The Importance of Reading Genesis

Last Friday, after we took Bea out for her celebratory last day of school lunch, I packed five books, two journals, two packs of pens, my computer, and my sneakers and drove up to the Abbey of St. Walberga close to the Wyoming border.

IMG_9055I was two hours into the drive when I realized I had forgotten my Bible. I had just gotten a new version and had been eagerly awaiting this weekend to start reading it. Somehow, it was left on the kitchen counter. Of all the retreats to forget a Bible on, this isn’t too terrible, as nearly every room in the Abbey has a copy.

After Vespers at dinner my first night, I was talking with a friend who also happened to be there for the weekend. (What are the chances?) My friend reminded me that the Desert Fathers likened nature to reading the Bible and said, Just go out and spend time in Genesis!

I had some loose goals and ideas for how I wanted to spend those 48 hours alone. I read a lot, attended the Offices, and napped. But I also remembered to “read Genesis.” My friend, who had lived at the Abbey for a few years as caretaker, took me to some of her favorite spots.

Looking at the trees growing out of rocks, listening to the streams and birds, and breathing in the wildflowers reminded me of what uncultivated earth is like. We talked about how being out in the wild landscape is like a glimpse of the New Earth, though such a pale shade of comparison.

I love the idea of catching glimpses of the Earth to come. Of getting out of my norms and seeing trees and grasses in new context. Even though we have wildflowers growing in our garden, actual wildflowers are so very different.

In the afternoon, I walked to the front of the property to hike the Stations of the Cross. The route winds up a hill and, at the top, a view of the Abbey, nestled in a valley of rock formations with the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in the distance stood below me. I saw the cultivated farmland of the Abbey but it seemed so small and orderly compared to the landscape surrounding it.

Looking down on this scene, I was reminded of my own orderly life. I work so hard to cultivate it and make it fruitful and I often see good results from the rhythms we have as a family. But I need to remember to get out of my order and go “read Genesis” in the wilderness.

I had been in a bit of a creative slump when I arrived and looked forward to resting. I brought my computer, just in case, but was hesitant to open it. Walking in nature, getting out of my routines, not talking for most of the day sparked that ember of creativity. I started seeing my adventures through the lens of storytelling and would come back to my room ready to write and connect what I had been seeing and learning.

Writers—and creatives in general—are often told to just “do the work” of creativity. That if you show up, the muse will meet you. I agree that the only way creativity happens is if I’m willing to show up and do the work.

But I’m also reminded that I need to rest. At this stage in parenting, rest is hard to find at our house. The girls are up and ready to go, regardless of the day of the week. We cook and eat and tidy and do bedtime every day without much variation. I needed to pause and physically get out of my routine.

I loved doing this at the Abbey where the balance of showing up to pray the Offices and go out for unstructured rambles could live hand-in-hand. (For me, not the nuns…) I wish there was a way to practically implement this idea into our daily routines.

Maybe there is. But if it doesn’t make sense, I’m also realizing that this is ok. Sometimes the only way to rest is to leave. The only way to “read Genesis” is to get out into new territory.

How do you break out of your norms? What ways do you “read Genesis” to experience the Bible in fresh ways? Does nature connect you with faith?