In his recent commencement address, the President of Christendom College, Dr. O’Donnell, reflected that everyone has his “Galilee”, a place where he connected with God in a new, deeper way, and which always remains a special part of one’s spiritual life, whether in memory or in regular visitation. With my recent relocation from my beach home to Christendom’s mountain-surrounded campus, this quote has been on my mind constantly. Though I had never heard it phrased that way before, I have always had a special, spiritual connection to the ocean; when I felt upset, confused, or lost I would walk down to the water’s edge, sit on the dock with my feet in the water, and simply breath while taking in the beauty of the world around me. And every time I went to seek God at the ocean’s edge, He came to meet me there. As I sat there, the colors and details of the world would transform before my eyes, and Hopkins’ great words “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” would spring to my lips as He shone through His creation.
But now I am in a new place, removed from the loving support of family and the calming power of the waves. And though I miss my family acutely, the thing which surprises me the most is how much I miss the ocean. Throughout literature the ocean has been figuratively portrayed in spiritual ways, and a wide variety of people often come to its shores seeking release from anxiety, worry, or stress, thus I know I am not the only one to hold the great body of water responsible for both relieving and producing spiritual restlessness. Despite this, I still wondered if being discontent, despite being surrounded by a different but equally majestic type of beauty, was a problem.
I was still struggling with this when Dr. O’Donnell gave his address, saying “Everyone has a Galilee, where you first sensed that He was real and He was true.” In that moment I knew God had answered my question perfectly. As Hopkins repeatedly points out in his poetry, God has made Himself present through nature in a very powerful way. The Catechism affirms this, saying “Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness- ‘And God saw that it was good…very good’– for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance designed for and entrusted to him” (CCC 299). Thus, it is natural — and even expected — that humans would connect to and feel drawn towards different aspects of creation in a way that transcends basic appreciation.
In fact, God meant for people to connect with Him through their surroundings, as nature is His gift to us. We were meant to be in communion with Him in every aspect of our lives, and if the world which surrounded us did not contribute towards bringing us closer to Him, there would be no point in being able to see, feel, or appreciate it. Pope Blessed John Paul II went so far as to write that nature should be a “master” and “guardian” in our lives in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis, saying: “Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption. Yet it was the Creator’s will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble ‘master’ and ‘guardian,’ and not as a heedless ‘exploiter’ and ‘destroyer’…” And just as certain songs or particular people can create more emotion within someone than others, there are going to be vistas which appeal to the very core of one’s being in a way nothing else can, simultaneously meriting our awe while demanding respect, for the creation and the Divine Creator.
So while it is important to remain open to new experiences, to encountering God in new places, I understand now that while I may never connect to the mountains in the same way as the sea, God is truly present in every aspect of His creation, and will always come to meet me, if only I come halfway.