Not far from where I live, there is a granite strewn hill. It’s a “thin place”. A thin place is where heaven meets earth evoking the presence of the Creator. For the Christian, nature has a sacramental dimension. Because pervaded by the Spirit it conveys God’s love. There amidst the granite rocks silhouetted against the blue sky and surrounded by gorse, the living landscape speaks of God. There are many such places in Britain. At the foot of the hill there are remnants of the ancient woodland that originally covered a much wider area.
Around 80 per cent of Britain is thought to have been originally forested. When the Romans arrived this was cut down to 50 percent. To-day it is only 5 percent.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim on men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153) wrote in one of his letters, “believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you need to learn from the masters.”
Many years later Shakespeare in As You Like it wrote
“ And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it.”
When Shakespeare wants characters to learn something of the truth about their selves; to reach authenticity, he sends them to the woods. In many of the plays, he sends them into nature where, they learn that the “civilized” world is full of human mischief, not to mention dishonesty and outright treachery. Out in nature, minus the trappings of court life, it is possible to find “good in everything.” It’s possible to see a Stratford boy, working in London, brushing up against Court characters, and observing them, keeping them at arms-length, not dazzled by the titles and pomp, but measuring the artificiality of their conduct.
“All things came into being through Him,” (John 1:3)
But it is the trees, the silence, broken only by birdsong that evoke “a presence that disturbs me with joy.” That’s a line written by a much loved poet.
William Wordsworth expresses this intuition in his poem ‘Lines written above Tintern Abbey.
“And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”