One of the topics we’ve discussed this week as we look at various issues and the Church’s response to them is the challenge for us as a people believing in a glorious afterlife to be fully present in the natural world. There are parts of our theological history where it is easy to see that Christians were taught to reject the things of this world – and even our own worldly bodies – as intrinsically sinful. It is understandable that this focus would be partially responsible for our hesitancy to embrace creation as an expression of divine love. Just as it has taken time for the Church to develop a spirituality that embraces the beauty of the human body, so too it will likely be difficult to convince ourselves to look for the glory of God on the ground around us rather than always looking up. (I know that I sometimes struggle with this habitual mindset.) One Columban expressed this today as our need for feeling “at home in the world.”
I can say I’ve been up close and personal with this “at home” feeling on many occasions during this trip, and one of them occurred today on our walk through a local forest with our dedicated group organizer and field guide for the day, Elizabeth McArdle. As we ventured onto the trail, I could feel my lungs open and my eyes widen to the majesty of the stretching trees and sprawling ferns. My soul said, “I am home.” Each speck of color from each flowering plant caught my eye, begging to be seen, to be held, to be known. I must’ve had a goofy smile on my face –the kind that seems to happen for no reason at all but you just can’t shake – for the entirety of the hike. At one point, the cloud of my day dreaming lifted just long enough for me to notice that I wasn’t alone. All around me the others were gawking at tiny purple and yellow things with the same foolish grin! It was as if we had never seen the color green before and were afraid we never would again. Laughter was magnified, and eyes twinkled. Any passerby would think we had all lost it! Granted, this was our first “organized hike” since the Burren week, and many of us were overjoyed to be able to put our plant identification skills to work again; but, it was an uplifting scene all the same. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more “at home” we might all feel in our own skin if we made more time and space to simply revel in God’s creation. Maybe we’d find a greater capacity to listen joyfully to one another. Maybe we’d find an ability to be spoken to. Maybe the answers we’ve sought with upturned heads would make themselves known in the colors of blossoms, the comforting shelter of branches overhead, or the rhythmic swaying of wild grasses. Maybe.