The natural world can be a powerful balm in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty. As Catholics we believe that God gave us the natural world as a gift. In Isaiah 55:12 we read: “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
Throughout these past six months it has been difficult to experience joy. A simple hike in the woods can help to bring back some of our joy. Seeing the beauty in our natural surroundings can also have tremendous physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Throughout these past six months my family has turned to nature as a respite. In early April, we watched as spring bloomed even during the darkest weeks of the pandemic. We listened for the sounds of the frogs as we walked through Ridley Creek State Park. We welcomed back the robins and the daffodils. When the creek warmed, we eagerly dipped our toes into the water.
Experiencing nature requires that we use all of our senses. When we are fully present at Mass, we also use our five senses. We often find both in Mass and in nature that our breathing and heart rate slows, and our anxiety and worries subside.
One of my favorite places to recite a rosary or chaplet is when running or hiking in the woods. The natural world is a wonderful place to pray and center ourselves.
At the peak of summer our boys caught fireflies, listened to the cacophony of the cicadas and crickets and learned about the pesky cicada killer wasps that lived in our garden. During these dog days of summer our garden was teeming with vegetables, flowers, honey bees and both monarch and swallowtail butterflies.
The garden also required lots of weeding, watering and nurturing, like our faith life. Without daily vigilance our faith life can become overwrought with metaphorical weeds. When we forget to pray our days can lose their focus and purpose.
As we approach my favorite season, autumn, I encourage us all to embrace God’s world that is available outside the four walls of our homes. Did you know that the Philadelphia region is considered the garden capital of North America? There are over 36 public gardens, arboretums and historic landscapes all located within a 30-mile radius.
In fact, the oldest living gingko tree can be found at Bartram Gardens. Many of these local arboretums and gardens are free and only a short walk or drive away. Our family is looking forward to some of fall’s best gifts, which include apple cider, pumpkins from our garden and raking huge piles of leaves that we can jump into.
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)
When we find ourselves becoming overburdened by life, take a break out in nature. Be amazed at a night sky, an ocean breeze or a fall sunset. God gave us a beautiful world to explore and experience, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
For more information on the Philadelphia area gardens, arboretums and historic landscapes visit http://americasgardencapital.org
Sarah Albanese is communications assistant for the archdiocesan Office for the New Evangelization and a parishioner at St. Pius X in Broomall.
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