For Youth Workers Post

The Great Outdoors

Steve Matthews


“Periodically, I lead Sabbath retreats for adults. I often start the retreat with this quotation from Saint Irenaeus: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive.’ After the participants sit with the quote for a few minutes, I invite them to think about a time when they felt ‘fully alive’ and then encourage them to tell the group about their experience.

“After asking this question in many settings over the years, I have started to see trends emerge. Nearly seventy percent of the time, people’s experiences of feeling ‘fully alive’ take place in the outdoors. They tell about peaceful beaches, mountaintop views, working outdoors in the garden, camping trips, starlit skies, and adventurous sports like skiing, hot-air ballooning, or skydiving.

“What they say suggests that encountering God in the outdoors wakes us up to many of God’s gifts. Perhaps in seeing the panoramic view from a mountaintop or reflecting on a seemingly endless sea gives us a renewed sense of perspective. Maybe our adventures in the wild knock us off balance enough to recognize our dependence on God’s grace. Or maybe we simply breathe more deeply and relax more fully in fresh air and in communion with God’s other creatures.

“Being outdoors is a gift, and opening ourselves to the possibility of encountering God’s presence in the natural world can be healing. As John Muir, an early environmentalist who helped to form the Sierra Club, said, ‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.’” —Steve



devozine Steve Matthews IMG_0433Steve Matthews was a youth minister for more than fifteen years. At present, he is living in central Virginia on a small farm with a cat, a dog, and sixteen chickens. He loves growing his own food as well as cooking and eating it. Steve is a leadership consultant and is presently working with “missio:Engage,” an online school for church redevelopment, sponsored by the Episcopal Church. He is also a spiritual director and was a writer for The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation.



  • Bibles or copies of Matthew 6:26–36
  • cell phones or smartphones with cameras
  • copies of the closing prayer
  • small index cards (one for each person) for the “Taking It Further” exercise: Write on one side of each card these instructions: “For your spiritual health and happiness, spend fifteen minutes outside three times this week. Pay attention to how you feel before you go outdoors and how you feel when you return. Write a short prayer of thanksgiving in response to God’s presence in the world.” Write on the other side of each index card these words by e.e. cummings: “I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
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  • Have the video “Fascinating Nature I: The Most Spectacular Landscapes of the World” playing as group members enter the room. You could also use the video to set the tone for “Checking In” or to provide a backdrop for the closing prayer.
  • Pop artist Jason Mraz and the Sesame Street Gang morph his hit “I’m Yours” into a fun new video called “Outdoors.”
  • The hymn “Morning Has Broken,” by Cat Stevens, is a classic expression of reverence for God’s gift of nature.



Begin this time with an opening ritual: observing a moment of silence, saying a short prayer together, or lighting a candle to symbolize Christ’s presence. Take a moment to claim this space and time as holy.

Then invite people to spend a few minutes in silence, as you guide them through a time of reflection. Read aloud the paragraph below, pausing after each sentence. Invite group members to respond aloud after each question as they are willing. Encourage the others to listen prayerfully without comment.

“Recall the last time you were outdoors (not counting times spent going to and from a car or building) . . . Recall where you were, and imagine that you are there again. . . . What do you see? . . . What sounds do you hear? . . . What do you smell? . . . How does the air, sun rain, or wind feel on your skin? . . . What emotions did you feel then? . . . How do you feel now as you remember?”



Scripture: Matthew 6:26–34

Jesus often pointed to the natural world in his teaching. He talked about mustard seeds, fig trees, seeds a farmer sows, streams in the desert, birds of the air. Many pivotal moments in his life happened outdoors. He was baptized in the Jordon. He retreated into the desert. He preached on the mountain. He calmed the seas. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Whether by choice or necessity, Jesus was outside a lot. He seemed to find inspiration and a connection with God when he was outside in the natural world.

Invite group members to read Matthew 6:26–34 twice and to take note of particular words, phrases, or images that jump out at them. Ask each person in turn to tell the rest of the group the words, phrases, and images that spoke to them.

Then invite further discussion:
       When was the last time you stopped long enough to consider some aspect of the natural world?
       When did you last feel moved, grounded, or inspired by something in nature?
       What do you think Jesus means when he says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 26:33, NRSV)?
       Is the natural world is part of God’s kingdom? Why? Why not?
       If so, what is Jesus encouraging us to do?
       What is the value of contemplating nature?

Invite group members to go outside for ten minutes. If the weather is bad, they may need to stand in a doorway, but encourage some exposure to the outside world. Ask them to engage their senses fully and to allow themselves to consider the great outdoors. If they have phones with cameras, invite them to come back with one or two photos of their experience. (You may wish to compile the collection of photos).

Before they leave to go outdoors, you may want to show the video “Sesame Street: Outdoors with Jason Mraz” just for fun.

Once group members return, ask them to show their photos and to talk about their experience.



Form two groups, and invite them to pray responsively (as directed below) The Canticle of Creation, by Saint Francis of Assisi:

     O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
     to you belong praise, glory,
     honour and all blessing.

     Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
     and especially for our Brother Sun,
     who brings us the day and the light;
     he is strong and shines magnificently.

     O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
     Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
     and for the stars
     which you have set shining and lovely
     in the heavens.

     Be praised, my Lord,
     for our Brothers Wind and Air
     and every kind of weather
     by which you, Lord,
     uphold life in all your creatures.
     Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
     who is very useful to us,
     and humble and precious and pure.

     Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
     through whom you give us light in the darkness:
     he is bright and lively and strong.
     Be praised, my Lord,
     for Sister Earth, our Mother,
     who nourishes us and sustains us,
     bringing forth
     fruits and vegetables of many kinds
     and flowers of many colours.

     Be praised, my Lord,
     or those who forgive for love of you;
     and for those
     who bear sickness and weakness
     in peace and patience —
     you will grant them a crown.
     Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
     whom we must all face.
     I praise and bless you, Lord,
     and I give thanks to you,
     and I will serve you in all humility.



Distribute the index cards you have prepared. Invite group members to use often in the coming week the exercise and the prayer on the card to improve their spiritual health and happiness, to grow closer to God, and to experience more intentionally the wonders of creation.

—from devozine In the Habit (March/April 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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