Green Places, God Spaces, and Learning to See

Early in our marriage, our first little backyard had a fruiting mulberry tree that became a center of our family life. Its life and growth marked the seasons, with spring being an especially messy one as we tracked berries from it into the house. We hung a swing from a low branch and spent precious time together pushing our two toddler sons and teaching them to pump their legs. “Up when you go up, back when you go back.” During the longer summer evenings, outside time under our tree provided me quiet time to think and talk with God in prayer while the boys happily played with trucks in the dirt.

When we moved to a larger city, our neighborhood’s park became our backyard and the trees in our life multiplied. We could walk to the park in just a few minutes. It was filled with classic Texas live oaks, a species not much for color-changing leaves in the fall but with far-reaching branches that supply shade from the heat in the summer. The changes in weather marked the seasons more for us there. At the park we met neighbors and made new friends. We celebrated many of the boys’ birthdays under its pavilion. The park had more swings and climbing equipment to keep both boys busy, older, and more independent as they were. I tended to the baby, or my husband and I squeezed in conversations harder to have amidst all the interruptions of the indoors. Again, our green place was a quieter space in our regular rhythm where we could slow down and enjoy the gifts of Creation and where I could connect with the Lord.

Life moved faster before marriage and children, or perhaps just differently, and I did not have a green place in my life as a single woman. I had not noticed much of the changing of the earth’s seasons or sought out quiet in nature. I thought mostly of myself and life in terms of my intellect and career goals; I hadn’t taken notice of the changing of the seasons of my own body or the signs it gave me. Then, while preparing for marriage, my soon-to-be husband and I learned CCL’s sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness. “So, that’s what that is!” I thought to myself after learning about cervical ucus flow for the first time at twenty-four years of age.

Cervical mucus has a natural purpose: to supply nutrients and a swimming medium for sperm during the fertilization process. It builds with an increase in estrogen. Basal body temperature rises in response to the progesterone surge caused by the breakdown of the corpus luteum post-ovulation. These outward signs reveal the inner workings of a healthy female reproductive system. I was intrigued. It made so much sense. What other simple truths of God’s design had I missed?

Living fertility awareness, living in sync with the healthy and natural gift of ovulation, was my first green place and one that is always with me. It continues to open my eyes. Living fertility awareness enables me to take notice of the natural changes within myself and experience their logic and beauty. It helps me slow down and connect with God and His designs. It grows our mutual self-discipline, generosity, and patience when we have discerned to postpone pregnancy by abstaining during the fertile time. It is a truly sustainable way of embracing our fertility, male and female. Other options are messy and generate waste, are sometimes abortifacient and taint the water supply, and well… short-sighted, as they seem to reflect the narrative of conventional modern feminism which requires, I make myself more like a man to find wholeness and happiness.

The signs and cycles of my body have taught me appreciation for the signs and cycles of the earth. The seasons of the earth and of human development remind me to appreciate the seasons of my womanly fertility.

“Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity… [T]he goodness and beauty of creation… is called to glorify God.”

Pope St John Paul II

Melissa Gorley is a FSI coach and certified sympto-thermal method teaching couple (together with her husband, psychiatrist Jesse Gorley, MD).She and Jesse have five children, ages three to nineteen.