As part of our message series for the New Year about how to make simple spiritual changes that will improve everyday life, we decided to ask and write about techniques our own staff and close friends use to grow closer to God. Here’s one such article with some practical advice.
In his “Canticle of Creation,” Saint Francis of Assisi gives thanks for all matters of the natural world — the sun, moon, stars, air, fire, Mother Earth — interspersed with praise and glory to God, their divine maker. Like Francis, many of us find solace, inspiration, or wisdom in nature; a jog through Glen Park, a walk along the beach, or even a quiet bench in the botanical gardens right here in San Francisco. Being in nature has a way of calling prayer out of us, making it simpler to enter into conversation with God.
Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri, shared that his “spiritual life hack” is to go out into nature, and find God through prayer in a “space that is boundless.”
“I live at the edge of San Bruno Mountain, and I often go to walk the trails through the park there,” Balestrieri said. “It allows me to process anything that might be heavy on my mind or my heart. The time outside, alone, while walking, allows me to process, think, and listen to inspiration or guidance that comes.”
When our busy lives surround us with people, responsibilities, and obligations pulling our focus every which way, it can be hard to find alone the time essential to building a strong, healthy, and communicative relationship with God.
“So often, we put God on the back burner, and only pull him to the front when we need something, are troubled by something, or need to figure something out,” Balestrieri said. “But since bringing God to the forefront is so obviously important, we need to eliminate the distraction that distances us from Him in the first place.”
What is it about nature that allows us to engage with the spiritual? Being outside automatically pulls us away from surface-level commitments: all manner of responsibilities, engagements, people, and possessions, providing a kind of total detachment from worldliness that cultivates the space to seek God.
Seeking God in nature often takes the form of contemplative prayer, one of the three major expressions of “the life of prayer” outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism uses St. Teresa’s definition to explain it: “‘Contemplative prayer, in my opinion, is nothing more than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.’” Nature is the setting that allows for the essential literal quiet of contemplative prayer. It is a listening, rather than an asking form of prayer, which allows us to turn our hearts and minds towards God.
Channel St. Francis this week (regarded by some as a “nature mystic” and certainly by many as a lover of the outdoors) and, try to find a bit of space and time to enjoy the outdoors — maybe even your own front- or backyard, and seek God through contemplation there. Finding God in nature could be the first step to finding God in everything.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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