Monday, May 2, 2016
My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,
Spring is upon us. Everything is blooming and coming alive. After the dead of winter, it is very uplifting to see new life springing up all around us.
What about our spiritual life? How often do we give ourselves the time and space to appreciate the wonders of nature? For me, at least, nature is a gateway to heaven. To contemplate nature brings me to awe and wonder. Awe and wonder bring me closer to God. As Hildegard of Bingen said, “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator.” How true! Or as Gerard Manley Hopkins stated in one of his poems, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
I love nature. I love the outdoors. My love of nature has greatly influenced my vocation as a Brother. It influences my prayer life, as well as my relationship with God. My love of nature comes from growing up in Zakopane, a beautiful town in the Tatry Mountains in southern Poland. This is the same area where the late St. John Paul II did much of his hiking and skiing in his youth and as a young priest in Communist Poland.
On a day off, I cannot think of anything better to do than to go hiking, to be out in nature. To walk along a beach, to be emerged in a forest, or to climb a mountain is so exhilarating and inspiring. It energizes the mind, the body, and, most importantly, the spirit.
For me, hiking and being out in nature is not just a physical thrill and challenge but also a time for quiet, reflection, and prayer. I call it my “God time.” What better place than out in nature, a park, a garden, or the beach to disconnect from the business of our lives and just “be” with God?
I love to collect stories and quotations on nature and how the great outdoors influences some of my personal heroes. The quote that inspires me most and that I use as the motto for the Hiking Club comes from none other than St. John Paul II:
“Every time I go to the mountains, . . . I thank God for the majestic beauty of creation. . . . A mountain, in particular, is not only a magnificent vista to contemplate but is, as it were, a school of life. In this school, we learn to strive to reach a goal, and to help one another in difficult moments, to enjoy silence together, and to recognize our own littleness in a solemn and majestic setting.”
Spring is in full bloom. We are in the midst of the Easter Season. New life, growth, and the Resurrection are all around us. What better time than this for us to renew our prayer life, our relationship with God? And what better place to do this than in the midst of God's creation, nature? Nature provides us with that quiet and solitude needed to disconnect from all the busyness and worries of our everyday lives. On our pilgrimage of life, nature can teach us so much about ourselves, God, and His creation. The peace and quiet can lead us to a certain awe and wonder. That awe and wonder bring us to a greater love of God. Awe and wonder make us humble.
Meeting God in nature is as old as humanity. The Bible is full of stories of people meeting God in nature: Adam and Eve in the garden; Noah in the rainbow; Abraham in the fire; Moses in the burning bush; and the prophet Elijah, who found God in a gentle breeze – just to name a few. In the Book of Job (37:14), we are counseled to "stop and consider the wonders of God." Indeed, the references to nature in the Bible are numerous.
“O Lord, how great are your works! In wisdom you made them all. The earth is full of your works.”
( Psalm 104:24)
Jesus loved the natural world. Jesus preached on the shore of the sea, in the field, on a mountaintop. When Jesus wanted to think deeply and pray earnestly, He went into the desert or up a high mountain. Jesus showed us the need for the peace and quiet that nature can provide. The beauty of nature reflects the order of God's creation.
St. Paul recognized that influence also when he wrote in Romans 1:20, “God 's invisible qualities, His invisible power and divine nature have been seen, being understood from what has been made.”
Many saints as well as other writers and naturalists have been brought to awe and wonder and have encountered God in nature. Allow me to share just to share a few of these people and the inspirational quotes they have provided for us.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from the masters.”
St. Thomas Aquinas: “God has given us two books of revelation. One is nature. The other is Scripture. We need to learn to read them both to understand the greatness of God.”
Ansel Adams: “The clear realities of nature, seen with the inner eye of the spirit, reveal the ultimate echo of God.”
John Muir: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”
And who cannot be moved by St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Sun, in which the great saint praises and gives thanks to God for the beauty of all His creation, from fire and snow to cattle and man?
As we continue in springtime and head into summer, let us renew ourselves, our prayer life, and our relationship with the Lord. Perhaps we can look to nature as an aid to that renewal.
I would like to end with another quote from St. John Paul II: “Meeting with nature, with mountains, with the sea, and with forests, man in wise contact recovers his inner quiet and calm.”
May God bless you,
Bro. Ryszard Decowski, S.M.
P.S. By the way, I’ll be attending our upcoming May retreat for college-age men, as will Fr. Garrett, Bro. Stephen, Mr. Dan McQuillan, and Mr. Pat Cahill. We’re holding it at Founder’s Hollow (my home away from home and one of my favorite places on earth!), and it runs from Monday afternoon, May 23 to Wednesday afternoon, May 25. We’ll be providing transportation, or you can drive up to Founder’s on your own. For more information and to register online, follow this link: http://goo.gl/forms/WT7xGcjkx6