Friday, March 18, 2022

Sticks and Stones and Other Art Supplies
Outdoor Object Lesson 116
Listen to this lesson on my new podcast Gleams of the Morning.

Key Text

“Then God said to Jacob, “Get ready and move to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau.””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭35:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬


Have you ever made a piece of art you were proud of? If you’re grown up, you may not consider yourself an artist. But as children, we all make some art or craft we are especially proud of. As a kid, I enjoyed giving my art creations to my grandmother. She collected these from me and all my cousin and decorated her house with them. She kept them for years. Even as an adult I would go to her house and see things I made when I was eight or ten. 

Art is an indelible human trait. Some of us are better, sometimes leagues better, at making it. We can all appreciate art. It is one of the most beautiful ways we can praise God. I believe he gave us art for this reason. Art is also a medium to express feelings, or for just having fun. Humans are not the only ones that make beautiful creations. Animals, and even inanimate nature produce some of the most awe inspiring designs and images one can find. When we visit a forest or park, this beauty often inspires us to create our own art, sometimes on the spot! 

Art is not limited to canvas or transitional art supplies. Making art with sticks, stone, leaves and other natural material is fun. Research is demonstrating that interacting with natural materials is beneficial for proper development, reducing stress, and maintaining good mental health.1 So next time you’re outside in a park, or in the yard, make some natural art! Gather some fall leaves or spring flowers, maybe some twigs and rocks, and let your creativity flourish. You could make a geometric pattern or maybe tell a picture story. You could make some stick people out of real sticks. The ground is your canvas. 

Remember as your make your nature art that other people and animals may use the area where you are. So be careful that your art does not damage the surroundings. If you’re in your own back yard or on private property, you’re  probably ok to make what you want. Not many people visit that land. But if you are in a public park or forest, it is important to remember that hundreds or even millions of people visit that same area every year. Many public lands are already overused. So we must be extra careful how we treat them. Here are some things you should avoid doing when making nature art in public parks and forests. 

1. Never carve anything into trees or rocks. 
2. Don’t disturb rocks in a stream or creek. It’s ok to pick up one or two, but gathering several to stack or build a dam destroys the homes of many little creatures that live under those rocks. Instead use loose rocks you find on the dry ground. If they are buried in the dirt, leave them. 
3. Never cut branches or trees that are still standing, even if they are dead. Dead standing trees provide homes for many birds and mammals. 
4. Never pick flowers off the stem. In many parks, this is illegal. Ones that have fallen to the ground are ok. 

These rules may seem stilly or restrictive. Doing all these things in your own back yard is ok. But in public parks where millions of people visit, the land can quickly be destroyed. Even small city parks that are visited by hundreds of people every year can easily be overrun. You may have seen places like this where all the flowers are trampled or many of the trees are covered in peoples initials. It doesn’t look very nice. 

Instead, we can create art that is beautiful without being destructive. Telling a story with nature items is fun. This is something we do every year on campouts with my church youth group. Each kids uses sticks, rocks, leaves and anything else they find to illustrate a Bible story. Once done, they present it to the rest. This is also an activity I have done with adults. It is something all ages can enjoy together. 

Using rocks to tell stories was a common practice in the Old Testament. People would gather large stones, then carefully stack them together fitting each piece together like a puzzle as a mason would. The column would then be secure enough to withstand the weather for years. This rock column would stand as a memorial to some event or promise. Every time people would pass by they would remember the story or promise it represented. 

Let’s read the key text one more time. “Then God said to Jacob, “Get ready and move to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau.””
In this verse, God tells Jacob to build one of these stone pillars as a memorial. Jacob did this several times in his life. Once was when God spared him from the wrath of Esau. Then again when God blessed him and changed his name to Israel promising to make him the father of many nations. (See the full chapter of Gen. 35) No doubt Jacobs family retold these stories every time they visited that rock tower. 

Next time you visit a park, or maybe even your own back yard, take a few minutes to get down on the ground and make a beautiful masterpiece out of natural materials. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It is still fun! Maybe it can tell a Bible story. Perhaps you could make a small stone memorial to commemorate how God has blessed your life. When you’re done with your masterpiece, remember to take a picture of it!

Here is a question to ponder. Most of us wish we had more time to spend getting better at art. In the life to come we will. What art will you spend eternity perfecting to express your praise to the Master Artist?

Written by David F. Garner