Catholicism, the Sacred Mystery and Nature

I’m a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic – there’s no way out of it. – Martin Scorsese 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.

The start of the holiest season in Catholicism: The season of Lent leading up to Easter.

Though other Western Christian faiths observe Ash Wednesday and Lent, there is something more atavistic about Lent as it pertains to  Roman Catholicism.  The old chants, the incense, the rituals performed. There are ties to over 1700 years ago..and beyond with the pre-Christian roots of Catholicism.

Something deep and spiritual that echoes through the generations.

Lent itself is a time to fast, observe and contemplate.

And it is part of Catholicism that lends itself to The Sacred Mysteries.  The word mystery is not used in our standard English sense of a puzzle to solve, but rather from the Biblical Greek meaning “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.”  Or, to put it more succinctly, a revelation.

As I mentioned before, there is no denying the effect that Catholicism has had on my worldview and, very likely, how I view the outdoors.

Having grown up very Catholic, in particular with a strain of Catholicism that still has strong echoes of pagan roots at that, it is very easy to find the sacred and mysterious in Nature.

A new crucifix in the ruins of a circa-1800s Spanish mission in the Comanche Grassland.

It is a place to challenge myself physically, and enjoy the beauty and sometimes the camaraderie of a journey shared with others.

But, ultimately, it is a place where I find myself most complete.

A place where I can look at the distant horizon and know that I will glean something from it beyond a pretty view.

Perhaps it is an overly romantic view of Nature.

A good Taoist would say Nature “just is“.

However, I was not raised Taoist. Nor have I adopted this philosophy.

To a person steeped in Catholicism in his formative years, but leads an otherwise secular life, Nature perhaps provides something missing that I had with my upbringing. Something that is not necessarily present in my everyday life.

A sense of something greater..something that indeed discloses and allows interpretation of what is around me. A revelation.

I may no longer be a Catholic, the teachings and sense of “the other” still affects me.

And spending time in Nature is the most visible outlet of this effect.

Update May 2017: I am currently reading Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.  A rather engaging read. Springsteen grew up in the northeast suburbs with a blue collar, Catholic upbringing. And his mother’s family is Italian.  Naturally, parts of the book resonated quite sharply with me. If Scorsese had a succinct statement of Catholicism in terms of identity, Springsteen had these poetic thoughts about the imagery of Catholicism affecting artistic endeavors:

This is the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a language of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward.

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Another Kevin
8 years ago

Pope John Paul II agreeed with you about the mountains.

And the church has an official blessing for climbing gear: When I got my ice axe and crampons, I racked my gear and asked my parish priest to bless it, knowing that there was a blessing in the book. He was tickled – offering a blessing that neither he nor any of his seminary classmates had given before. (They kind of play collect ’em trade ’em with such things…)

But you already know that I’m the sort of person who can make a hike into a pilgrimage.

8 years ago

Thanks for your thoughts, Paul! I started seminary in Washington, DC this past fall. Growing up next to Shenandoah National Park with God’s beauty present in a very tangible way definitely had a big influence on my relationship with God and my discernment. Every free weekend we have I try to make it back to the mountains (often with some brother seminarians in tow!) to escape the hustle and bustle of DC and experience the simplicity of backpacking that helps focus the mind and prayer so well. I would say that Catholicism, and lent in particular, has definitely helped me… Read more »