author, deeply and passionately, and yet I sensed God asking me to give up writing. One summer morning I got sick of it all and swore off of God entirely. The idea of giving up writing seemed cruel and even impossible. Refusing, I just ignored God and did things my way. I stopped going to church, stopped reading my Bible and praying. I tried not to think about God, didn’t look for God every day.
My distance from God changed my outlook. Now my mom’s frequent question, “How can people see this and not believe in God?” was no longer rhetorical. I would squirm and say to myself (but never aloud), “I don’t, really,” because I had half-convinced myself that God wasn’t there at all—until I went to Oregon for the summer. I spent hours watching bees drinking nectar from flowers, with their antennae exploring and proboscis out, the casual dance of six legs and using two to gather pollen that formed giant packets on their back two legs and take off or land.
God sidled back into my soul through those trees and mountains, those bees and flowers. I had been running away from God, but nature was too beautiful and intricate and fascinating to run away from. It’s overwhelmingly complex—universities and companies are full of scientists working to understand it just a little bit more, after all, and so often they end more unsure than they began. The closer I looked, the more there was to see. Nature was the beautiful, creative side of God I hadn’t allowed myself to see for so long; I was too angry to focus on anything but God’s demands. But I paused to look then, and in looking I found God again.
God was there in little nudges at first, uncomfortable thoughts I didn’t want to acknowledge and painful reminders of my problems. I had an uncomfortable conversation with a fellow intern about maybe going to church together. The other interns drank and partied, which I smugly avoided; but I couldn’t ignore my own evenings spent watching pirated videos or the friends I hadn’t thought to contact in two weeks or the work of my own I left undone until “later.” But our mentor told us about all the undiscovered species that existed here, in a forest that had hosted a research station for almost seventy years. I learned about bee life cycles, and how most bees live alone, spending all their time and energy storing up nectar and pollen for the eggs they’ve laid. I woke up and went to sleep surrounded by trees and research, until the glory of God’s creation and my flaws outweighed my fear of God and what God was asking me to do. I let it all go, let go of my fear and self-sufficiency, and I let myself see God again.
Once I’d done that, I could bask in God’s creation in new ways. I could look at myself, and see all the ways writing and stories had become an addiction—a way I avoided my problems and attempted to control the uncontrollable and pretended my emotions belonged to someone else. I could see all the ways it kept me from connecting with and caring about people around me: uncomfortable? bored? sad? frustrated? time to think about a story! And I could begin to give it up, one excruciating moment at a time.
That summer in Oregon was the foundation on which I rebuilt my faith; after being so immersed in the intricacy of creation, I wasn’t afraid anymore that what God asked was impossible. Nature pushes me to trust that, if God is powerful and creative enough to craft a world so detailed that I can never see it all, God is also powerful and creative enough to craft changes in me that free me to leave my addiction behind. Seeing creation comforts me and allows me to see my problems in proportion to the entire world—or even to one mountain, which is still blanketed by enough plants and relationships and species to keep biologists busy for decades.