My most recent road trip
Can be described
By long stretches of highway
Sitting with two souls
Watching the landscape
Become vast.

There was something special
About it all.
I feel most fully alive
When I am out in the wilds.
But when I try to find words to how
I am stuck on it all,
How I feel when I am in it,
They all fall short.
People nod and smile
And chalk it up to me being raised
In certain places
And they don’t feel it with me.

I got to watch those two souls with me
Spinning on long stretches of highway
Fall in love with what I love.
I got to watch their faces
As their eyes took in the mountains and mesas
The red and blue…and all for the first time!
Oh to hear their sighs
When they submerged their feet in glacial runoff!
And even better yet
Their gasp and shout
When they stepped to the rim of the canyon!

This is my cathedral
Those tall ruby rocks
That tower over sunburned faces
Where I feel small
And awe wells up in my chest.
Where blue sky cuts a jagged gash
In the deserts of Utah.
Those bell towers and spires of red.
It is laughing and sprinting down through canyons
With kindred souls
Unable to fully comprehend that majesty.

My church is when I stop in rainforest woods
Blinded by gold breaking forth between green,
The sunset over the Cascades
And through the trees.
Church is when I hum along
To the faint strains of guitar being played
As I skirt between fallen logs
And over soft downy moss.
It is arriving at a rough hewn structure
Under open sky
And seeing upturned faces,
Some who are new to God
Loving God
And some who aren’t too sure.
It is there my soul breathes.

My sanctuary is on the point of a rock
Overlooking an emerald valley
The sun casting shadows and weaving rays
Reflecting orange and pink
On far off mountain glaciers.
It is breathing in that good air
And exhaling in a few verses
With harmonies and wrong notes
Lingering in beauty.

My prayer room is in a small tent
Close to two dear friends
With the rain fly off
And the top all mesh
Feeling the darkness
And watching showers of shooting stars
Traveling hundreds of years ago
But leaving trails of silver and gold
Just for us.
It is a sigh of contentment
And falling asleep in wonder.

It is a magnificent thing to watch someone
Be liberated by this beauty
To worship with full voice, body, heart
Outside of any made walls.
These cathedrals and churches
Prayer rooms and sanctuaries
Are fit for queens
And are certainly good enough for me.
And I think
If I could worship here always
I would.

Artist’s Statement:

These days, I connect with the mystics of any faith tradition who found God outside of places of worship and instead in the mundane, through animals, through other humans, and in the glory of nature. I come by it naturally I suppose…my parents met in a mountaineering class and took my sibling and me camping most summer weekends! My dad often goes backpacking alone in the wilderness to re-center and connect with God. He tells me that nature is his church and I can’t help but agree.

So often when the Hebrew Bible speaks of God’s glory, it is referencing nature. I believe that this glory is healing for us. I cannot count the many times a patient of mine in pain and distress finds calm and hope through looking out their window or even remembering a moment in nature. Sometimes it brings tears to their eyes that they can’t explain. Some find tenderness and strength and others connect with the Divine. I’ve even found it helpful to take a moment to invite a patient or hospital staff member to remember an experience in nature when they are feeling anxious, in pain, or feeling their trauma activated.

So. When have you been cared for through nature? Where is your “church” outside of the walls of a faith institution? When has God met with you in wild spaces?

Photo Credit: Peter Thomas



  • Ellie VerGowe Highlands

    Ellie VerGowe Highlands is staff chaplain for the Intensive Care units and the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the Seattle VA Hospital. Ellie feels honored to hear people’s stories and meet with them in moments of crisis. She lives in Des Moines, WA on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people with her husband Aaron, and their Australian shepherd Fiona. She loves hiking, singing, painting and writing, eating good food with good people, reading on a rainy day with a cup of tea, and noticing the Divine presence everywhere.

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