The beauty of God’s creation is all around us and magical to behold. I am a Good Shepherd Contemplative Sister and would like to tell you what it was like growing up in a Quaker family that immersed itself in the beauty of God’s Creation. Early experiences in nature left a lasting mark on me, giving me a deep sensitivity of and appreciation for natural beauty.
Beauty of God’s Creation is not always noticed
A young girl sits in the back seat of a car, headphones on and eyes glued to the i-Pad on her lap. The car rolls through beautiful countryside. The girl doesn’t notice.
This is a television ad I saw the other night. Unfortunately, it mimics reality. Watching the commercial made me feel sad and concerned for our world.
I grew up in a Quaker family of five. My father had four weeks off each summer, so we would take family vacations in a station wagon that also served as our camper. During these vacations we connected with the Sister we share our life with . . . and we learned to know the beautiful Mother Earth who opens her arms to embrace us. (Laudato Si 1).
We immersed ourselves in nature. We spent time in mountains, canyons and national parks. We traveled through deserts and along oceans. We visited dams, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. We hiked in gorges and fell spellbound by such places as Mount Lassen Volcanic Park and Joshua Tree National Monument.
My father was the bird expert; my mother the nature expert. I remember one mountain experience in particular. My father had the whole family lie down flat on the ground, not moving and not making sound. With arms outstretched, crumbs in our hands, we waited for birds to eat from our palms!
My parents taught us children to delight in nature. They taught us how to identify wildflowers, trees and shrubs. They taught us how identify birds by their appearance and calls. These experiences left their lasting mark, giving me a deep sensitivity to and appreciation for natural beauty.
When I was in my twenties, I sought a teaching position in Alaska. I wanted a simple environment, where wilderness still thrived. I went to the northern slope, expecting a place that had enough sun for a garden. I soon discovered permafrost and the fact that it snowed every month of the year, making gardening impossible.
I began to live in a new way
Later, I moved 400 miles south to Fairbanks and rented a small house with a large backyard. I went to the university extension farm to study short-summer gardening. I learned to make crop rows that ran north and south, and were three feet apart. I learned to dig trenches in-between the rows, and how to keep the soil warm by covering each row with heavy, clear plastic sheeting. I crawled around each row and hand-packed the edges of the plastic with soil. I walked the rows several times a day, and when I found a seedling I would cut it free from the plastic so it would not burn. I felt like I was nurturing life.
I grew 19 varieties of crops, including three types of lettuce, and used no chemical sprays. Instead, I washed off insects and planted pungent marigolds at the end of each row. It worked. I began to live in a new way. I taught school in fall, winter and spring and lived in my garden all summer long. I threw my wrist watch in the drawer and lived without awareness of time, as daylight is continuous throughout Fairbank’s summer. Long walks and gardening filled my summer days. I loved being so close to nature and gave myself completely to this work.
In the winter of 1969 I was living in a village on an island off the northern slope of Alaska. There I experienced total darkness and the breath taking star-studded night sky. One night while walking from the village I saw the splendor of the northern lights. Aurora Borealis rippled all around me in spectacular curtains of color. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I found myself dancing and twirling over the frozen tundra in communion with my God. Memories like these never fade.
And so it was with my heart filled with remembrances of nature that I grew saddened while watching that television commercial of the young girl so enamored with technology that she failed to witness the beautiful countryside passing by. As I reflected more deeply on the ad, I realized how easy it is for us to get distracted and lose our sense of wonder for Creation. When our eyes are diverted and ears blocked, we don’t see or hear the cries of wounded humanity and Earth. We miss the urging of Laudato Si — to care for our common home.
You can read more stories like this in Items of Interest, the monthly newsletter for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America.