Hike and Seek

Nature as a window into the heart of God

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During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was one of many who felt the absence of corporate spiritual practices. Although my family and I appreciated the newfound ability to worship virtually with leaders from around the world, I longed for deeper, face-to-face, spiritual connections. Seeking creative ways to follow Christ in the company of others, I joined our synod’s Innovative Learning Academy (ILA), an effort to encourage ministry outside and alongside church norms, forming new faith communities where folks naturally gather. 

The ILA directed us to choose a mission site where we normally spend our time. At that point, my haunts were limited to my home and the outdoors, so I began to dream of what ministry could look like outside. Finding myself in nature was far from foreign to me. My father’s career was in research ecology; my mother is a master gardener; my brother is an environmental studies professor; I have been steeped in nature throughout my life. Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are from church and family camping trips and other outdoor adventures. Nature has been a key access point for me to commune with the God who created it, so hike and seek formed rather, well, naturally. I started intentionally seeking God’s word for me as I hiked.

God shows up

As suggested by the ILA, I found a few Christ-bearing friends to hike along beside me: my husband and kids, my parents, and a long-time friend who happens to be a naturalist. Even within that small group, we had a mixture of generations, natural and biblical knowledge, and walking paces. We figured that even if no one else joined us, we would have a meaningfully fun time together. I started a Facebook group and began inviting people to hike and seek events, and God showed up!

A hike and seek event is just what it says: we hike outside and seek God as we go. 

  • We begin each hike and seek gathering with a brief reading directly out of the Bible, a psalm or a passage for the day. 
  • From that reading, I choose a word/phrase or ask members of the assembled group to choose something from the passage that stands out to them. 
  • Then, with that idea in mind, we journey together along a trail, searching for God’s depiction of that word or phrase as we hike, listening with all our senses. 

It is a version of the ancient spiritual practice of visio divina (divine seeing), with a work of art as our focal point for prayer, the artist being God, the Creator! 

Jesus is with us along our paths, whether or not we notice his presence. Hike and seek provides a method for us to witness and acknowledge God’s work in the natural world around us. Indeed, God’s undeniable fingerprints in nature help us to see God’s fingerprints on our life. We indicate evidence of God’s artwork to each other along the path, sometimes interrupting human conversations to show glimpses of God that might have otherwise been overlooked. The journey provides time for building relationships, for generations walking together offer each other pieces of themselves. My children tend to run ahead along a trail, only to circle back and link arms with a grandparent, who then teaches them the name of a spring ephemeral or blesses them with a story.

A practice Jesus shared

Jesus himself used examples in nature as teaching tools during his ministry years, such as several parables and the Sermon on the Mount (“consider the lilies of the field…”). These natural examples are accessible and God-generated. I have found as we experience nature with a scriptural focus, what we encounter emerges as a meaningful representation of aspects of our spirituality. The same group of trees can represent hope, resurrection, death, love, rest, peace, brokenness, or strength on different occasions. This is not just mindfulness, but awareness of the God who is present. It is not meant to worship nature, but to worship the King of Creation. Studying creation allows us to know the Creator, and confirms the need for good stewardship with creation care.

Hike and seek has had several variations since it began: bike and seek, sit and seek, swat mosquitoes and seek, post natural pics on Facebook and seek, Holy Week nature scavenger hunt and seek, raise butterflies and seek, make eco-friendly hand soap and seek, enjoy the beach and seek, eat Christmas cookies in a park and seek. The primary components remain the same. God is present and acknowledged, nature is utilized as a valuable window into the heart of God, and pathways are shared among friends.

May your views be breathtaking
And your footsteps sure,
Your friendships sweet, 
And your soul secure.
Happy trails!

  • Heather Smith

    Heather Smith, MAMS, MSW resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. She fills her days exploring meaningful ways to raise her family and faith community in the love of God. She often finds herself in the midst of service-learning projects, cozy corners, cello gigs, homesteading attempts, and outdoor adventures!

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