In some parts of the country there are blizzards happening, but here in the South, it’s still in the 70s in mid-December. As long as we have this beautiful weather, my husband and I like to take advantage of it by taking walks in our local parks. We are lucky enough to have lots of parks nearby. The other day when we were on one of these walks, we came across a very unexpected sight. In this public park they had lots of newly planted trees and someone had gone along the path and put a single Christmas ornament on each tree.
It’s the end of the year, so seeing Christmas decorations isn’t completely out of the ordinary, but I was not expecting to see them here in this park, looking like a whole row of Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
I took this walk so that I could see nature. I was there for the trees and the flowers and the birds. These ornaments reminded me that this little slice of nature was smack dab in the middle a giant city. It reminded me of all of the unnatural things I was trying to run away from.
Recently at a Bible Study a woman brought up her own theory that she thinks that younger people are less likely to feel connected to any sort of religion because they don’t get to see nature. They spend time in large man-made cities and don’t take time to bask in the awe of God’s natural creation.
I have no idea how accurate her claim is, but I know that I feel so much comfort and joy when I am able to spend time in nature. This summer I got to travel through the mountains and forests of Alaska.
Then I went hiking in the great Zion National Park of Utah. I saw God in both of those experiences. I already wrote about the beauty of Zion in another blog and shared some pictures. (https://www.catechistscientist.com/blog/a-little-at-a-time) The greatness, the grandeur, it is hard not to be filled with awe.
These experiences remind me of the beautiful 19th psalm that says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.” God is the creator of all and an easy way to better know our creator is through spending time in nature.
There are so many amazing man-made creations in the world today. Many have improved health such as medicines and vaccines. Others have improved our daily way of life such as public transportation which allows easier access to farther places or computers and phones that give us easier access to scripture and homilies. All of the things I’ve listed help us to further experience the works of our God, whether through living longer to see more of it or through greater access to His gifts. The works of man are meant to highlight and point towards the glorious works of our God. When we forget this is when trouble starts. When we go against the natural order, when we directly refute the way God created something, there is the problem.
This time of Advent is a time of reflection. Reflection on ourselves and a reflection on God. It is a time to look at what God has given us in this life and to reflect on what we as Christians are doing with it. This is something personal, only you can know the actions of your life. Look at what is God-given, then compare it with what in your life is man-made. Which do you spend more time with? Do the man-made things you spend time with take you closer or farther away from God’s creation?
As an example, my husband and I noticed that every morning when he was cooking us breakfast and when we would eat breakfast, we had the morning news on our TV. We decided that for Advent we would turn it off. We decided to spend that time simply with each other, spending time with one of God’s creation instead of a man-made one.
Another example is that I admit that I am addicted to the online game “Bricks Breaker Quest”. It is so much fun! I play it on my phone more time than I care to admit. But for this Advent I am choosing to spend at least some of my daily down time reading the daily readings on my phone instead. I am still using my phone, I’m using a man-made item, but in a way that will help me to know God, help me to understand my Creator and His creation.
This time of year is to be a time of reflection. Pope Benedict XVI wrote,
“As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self-contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives.”
I spend a lot of time reflecting on the amazing works of man-kind. The field of technology has brought us so many wonderful things, and I love learning more about it each day. Even though that is where I spend my time, I admit that spending time with God’s creation and works is much more important. Reflecting on God’s creation doesn’t require you to make expensive trips to National Parks or spend time outside at a park during this frigid time of year. All that is required is that we take time to reflect on where in our lives we see God’s creation, where in our lives do we let things of the world overshadow that natural world. Where in our lives is there an ornament on a baby tree, where is the material world working its way into our nature and what God called “good”? If you have a chance to immerse yourself in nature, please do so. If not, find little ways each day to spend more time reflecting on our God and His creation.
As a priest at my local church said on the 1st Sunday of Advent, “A holy Advent makes for a beautiful Christmas.”