Finding god in nature

By Mary Rose Roberts
Whenever I am in northwest Indiana, I attend church at St. Ann of the Dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The national park is the backdrop for the Catholic church, and natural themes continue inside as well as in the priests’ homilies. 

According to Christian and Islamic tradition, St. Ann was Jesus Christ’s grandmother and has been canonized by the Roman Catholic church as a saint. I’ve heard a lot of misinformation about the Catholic churches' use of saints, including it being compared to praying to pagan gods in an evangelical church I sometimes attend in my new hometown. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Like Paul used the term “saints of the church” in his biblical letters, Catholics honor those who modeled their lives around Jesus’ teachings. They are just good examples of being Catholic, so we honor them.

I like to go to St. Ann’s when I really need to get my church on, as I feel closest to god when in nature. The church is surrounded by evergreen forests. Inside the entrance, there is an aspersorium (the basin that holds holy water in Catholic churches) shaped like an acorn. The alter is made of shellacked drift wood and is in front of floor-to -ceilings windows, letting light and wildlife inside.

The alter, where the priest 'runs' the mass.
If you are unfamiliar with Catholic church, there are a few songs, two readings, a reading from the gospel and then a homily with communion thereafter. Unlike evangelical church sermons that are theme-based and then backed up using different references from the bible, Catholics read a gospel verse verbatim. Then, the priest's homily offers historical background about the time it was written, cultural issues and more, followed by ways to apply the message in our modern-day lives.

At St. Ann’s, nature always seems to come into play during the homily—especially by one priest who grew up in Utah. His homilies reflect his experience living in a rural area, and his message always touches me.

Indeed, last time I was there he talked about watching the sunrise on the sand dunes overlooking Lake Michigan, a short distance from the church. He felt so close to god, he said. Then he encouraged each of us to turn off the TV, store the iPad and silence cell phones and spend time in nature to experience the beautiful world god gave to us to steward, safe-keep and admire.

Outside St. Ann of the Dunes
“God may ask, ‘what did you think of all the wonderful things I gave to you to look at down there?’” the priest said.

The church reinforces my own belief, something written in Christian and other religious texts, that we are expected to be stewards of the earth. That was our first assignment in Eden and, if you are truly religious, it should be one of the main ways you serve god.

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15)

Where is one of your favorite places to be spiritual or close to god?

No comments:

Post a Comment