God in the great outdoors

  • June 10, 2010
I tend to look back at my childhood summer breaks as a time of genuine relaxation and renewal. When I was an elementary school student, I always looked forward to summer because it meant I would have more time to ride around on my bicycle, soar down our bumpy road with my cousin’s hand-me-down rollerblades, swim and take walks with my siblings or friends or sit outside in the sun to read a book. Because of that joyful time off, I always seemed to have more energy for doing my school work throughout the fall and winter.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that appreciating and enjoying God’s beauty in nature and in the summer weather can be a great prayer of thanksgiving — if we recognize it as such.

Now, as a young adult, I don’t get summer breaks but I’ve noticed that as the weather warms, if I dedicate time to appreciating the outdoors, I feel recharged and closer to God. Even just walking to work or hopping on my bike gives me time to hear the birds, feel the wind and admire at least some of the city’s nature pockets whether it be under a clear blue sky or one that’s murky and grey.

When I first moved to Toronto from Ottawa, I was surprised to find a group that offered an experience of city, nature and faith combined in a guided reflection. Throughout the past couple of years, Faith Connections, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto for young adults, ages 18-39, has hosted this occasional prayer hike in different areas of the city. It is a reflection that simply engages the mind, body and spirit while providing fellowship with other young adults.

Guided prayer and formation are certainly crucial, especially as young people journey towards adulthood. But young adults who don’t have the benefit of a summer break because they’re working or engaged in a summer course also need time to process all of their spiritual formation, where the pace is slowed and distractions minimized. The need to recreate that feeling of a “summer break,” at least in little chunks, is very real.

There are various ways to enter into a spirit of prayer while experiencing God’s outdoor cathedral. But if doing so in the city still proves difficult, it can help to escape to a retreat house, away from the hustle and bustle of the city or to go camping with like-minded friends of faith who will agree to some reflection and prayer.

When a trip like that is too pricey, I try, at the very least, heading to a park that is surrounded by trees, sitting by the water or cycling and walking along nature trails. If you’re already blessed with a rural location, all the better — don’t let the beauty around you go unappreciated.

Spas might play recordings of ocean waves or bubbling brooks to help calm their clients, but in the larger scope of things, God does the same for us in reality and it’s much better to experience these things in person, enjoy God’s creation and allow it to bring us closer to Him.

So as the summer weather unfolds, set aside time to appreciate the outdoors and get your body moving. It won’t only give you some exercise, but I’m sure it will also help bring each of us closer to God if we do it in a spirit of respect, appreciation and awe.

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