An Ascension Press Article
By: Allison Ramirez
Despite the darkness of the pandemic which has taken so much from so many, the embrace of summertime is finally upon us giving back warmth and hope. Being cooped up inside with Zoom calls, computers, televisions, smart phones and video games for so long, summer is a welcome invitation to take a break from technology as July begins. As helpful as our screens can be to connect with others and to accomplish tasks, it is also important to simply step away into the outdoors and enjoy the beauty of the earth.
“For the Beauty of the Earth” is the title of a hymn my mother used to sing to me when I was a child. The song reminds me of providential care and bountiful harvests. The first two stanzas read:
For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies, Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise. For the beauty of each hour Of the day and of the night, Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon and stars of light, Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.
This hymn is an ode to creation, a song of celebration for the beauty that is around us and a recognition of the one who brought that beauty into light. The song focuses on praise, which is synonymous to approval or admiration. It can be all too easy to dwell in negativity, constantly finding things about ourselves or our world to criticize God or even ourselves for. Yet at all times, I see the call to praise God for the beauty of the earth and creation in all the gifts we have been given.
Care for the Environment
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say regarding the beauty of the universe:
“The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will.” CCC 341
This admiration for earthly beauty that occurs in both our submission of intellect and will, looks different from person to person. Many of us rely day-to-day on our intellect when it comes to our faith. We turn to books, podcasts, retreats, and other intellectually stimulating means of growing in faith; I do think these means of growing in faith are wise and good.
Nonetheless, there is something uniquely different in the use of the senses— sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—while in nature that releases us from pure thought in place of wonder and intrigue of our physical senses that open us up to God’s world and his presence within that world. Nature can inspire and move the heart toward God if we recognize that the beauty we see around us comes from him. Pope Francis has spoken much on the care of the environment and our role in protecting the good of the physical world for us now and for future generations.
Take Joy in the Environment
In my own life, I recently took on a project of putting together indoor water gardens. I found unused glass jars around the house and filled them with sand and various decorative rocks. Then I went out to my local pet store and picked up several species of live plants and buried their roots in the sand, filled the jars up with water, and now have them on display around my home. Whenever I glance at them, I am gladdened by the beauty of nature even while in my home. I am also beginning to work on a small rose garden in my backyard with the hope of garnering more gratitude and joy from creation.
Some other ideas to spend time in the environment include: building a bird feeder, growing vegetables, reading a book on your front porch, visiting a local park, or reusing recycled materials.
In the New Testament, Jesus is often found somewhere out in creation. At the start of his ministry, he is baptized in the river Jordan by John, signifying the importance of water in his ministry and in the lives of all Christian believers at their own baptism. Then, right after his baptism, Jesus spends forty days and nights in the dry desert doing battle against temptation, which is an encouragement for us to continue to persevere through our own deserts of life. Jesus often is found preaching on mountaintops, or calling fisherman to be his disciples along the shores of the sea or the tax collector Zacchaeus from up in a tree. He is a carpenter by profession, which involves working with his hands, shaping wood into something useful. There are also several parables where Jesus speaks of the environment: the parable of the fig tree and of the sower, for example.
We are spiritual beings who need prayer, the Eucharist, and the sacraments to nourish our souls, but we are also physical beings who need the earth’s fields for food, roads for travel, and water for drinking. As tempting as it can be to stay cooped up in our homes or offices day in and day out, there is a big world outside of our homes and places of work to explore, protect, tend to, and admire. Nehemiah 9:6 says:
“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry hosts, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”
As we enjoy summer, I invite you to step outside and seek the Lord in the beauty of the earth.