Every summer, I take time to recharge my catechetical batteries, and this year, reading Joe Paprocki’s book, 8 Steps to Energize Your Faith, was exactly what I needed. Reflecting on his thought-provoking questions each week, I renewed my focus on God’s work in my life.
In the chapter on delighting in nature and all of creation, Joe points out that Jesus was often catechizing outdoors—on mountaintops and seashores and any number of other places. He poses the question, “Where is your personal ‘cathedral of nature’ where you can invite creation to inspire you?” I sat with that question for several days, recalling places I’d been where I felt wrapped in God’s divine creativity.
I concluded that I found my personal cathedral a dozen years ago along a muddy, slick, and very bumpy road in Tanzania. We were coming back from the Mara River when I popped up in our safari vehicle to scan the horizon as a hailstorm was blowing in. I live in a very populated area, so I’m always fascinated by places where there is nothing but space for miles around. This was one of those times. The gray clouds hung low on the horizon meeting the golden-brown ground, the dry savannah grass undulated on the winds of the approaching storm, and the air smelled like rain and sweet hay. One lone tree on the horizon captured my attention. There was just one tree for miles and miles as sheets of life-sustaining rains came down. In that moment, despite several people in the vehicle, it was just me alone with my Creator in the magnificence of that place.
I had never considered that dusty savannah particularly cathedral-like until Joe’s question asked me to consider it. It was simply one of those sense memories that took me back to a moment in time. It wasn’t that I had to call God to mind; this brief encounter was so powerful and real that God was already there before I was even aware of it. How could God not be present in the beauty of such a sacramental moment?
The Directory for Catechesis speaks of the via pulchritudinis (way of beauty) as a source of catechesis that leads us toward the “beautiful gift that the Father has made in his Son.” (DC 109) Even now, a decade later, I remain grateful that God revealed himself to me in that way, allowing me to be in communion with his divine handiwork and the beauty and truth that is Jesus Christ.
Jesus was definitely catechizing outdoors that day. I was 7,000 miles from home and soaking wet, and yet, I was in the most familiar place of all.