Last fall I had the opportunity to walk in the woods with a group of Maine naturalists. You know the type, the ones who venture off from the parking lots and side roads with magnifiers and binoculars around their neck.

Unlike the thousands of hikers who arrive in Maine every year, you will not find this group scaling a mountain in record time. They are the ones who saunter through the forest marveling at the miracles and wonders of creation’s beauty and mystery. They are the ones who pause to ponder new growth protruding through the dense spring debris. They are the ones who encounter a mushroom pushing up from the forest floor and stop to consult the fungal expert to find out if it is edible. They are the ones who claim the day to be promising when the experienced bird watcher identifies every distinct song and points upwards into the treetops to marvel at the colors and sounds of our feathered friends.

They are the ones who notice where the beaver has been busy gnawing at a tree in the thicket. They are the ones who experience the sacred and ponder the existence God in the forest, the floral, the fauna and in the creatures that abound.

A day with a naturalist is a day in which one moves beyond the sacred texts and obedience to creeds, doctrine and dogma to discover the sacred story of a universe brilliantly unfolding in the DNA of each specimen and the laws of nature. The wonder and awe with which this group approaches the mysteries of creation are both inspiring and awakening. Their devotion to creation’s endless and diverse presence is evident in their penetrating gaze and endless wonder.

While the group I journeyed with that day may not call themselves religious naturalists, it was clear to me their attention, curiosity and praise of the transcendent was no less passionate or reverential than the Christian or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist who approaches the sacred scriptures, stories, theologies and religious practices of their tradition.

As a minister in Maine, I’m often told by people that they don’t go to church because that is not where they find God.

They expound about how they find God in the woods, on the mountaintop, lakeside while trolling the shores, in their gardens and on their farms. As I listen with affirmation and confirmation, I am reminded nature’s cathedral is as sanctified as any bricks and mortar we humans have built in praise of that which matters most.

For each of you who find God in the sun and the rain, in the snow and the cold, in the beehive and the anthill, I offer these guiding words:

As the Earth opens to a full bloom, may we be flooded with intoxicating experiences of transcendent beauty.

As the Earth reveals a hidden treasure trove of miracles, may we be humbled by the mystery of all that we do not know.

As the Earth follows the laws of nature, may we be inspired to follow the ways of the mind, leading us onward to preserve all that is right and good.

As the Earth turns, again and again and again, offering us rest and rejuvenation, may we awaken ready to bless and be blessed.

The Rev. Carie Johnsen is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta. Email her at [email protected].