Recently I talked to a friend who was having a hard day. It was nothing catastrophic; simply that the mounting demands of her work had taken their toll, and anxiety had gotten the best of her, leaving her feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
My advice to her was twofold. One: get outside; and two: practice doxology.
A few years ago I learned about a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates as “forest-bathing.” In Japan, whole forests are set apart for the sole purpose of inviting visitors to be present to the sights, sounds and scents of nature.
Studies show that spending even a few minutes outside each day in any kind of natural space – forested or otherwise — can have a profound impact on our physical health by lowering blood pressure, decreasing cortisol levels and increasing immune function.
But I’ve also found that “forest bathing” – or what we Nebraskans might more accurately call “plains bathing” – can also have a dramatic effect on our spiritual life and the state of our souls, especially when combined with doxology.
Earlier this summer I attended a women’s supper at a local Lutheran church, and at the close of the event, the host suggested we all sing the doxology together before going our separate ways.
“Huh? The what-ology?” I thought to myself, as the women around me began to sing:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
After fake lip-syncing my way through the unfamiliar hymn that evening, I later learned that the word “doxology” comes from the Greek doxa, translated as “glory,” and logia, translated as “saying.” There are a number of different iterations, but in short, doxology is a fancy word for the simple practice of giving praise.
Since learning about the doxology, I now often sing it quietly to myself while I walk my dog (lucky for me, Josie makes sure I get my daily shinrin-yoku in). As we meander along the path, I notice and give thanks to God for the vibrant black-eyed Susans dotting the meadow, for the melodious call of the Oriole hidden amid the oak leaves, for the sleek fox I spot darting into the underbrush across the ravine.
Giving thanks to God while immersed in his creation not only settles my racing mind and brings me a measure of peace, it also offers much-needed perspective.
There is something deeply comforting in acknowledging and accepting my smallness in the face of nature’s breadth and depth. Noticing the intricate design of the blossoming Queen Anne’s lace at my feet and the vastness of the sky over my head reminds me of how fleeting and inconsequential most of my anxieties and concerns really are.
Singing the Christian doxology while I practice the Japanese shinrin-yoku under the wide Nebraska sky is a somewhat strange and unlikely spiritual discipline, but it’s become a favorite, near-daily personal routine. I’m always amazed that two simple practices – noticing and giving thanks – can make such a profound difference in my mental, physical and spiritual health.
Turns out, shinrin-yoku doxology worked for my friend too. A few hours after I’d talked to her, she reported back that she’d taken my advice. After a quiet walk around the lake and a few minutes spent gratefully cuddling a newborn kitten in the barn, she had returned to her desk with a lighter heart, a less frantic mind and a replenished soul.
This post first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on September 8, 2018.
If you are visiting and enjoyed this post, you might consider signing up to receive my weekly blog posts in your in-box (or, if you’d prefer, my monthly newsletter, The Back Patio — a casual chat about books, podcasts, and fun, everyday life kinds of things). You can sign up over HERE, and as a gift for subscribing, I’ll also send you my free e-book, Learning to Listen to Your Soul: 5 Tips for Beginning a Daily Practice of Intentional Rest.