Saturday, July 18, 2015

God in the great outdoors

Below is the "Thinking Anew" column in today's Irish Times.

Michael Commane
It was probably September 1981 when a first-year pupil at Newbridge College, which was then a boys' boarding school, sat on the bank of the Liffey and began to cry. It was his first week in the school and he had come from Donegal.

He simply could not believe that there was not a mountain in sight. He realised he was in a foreign country and such a break from home was too much for him. 
He survived, managed and grew accustomed to flat Kildare.

I have said it before in this column how fortunate I am to have been introduced to the Wicklow Hills. As students at the Dominican Priory in Tallaght in the 1970s heading to the hills was one of the few great recreations we had. It has stood the test of time and whatever about any philosophy or theology learned and forgotten, the lure of the great outdoors has left a permanent impression.

Back then it was on the rarest of occasions that one bumped into other walkers. We had the mountains to ourselves, whether it was on Lugnaquillia, Scarr or Tonlagee. And then the exhaustion that followed.

On one occasion we cycled from Tallaght to Donard, climbed the Lug and did it all in one day. But even in the then-strict Tallaght Priory, we were dispensed from early Morning Prayer the following day.

Hill walking came to an abrupt end when my friend and fellow Dominican died 12 years ago of a heart attack. Fortuitously, through work, I have met up with a colleague who knows the hills like the back of his hand and I'm back roaming about in the Wicklow and Kerry mountains. He does all the navigating.

These days Ireland Inc. uses the hills, rivers and natural beauty of the place to sell the country as the ideal place to come on vacation. It's working. More and more people are out and about discovering the beauty of the place.

There is nowhere in Ireland more than a few short kilometres from natural beauty and it's simply crazy that we would ever let it pass us by.

In tomorrow's Gospel (Mark 6: 30 - 34) Jesus suggests to his apostles that they take off to a quiet place to get away from the "madding crowd".

The attraction of the message of Jesus is so persuasive that it is almost impossible for him and his apostles to get away to a quiet place.Is it possible to get any sort of "total picture" of the world if we are not someway or other in touch with the beauty of the world about us? That beauty is powerfully evident in the hills, valleys and rivers which surround us.

The most uneducated glimpse of the world, will make us aware of the importance of protecting it.

Pope Francis in his encyclical  "Laudato Si" speaks about the environment as a relationship between nature and the society which lives in it. "Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it." (139)

Discovering the beauty and wonder of our natural environment gives us a great opportunity to get a glimpse of the greatness of God's creation. It also gives us time and space to relax and take some time out.

But maybe most of all it gives us an appreciation of the importance of the challenge we have in protecting all that is good about our environment.

Whether in Kildare or Donegal, Rome or Berlin, the world is the cherished creation of God.

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