I recently returned from a captivating trip to Scotland with a group of friends, and I was absolutely mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of the landscape. Our tour guide amusingly pointed out that Americans tend to overuse the word “awesome” to describe things, but in this instance, it truly was the perfect adjective. Green mountain ranges that would alternate between being sunbathed or shrouded in cloud, 30,000 lakes (lochs), cascading waterfalls, a countryside dotted with sheep and castles and even a few white sand beaches truly make Scotland an awesome place.
With the responsibilities of priesthood comes the habit of rising early in the morning, and in Scotland where the sun greeted us as early as 4 a.m., I had ample time to explore the charming villages and hills before the world awakened. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins eloquently expressed that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” and has the resilience to endure the burdens and monotony that our human frailty imposes upon it. Each morning, just past 5 a.m., I would venture out from the hotel in search of a secluded and serene spot, hidden from the bustling world, where I could contemplate and embrace what truly matters.
Having dedicated moments each day to sit in awe of God’s creation helps elevate our hearts and minds above the toils and drudgery that we often encounter or even create for ourselves. It provides us with a perspective on the fleeting nature of life and how insignificant our daily worries and anxieties can be in the grand scheme of things.
However, immersing ourselves in nature solely for its own sake is not the goal of Christian meditation. The ultimate aim is to find solace and rest in God. One of my treasured traditional hymns is “How Great Thou Art.” I’ve learned that this song originated as a Swedish poem, which was later adapted by an English missionary who contemplated the splendor and magnificence of God while journeying from village to village, sharing the good news of the Gospel.
Presumably familiar to most readers, the first two verses of the hymn celebrate the wonders of the stars, the awe-inspiring sound of thunder, the serene woods, the hidden glades, the melodious birds and the majestic grandeur of towering mountains. As we marvel “in awesome wonder,” our hearts transcend the contemplation of natural beauty and shift toward the beauty of Jesus, who sacrificed Himself to absolve our sins and will ultimately return to bring us home. God’s greatest act is not merely the act of creation, but the act of redemption.
My earnest hope is that all of us can discover precious hidden moments where we allow ourselves to be awestruck by the magnificence of the world we inhabit. May we cultivate hearts that soar above the daily struggles that often weigh us down.
Father Christopher Martin is vicar for parish mission and vitality for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.