If you know me, you know I love to be outside. I could walk for hours just taking in the beauty of nature. It is often in nature that I witness God’s presence most of all. Gazing on the beauty of His creation can bring a sense of peace, along with a sense of wonder and awe that makes me say, “God, I know you must be there.”
This love of nature has lent itself well to my enjoyment of photography. Capturing the beauty of God’s creation with the right combination of light at the perfect angle seems, in a way, to be a nod to Him. Almost as if each picture is a way of saying, “thank you, I appreciate the beauty of your creation.”
Over a year ago, I had the privilege of joining a group of young adults from around the diocese on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was something I never thought I would be able to do and an experience I am forever grateful to have had.
I never really imagined what it would be like to travel to the Middle East. Any image I had ever seen of that area of the world seemed barren and even dangerous.
That being said, one of the things that surprised me most about being there was the sheer beauty of the land around us. Each place we went was more beautiful than the next. We were surrounded by palm trees, lush vegetation and sunsets over the sea. Even the desert, which most would expect to be dry and void of life, was absolutely breathtaking.
When I’m reading the Gospels, I often picture the places that we traveled to. I look back at the pictures I took as reminders. It makes a difference knowing they are real, tangible, beautiful places.
This seems especially heightened during Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Having been there makes it all the more real, even though it all occurred some two thousand years ago.
The forty days of Lent mirror the forty days that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert. We know it is a real place. We know because we’ve been there.
I can’t help but picture the Mount of Temptations in Jericho, surrounded by mountains of rock and sand. We hiked up to a monastery build high up in that rock. Although the monastery and the buildings below it would not have been there when Jesus was, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the land might have looked like at the time. It makes a difference knowing it was a real place.
It helps the Gospels come alive when we can picture an actual place in which they occurred. When the Pharisees tried to silence the crowd of disciples upon our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, Jesus responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). I believe it. The earth reflects His glory. His creation can be a prayer, wherever you may be.
He has made all ground holy: Every time we watch a sunrise or a sunset. Every time we walk by the beach or hike up a mountain. Every time we witness the change of seasons; the fresh fallen snow, a tree of bright orange leaves or the first buds of spring.
As Thomas Merton wrote, “Let me seek, then, the gift of silence and poverty and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.”