Monday, September 14, 2009

Creative Family Nature Outing

Beachcombing has been one of our favorite family activities over the years. I fondly recall the Sunday afternoon 10 years ago, after a powerful winter storm hit the Oregon coast, inviting our oldest son to come with me on a beachcombing trek over Silver point down to Arcata beach near Cannon Beach, Oregon. We clambered over the slippery tumble of rocks at Silver point and began the mile long walk down to Arcata, finding flotsam and jetsam washed ashore by the storm, including plastic bottles with Japanese writing, foreign shoes, and other odds and ends from across the Pacific. I told our teen son that today would be our treasure day, and that it was looking good for finding the great treasure of beachcombers, a Japanese floating glass ball. Indeed, we both found a glass ball, well-worn from years spent in the Pacific. Not only were the hearts of father and son united that day with this find, but our lives were connected with a people living 5000 miles away across the great blue.

As a family activity, consider a nature outing that takes you to the edge of water. Even if you do not live near the ocean, many wonderful treasures wash up along rivers and lakes, brought in by the ever-changing seasons and rhythms of water, land and air. Collect objects from nature along the edge of the sea, at the high tide line. We have pieces of driftwood, smooth black ocean-polished stones and shells adorning nearly every window sill in our family home. Gather smooth beach stones in a low dish, put a candle in the middle for a great centerpiece for the family table. Connect pieces of driftwood with fishing line, and balance them into a moving mobile for a child's bedroom window. Put pieces of beachglass, smooth pieces of broken glass, into a mosaic connected with household glue onto a piece of glass. Glue cordline around the piece of glass as a border and hanger, to hang in the window, allowing the sun to come through your family art. Collect flat pieces of driftwood, dry them at home and use it as "canvas" for a family painting project, letting your children paint scenes from your family time at the beach. We've also enjoyed building sandcastles and sand sculptures, making driftwood log structures, and laying out rock patterns and sand mazes at the seaside as part of our days at the beach.

Beachcombing offers a wide horizon of possibilities for family art and fun. One word of caution: help children to respect all things living and to leave them in their native habitat rather than bring anything alive home from the beach. Seastars, hermit crabs and other living creatures will not only stink up your home, but belong where other beachcombers can enjoy their beauty and native habitat in later months and years.

Families that spend quality time together on such nature outings expand their hearts and deepen their sense of wonder, joy and delight at the goodness and creativity of God's creation. May you find such a deepening sense of wonder in your family life together!

Friday, August 28, 2009


Busyness is an assumed way of life for us parents. "The Busy Family's Guide to Spirituality" enters into the daily hectic schedule of parents, complete with the many competing lists, demands,and stresses, and offers parents and family a practical way of living the spiritual life together in intimacy with God. Spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen writes the following in his book Making All Things New:

"One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like overpacked suitcases bursting at the seams. In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always someting else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we also have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations. The strange thing, however, is that it is very hard not to be busy." (1)

As a parent, how can we discover true spirituality in such a busy world of raising children? The ancient call echoes across the generations: "Be still and know that I am God". God still invites us into a life of inner quiet, rest, renewal and spiritual stillness. This call is made because God knows we need the gift of stillness to renew our souls for the days ahead. Come along with these blog essays and the insights discovered in "The Busy Family's Guide to Spiritualtiy" and discover anew the ancient way of spirituality by "being still and knowing God".

(1) Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1981), 23-24.
Photo "Contemplation", by Thomas Robinson. See for Thomas Robinsons's Nature Photography gallery.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir
When our children were still infants, we began walking in nature with them, carrying them at first in a "snuggly", a front-carrier. When each of our three sons learned to walk, we took them out into the forest, through fields and meadows, along lakesides, up mountain trails; anywhere out in creation. There is no surprise today that each of our grown sons love being out in nature. One has become a Marine Scientist, working directly in the natural habitat of the intertidal zone at the edge of the land and sea. One is a painter, loving recreating scenes of nature, including a 4 foot by 6 foot painting of Haystack Rock at sunset hanging on our wall in our living room. Our youngest son has a passion for nature photography. This evening, while walking in nature, we witnessed a bald eagle swoop down from a circle in the sky and pluck a frog from the lakeside where we were enjoying sunset. Later, we also soaked in the golden peace of sunset reflected upon the "S" curves of the local river as it headed to the sea just one or two more bends through the dunes. Standing there in a zenlike quiet was a Heron, reflected in perfect golden glory. As John Muir practiced over and again in his adventurous life walking in nature, when we walk in nature, we always receive more than we seek.

Family Activity: Try going out this week for a family nature walk. Walk around the block if you live in suburbia, and pay close attention to different patterns in nature, including water droplets from the neighbor's sprinkler, and shapes of grass blades. If possible, bring home a few of these patterns and put them on your window sills for later reflection.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Imagine a cloister garden. If you've never been inside the heart of a monastery, come along. Walk with me through the open gate over which reads the ancient Latin invitation, PAX. Peace to you who enter this way. Walk along the exterior garden path leading up to the big wooden door. Come inside into a whole new way of family life together. Step along the arched walkway, and step out into the bright sunshine. Sit here for a time next to the quiet cloister garden fountain at the center. Listen. The sound of silence is full here. Here you can listen anew. Here all the busyness of the past week, the past month, the past years since you became a parent, here you can lay all that aside for a time and rest and listen and renew your soul. Your children need the best you can offer them. Be refreshed here in this quiet, well-cared for cloister garden. From of old, Benedict still calls to all who are weary and tired, saying "listen with your heart and walk in this new way". This blog invites you into a whole new way of family living. Written by David Robinson, author of THE BUSY FAMILY'S GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY, published by Crossroad Publishing Company in September 2009, these blog posts welcome you to come deeper into your sacred calling as a parent, following in the footsteps of wise, wonder-filled parents who you've known and some who you have never met, yet who have also sat here in this place, listening to the gift of silence within the cloister garden of family spirituality.

(photo by Thomas Robinson; see