Taking the Outdoors In

Its a sick-day today at our house.  And a rainy one to boot.  Fevers and coughs, snuggles and sighs, and relentless rains are keeping this family inside.  For a group who typically goes outside no matter what (we are firm believers in the “there is no such thing as bad weather, only being poorly dressed” theory), these days are hard.  Furthermore, the Celtic Christian that I am, I get at my sacred space when I’m out of doors, whether it be in my garden, in our neighborhood greenspace, or trekking a bit beyond to the beaches and burrows of Seattle.

Considering this dynamic, I knew I needed to intentionally employ some resources to sooth and ground our souls, in spite of the sickness.  I’m a tactile person, hence the great benefit I personally receive from our forest restoration work, digging deep into my garden and even my seasonal knitting.  The feel of a tree, a stone or yarn passing through my fingers quiets my Self and wills my soul to show up and be present to my daily realities in ways that invites me to see the Divine all around me.  Synthetics and plastics just don’t cut it; they lack the heft and tactile reality that natural elements embody.  For example, a plastic “toy” rock simply cannot achieve the appropriate weight and texture of a true stone.  Nor do I have the same soul-response to a simulated stick or floral spray.  I need to engage the natural world in real and tangible ways daily; it is how I connect with God, myself and the greater community of things all about me.

It is common-culture in our house to bring the outside in in whatever appropriate and inspiring ways that we can. So while, yes, we have Playmobile Knights fighting battles throughout the house, we also have baskets of chestnuts collected last autumn for counting games and cannonballs, sliced wood blocks, scores of sticks, and easily accessible balls of woolen yarn for spontaneous story string making or finger knitting.  Absolutely, the outside comes in for fun and play.  But we also create intentional spaces and places that with a mere glance reminds us of the goodness of creation and the One behind it all.

NatureTableOne such example of this planned kind of place is our Nature Table.  Our Nature Table is a dynamic display that morphs daily depending on who brings back what from a walk, from school, or from the woods.  It tells the stories of our days.  This dedicated plate contains memories of adventures, tokens of loved ones and connections to sacred places.  I’m delighted when, with fluttering finger strokes, my children recall special memories of our family’s time on the beach that are imbued in a shell.  Or when they want to be the ones to light the daily candle, for as this place is like our family altar, they understand that by bringing light here, they are inviting divine illumination on our lives .  For it is here that we bring natural items to represent prayers and hopes, and reminders of beauty and blessings.


We also have bowlfuls of green stones from Iona, Scotland around the house on tables, next to couches, on bookshelves.  They are kind of like rabbits here, I guess.  These favorite rocks have been rolled, tossed, counted, used for doll’s food, blasted at by Lego ships, the whole gamut of play.  But they are also fingered when we are having hard conversations, or laying sick on the sofa, or reading books.  To some degree, they have become like prayer beads for our family, as fingering them seems to help keep in prayerful mindfulness the stories and events of our lives.  Every member of our family has a favorite stone and we also make a practice of giving away Iona stones to friends who are having birthdays or need something especially special and hopeful.

But, today.  Today, a wearied mom-of-two-sick-kids, I needed something.  I needed to figure out how to get my “gift of grace.”  An important aspect of Celtic Christianity is the refusal to separate the gift of nature from the gift of grace, for both are seen as of and from God.  Celtic scholar, and former warden of the Iona Abbey, John Philip Newell, unpacks this theological perspective further by offering, “The mysteries of creation and redemption are one. They are not in opposition to each other. Holding them together allows for a celebration of the essential goodness of life as a gift from God….” (The Book of Creation, p13).  We were not going to be putting on the rain gear to discover God’s goodness today outside…I had to find some fresh displays inside to buttress my rain-soaked-fever-weary spirit.


While rifling through some of the children’s books, I found some forgotten-about pressed gingko leaves.  These lovely fan-like, yellow leaves offered themselves up to become a garland for the piano in our front room.  By gently tying regular knots around each stem, and guesstimating equal spacing, we created a simple and natural bunting that is not only unique and attractive, but also a reminder of this neighborhood we call home, for ginko trees line the avenue to which our small road connects.

By bringing in something in from the outside world, we are creating reminders of where we are.  As a result of big-box home stores going global and all the home decorating catalogs that infiltrate our front doors, our home interiors can begin to reflect a homogeneous look and feel.  We could be inside and really be anywhere.  Our regional landscapes give us bold reminders of where we live and inform a sense of our identity and spirit.  This connection to place is critical in a global, technological driven era.  Simple objects from just outside your front door can distinguish your homescape and provide a native anchor to your home.


Our children recently learned how to make the Ojo de Dios (Eye of God) in Sunday School.  This weaving craft is surprisingly simple and meditative.  The repetitious pattern of bringing the yarn over and under the sticks is calming and centering.  Today, of course, no popsicle sticks could be found anywhere in our house, so I went out to our covered front porch where I keep a decorative stash of cut branches from my parents’ Red twig dogwoods out at their place in Snohomish.  I cut larger than normal segments, and my son nestled into the arm of the couch to ensue a time of creating with sticks and wool yarn.  Over, under, turn. Over, under, turn. Over, under, turn.  His cough actually slowed down.  He relaxed into the rhythm of co-creating with elements from the natural world. He commented on how different it was to do this project with real twigs compared to prefabricated popsicle sticks.  It required more focus and dexterity.  But the end result is beautiful and is already hanging over the interior of our front door, a visual reminder of God’s watchful presence in our lives.

Our Family Cairn-stones from the WA coast representing each of our family members

Our Family Cairn-stones from the WA coast representing each of our family members

My sense is that most of us live with items from special landscapes throughout our homes.  While outside, we are naturally drawn to look and touch.  While our feet carry and tarry us, we scan and search for a treasure to remind us of this time of feeling connected to the Source of it All.  Reflect upon occasions when you have walked along beaches and looked for drift wood or shells, or hiked through the mountains and come across interesting rocks or sticks.  These experiences tend to be imbued with a sense of calm and wonder. Sure, you can buy up tons of cast resin shells, coral and such from West Elm and Pottery Barn, and they will look wonderful on your shelves.  But there is something priceless about the seek and find of a natural object that comes into our home to serve as a reminder of an interconnectedness to the Creator and the created world all around us.

Indeed, I found what I needed today.  My gift of grace came by way of reminders and representations of the blessings that have come by way of surrounding landscapes, and being held and known by my children’s hands.

Please share how you intentionally create spaces in your home to collect and display found, natural items.  Is this a practice you regularly engage?   How do these objects/spaces make you feel?  

Tulips collected from our front garden is a reminder to be prayerfully present to our neighborhood.

Tulips collected from our front garden is a reminder to be prayerfully present to our neighborhood.


4 thoughts on “Taking the Outdoors In

  1. I love the idea of a nature table.
    From my teenage years, when I go walking, be it in the local woods, or when climbing Ben Nevis or Mount Snowdon, I would pick up a stone or pebble and carry it in my hand for the length of the journey, turning it over as I trekked. I would do this instinctively, naturally, and never really questioned why.
    Last year I went to Rothesey in the Isle of Bute, Scotland, and did a great coastal walk that took me to the ruins of St.Blane’s chapel. The weather was bad so I got the whole place to myself-very damp, windy and overcast. Very atmospheric among the Celtic crosses.
    From my stay there in Rothesay I brought back things the kids would find interesting (not little trinkets from gift shops!) including three large dinner-plate sized shells, gull and curlew feathers, quartz stones, and a heart urchin-a little quirk of symbolism that the wife appreciated. Although she drew the line at a hedgehog’s skull! I may post about this trip in the future, now it has come to mind.

    • Andy, that fingering reminds me of the notion of worry stones, or as mentioned, prayer beads. You are right, we have a primary need to touch, engage, and be in relationship with creation; however, this fundamental need can be overshadowed by cultures and systems that say technology can stand in for this relationship. There is great, free therapy out there, you know? 🙂
      And I love that you gift your family natural treasures from your excursions. That’s a practice of mine as well. It warms my heart when my boys are more thrilled with a stone from a faraway beach than a plastic trinket.
      Take a picture of your evolving nature table and share sometime! 🙂

  2. Lovely post! I know how much my boys love being outside so sick days are really tough. I love the idea of having a nature table. Totally borrowing it!

    • Happy you resonate with the idea of a nature table! It’s such an easy, thoughtful way to celebrate the treasures found outside, and engage the seasons as well! And we KNOW the treasures these little boys can find! 🙂

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