At the beginning of this month, the United Nations invites us to consider its World Environment Day theme of biodiversity. With drought, fire, storms and now a viral pandemic variously touching our lives in recent months, it seems the theme is more than apt.
The environment is also of key concern to Catholics. As a matter of justice, and our belief in the dignity of each person, we are called to care for our environment to ensure the good health and economic wellbeing of all people. Five years ago, Pope Francis addressed these issues when he wrote a letter on the ecology and climate called Laudato Si’ (Care for our Common Home). So great was his concern for our common home that he addressed the letter to all people in the world, regardless of their religious affiliation.
There is also another reason why care for our natural environment must be prioritised. Nature, and all that it entails, is a means by which people can be drawn into a spiritual encounter. This encounter might first start with the question, “Who created the earth, sea, sky and every living thing?” I’m not proposing to answer this question here, but for people thinking about Christianity, such deep questions, and the possibility of a Creator God, would be worthy of consideration.
Spaces in our natural environment, whether they be the beach, a mountain, a river, the local park or private backyard, are often places of spiritual encounter. By this, I mean that when we give ourselves permission to take a break from our phones, Facebook, TV, work etc, and we enter into these natural spaces, we give our minds and hearts the opportunity to contemplate the deeper things of life. Being “in” nature provides a conducive atmosphere for us to reflect on the stirrings within our hearts. With our eyes open to creation, we can see the beauty in everything from the smallest of flowers to the immensity of the ocean. While we know these experiences can be good for the soul, sometimes it takes sacrifice to let go of our many attachments so as to allow the beauty and goodness to seep into our inner selves.
Over the years I’ve met people who say that they feel more in touch with God, and themselves, when they immerse themselves in nature. Some of these people indicate that they would also prefer to “meet God” in the natural environment than in a church. We should exercise caution with this sentiment because we must not underestimate the importance of community and relationships to our wellbeing. Having said that, a balanced life also requires periods of silence, when our spirit has time to ruminate on the deeper things of life—faith in God being a possible example.
One of the most well-known examples of a Catholic who not only cared for nature, but also understood how spending time in the natural world was beneficial for living a full life, was St Francis of Assisi. As Francis tried to discern what he should do with his life, he visited lonely places, often in the countryside. In this solitude he was able to hear the deepest yearnings of his heart, which he understood as God speaking to him.
So, if you are searching for meaning, goodness, truth, beauty-whatever-take some time to step out into the natural world to seek the voice of God.
Food for the journey
As we are slowly being allowed to leave our homes, there is a good chance that you will be able to step out into nature.
So, here’s an idea. Find yourself a quiet spot, turn off your Facebook or Twitter feed, and gaze out onto creation. Then, after a moment or two, slowly read the prayer below.
Our hope for you is that this prayer will help you connect with our Creator God.
Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them,
You created us in your image and made us stewards of all your creation,
of our common home.
You blessed us with the sun, water and bountiful land
so that all might be nourished.
Open our minds and touch our hearts,
so that we may attend to your gift of creation.
Help us to be conscious that our common home belongs not only to us,
but to all future generations, and that it is our responsibility to preserve it.
May we help each person secure the food and resources that they need.
Be present to those in need in these trying times,
especially the poorest and those most at risk of being left behind.
Transform our fear, anxiety and feelings of isolation into hope
so that we may experience a true conversion of the heart.
Help us to show creative solidarity in addressing the consequences of this global
Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed in search of the
Now more than ever may we feel that we are all interconnected,
in our efforts to lift up the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
Malcolm and Sharon
Words: Sharon Brewer
Image: St Francis of Assisi sculpture, Assisi – S Brewer
Download Prayer Card
Read Laudato Si’
Additional Reading: Aqua fons vitae - Water is the source of life
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.