A Catholic’s Guide To Discovering God In The Great Outdoors

by Faith & Life

When was the last time you made it outdoors? I don’t mean just popping out of the house to get a coffee or to go shopping. I mean, when were you last completely away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday living, and out in the magnitude of God’s creation?

It can be really easy to become engrossed in our day to day; there’s so much that can occupy our time. But there’s a whole world on our doorstep that God has, as St Bonaventure said, created to “show forth” and “communicate” His glory.

This video, ‘Words of Wilderness: A Love Letter to the Wild’, certainly stirred up in me an irresistible desire to get out, and to get deep into the wilderness.

Words of Wilderness: 1836-Present

Five Reasons For Catholics To Get Outdoors:

1.  Being Consumed by Beauty.

The rawness, the vastness, and the sheer beauty of the outdoors is something that has always, and will always continue to inspire poets, musicians, and artists alike. The Catechism tells us that it “calls forth the admiration of scholars” – CCC 341. I could write an entire post on this one point alone.

The great thing about the beauty of the outdoors is that it consumes you. In a world that is being dominated by the drive of consumption, you find that in encountering authentic beauty it fundamentally cannot be consumed, but you can only let yourself be consumed by it. It surrounds you, and it becomes an elevating influence that calls us towards higher things – towards God.

The beauty and all that is good about the outdoors and creation is a reflection of God’s beauty and goodness. And it’s there whether we go and see it or not! So we may as well get out there and let it transform our hearts. As Dietrich von Hildebrand said,

“Beauty can take hold of us and move us to tears; it can fill us with light and with confidence; it can enthrall us, take us into the depths, and draw us before the face of God.”

2.  Getting the Right Perspective.

Sometimes it is important to get away from all the hustle and bustle of each day and to get some perspective on things. Undoubtedly there are many things in our lives that will cause us to worry – problems at work, difficulties with study, or anxieties within relationships – but getting outdoors is a great way to get some perspective on everything.

There’s a great song that a friend reminded me of when we were talking about the importance of getting outdoors, and the lyrics give testament to this greater perspective on things. They go,

“When you feel life coming down on you like a heavy weight… take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge; remember your place. Many moons have risen and fallen long before you came” – Follow the Sun, Xavier Rudd.

And it’s incredibly true. We’re made for God and God alone. Our worries and our concerns need not dominate our minds or destroy our inner peace; we are children of a loving Father. A loving Father who has surrounded us by the beauty of creation – of which we are the summit.

3. Making the Effort.

This point may seem a bit of an oddity, but let me explain. It can be really difficult to find time to get outdoors – properly outdoors – and this is a good thing. In a culture where everything seems to be barely a stone’s throw away, it can be easy for us to become complacent, and dare I say, even lazy.

The nearest coffee shop, the closest takeout place, and the phenomena of internet shopping! They can all be so near to hand. But the outdoors requires a much more decisive effort on our part, and a degree of preparation. And this is wonderfully analogous with our faith.

Our faith requires effort – well our faith ultimately requires surrender – but there is still something that remains which requires constant attention on our part. We need to be aware of our relationship with God, and we need to take the time and make the effort to nourish this relationship, to grow in it, and to share it with others.

As Pope Saint John Paul II said,

“The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises toward ever wider horizons!”

4. Getting Time to Talk.

The outdoors can offer us a beautiful opportunity to be with God. To open up our hearts and talk with Him who loves us.

Again, it can be really hard to find the time for prayer when we are so busy. But when we are outdoors we take a step back from it all, and we are brought into a new space in which we can simply be. There’s no demands put upon us, and no deadlines. There’s just us, God, and creation. And when you find yourself in that space, there arises a very natural awareness of God and an awareness of how He is speaking to you in the depths of your heart.

It is a great opportunity for us to hear God’s voice, and to respond to His word. To thank Him for His blessings, to tell Him of our worries, and to place ourselves once more into His arms, and then to return to our day to day living with a new conviction.

5. Leaving that Comfort Zone.

For some the outdoors can be like a second home. However, for the majority of people, it’s something that can be quite uncomfortable – too cold, too hot, too far to walk, the list goes on. But who cares!

It’s good to push your boundaries, especially when the boundaries that are being pushed are able to lead you into the magnitude of God’s beautiful creation. To give the example of a pilgrimage, it’s uncomfortable and it pushes you, but the beauty that you experience on the way, and the beauty you encounter at the end is undeniably worth all of it twice over.

Maybe you could opt for a picnic instead of a restaurant – sure you may be sitting on an uncomfortable rock, but I bet you that your wild surroundings are able to capture and inspire your heart with much more fervor than any fancy restaurant ever could. And why should we desire comfort anyway! As Pope Benedict XVI said,

“The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good.”

Five Ways To Get Outdoors:

Here you will find five quick ideas to get you out of the house! Also, always consider whether you want to go with others, or if you want to take this time for yourself. (If you’re a youth group leader, why not take the whole gang!)

1. Go for a Hike.

Strap on your walking boots, find a route, and then just go for it!

2. Opt for a Picnic.

Cancel that restaurant booking, abandon the easy-to-do takeout, and go and find a remote spot to have a picnic! Pack up some food, drink, and a blanket and you’re on your way.

3. Camping.

If you’ve got more time available – maybe it’s a weekend – then why not head out for a camping trip. A tent and a sleeping bag out in the wilderness!

4. Stargazing.

Laying out under the stars and gazing up at the vastness of the universe is indescribable. It is so beautiful. If you haven’t already, then give this a go!

5. Pilgrimage!

If you have the time, then this is an awesome way to journey into the wilderness with God. There’s plenty of pilgrimages out there so take your pick! Find a route, pack a backpack, and keep your eyes on the horizon!

Pope Saint John Paul II said that God wrote two books, the first is Sacred Scripture and the second is nature, and St. Augustine tells us that the whole world is a book and that those who do not travel – or explore – read but a page. There is so much beauty in the wilderness waiting to be discovered. There is so much that directs our hearts towards God – a whole book’s worth! So why not get out there and read it!

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