Photo by NOEM on Unsplash
Encountering Nature as Sabbath


“Holiness is not something limited to the religious world, much less the supernatural; holiness is something that happens in the natural world.” — Thomas W. Mann from The God of Dirt, Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God rested on the seventh day from a whirlwind of creation. The name given to this day was Sabbath. It was meant to be a day when men and women also rested from their labor, not just to sleep the day away, but to give their hearts and minds to the Creator. Through reflection — or prayer, as in a religious practice — Sabbath offered the gift of intimate contact with the Ultimate. We experienced the reassurance that we weren’t coping with life alone.

A Sabbath day, for most of us except the truly devout, is something we treat more with nostalgia than commitment, like the bygone 40-hour work week or stores closed on Sundays. If honoring the Sabbath requires church services, we see it as one more thing to squeeze into our already packed weekend itinerary, often scratching it off the list. We have too much to do in our 24–48 hours of non-work time and push ourselves to get it all done. We trade the respite of Sabbath for doing; connection with the sacred for more of the mundane.

Yet keeping a Sabbath day nourishes our spirit by giving us an essential timeout. When we tend to our inner lives with the same attitude of necessity as lawn mowing or house cleaning, we renew our energy, invigorate our creativity, and access our deeper wisdom that can only be tapped when we engage mindfully, reflectively, and reverently with that which is greater than ourselves. Call it God. Mystery. All That Is. I call it Nature.

Outside your door, this very minute, a place of holiness beckons you to take a Sabbath break. The wild calls with the voice of wind through the trees; the flutter of birds’ wings; the splash of water on rocks as it flows down a creek. Here is a cathedral without religious words that simply asks you to be still. To notice. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, the “god of dirt” invites us to be fully present in the moment.

We can’t hear the voice within that offers guidance, unlimited wisdom, and inspiration unless we disengage from doing, and learn to see and hear nature as the poet does — with eyes and ears that can discern the spiritual.

Nature welcomes us to be in the now through our senses. Encountering nature through each of our senses is a Sabbath practice I call kinesthetic meditation. It requires no religious book, no belief system, no special garb or words to be spoken. Only your sensory attention.

Give yourself some solitude, with as little distraction as possible. 

Look around and see the multitude of colors, shapes, and patterns that surround you. Attune your hearing to the insects, the wind, the rustle of leaves, the call of one bird to another. 

Close your eyes and breath in the scents: pine sap, damp earth, wildflowers, decaying wood. 

Turn your attention to what you feel on your skin: reach out and touch the rough bark of the trees; walk barefoot on the forest floor; run your fingers over smooth rocks.

 Taste, if you can, the nectar of honeysuckle, wild blackberries, a sun-warmed tomato from your garden.

Immersed in nature, attentive to all that envelopes us, we shift into present moment awareness. Here there is refreshment and connection that is the essence of Sabbath — a restoration of wonder and reverence for the Mystery that animates and permeates all of creation. This is nature’s gift of Shalom. Peace.

Elle Harrigan hosts the Instagram community @livingwildwisdom focusing on mindfulness, creativity, and spirituality through encounters with nature.


  1. tfindlay

    Thanks for this suggestion. I plan to make part of my practice.

    • Elle Harrigan

      Thank you, Terry!

  2. Laura

    I love the term, “kinesthetic meditation.” Wonderful imagery and inspiration in this article. Thank you.

  3. Elle Harrigan

    Thanks so much, Laura! I came across the use of this term in a book by Christine Valters Paintner, EARTH, OUR ORIGINAL MONASTERY, in which she talks about engaging the world kinesthetically by being out in nature. It’s a perfect way of describing a sensory-intense encounter!

  4. tfindlay

    Hi Elle,

    I love this: “Nature welcomes us to be in the now through our senses.”

    • Elle Harrigan

      Such a basic principle yet one we just don’t put into practice. Currently working on a book that will be a guide to “how” that anyone can adopt.


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