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Our place in God’s creation

| Sunday, January 19, 2014

I can still remember the hot, dry July summer day before my freshman year of college when I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon. Sweat turned to chills as I approached a popular precipice to gaze upon the Canyon for the first time.

I can distinctly remember the shivers and goosebumps that came upon me like a tidal wave as I peered over the edge to view the Canyon’s reddish rock and voluminous depths. A park ranger stood by, ready to explain the history of its formation and development.

But, to be honest, I only half-listened to his speech. And it wasn’t because I was disinterested. Although it took me some time, I began to realize that my lack of interest was another matter entirely.
His explanation, while interesting, began to feel inconsequential and insignificant the more I gazed outward. No doubt the ranger was trying to tell the story of the Grand Canyon — how it formed, how long it took and what elements comprise its rocky layers.

But my desire, on the other hand, was to just be. And somewhere deep down, I couldn’t help but feel that the ranger’s words couldn’t quite frame or capture just what I was experiencing in that moment anyway.
Around me, there was much noise. In a time largely before iPhones, camera shutters clicked frenetically to my right and left, opening and closing in time with the staccato of the voices of European tourists.
French, German and Spanish. Did I hear Polish, too? The noise seems but a faint memory now.
It’s hard to describe exactly what I felt. I’ve heard people say that they’ve felt “insignificant” as they’ve gazed upon the enormity of the Grand Canyon. For me, however, that sentiment definitely does not capture my emotions.

You see, for me, the word “insignificant” carries a negative connotation. For my ears, these people seem to suggest that they are out of place or don’t belong in the presence of something so beautiful or awe-inspiring.
But I never felt out of place.

In fact, although I was aware that I stood in the presence of something that was much bigger than myself, I couldn’t help but feel that my presence there that day at the Grand Canyon was important. I couldn’t help but feel like I really did belong there and that I was supposed to be there in that place at that particular moment in time.

And since that day, I’ve had similar, albeit smaller, experiences with nature and my place in it.  I’ve stood on beaches and watched the reddish-orange hues of the sun dance on the horizon as the sun prepared to set over the ocean. I’ve gotten disoriented as I looked upwards from the base of dense forests and towering buildings that loomed stories-upon-stories above me. But I never could quite find words to describe what I was feeling in those moments, to figure out how I could somehow feel “at home” in the midst of sights so different and glorious.

But not too long ago, it finally hit me. I have been happily humbled by my experiences at the Grand Canyon, by the awe-inspiring sunsets and disorienting gazes upwards because they have all been reminders of the same beautiful truth: that the world is God’s, but that I belong there too. I belong there too because I have been lovingly given the opportunity to experience and live in it.
All of this grandeur exists for us. And we are meant to feel at home because, in fact, God gives it all — his majesty, glory and love — for our sake. He gives it through creation, in the Grand Canyon, in a sunset, in a towering tree and brings it all to fullness in Christ.

And what started during my experience at the Grand Canyon is, I think, a reflection of a deeper truth and a truer image. We constantly stand in the midst of a world that shines — drips, even — with an abundance of majesty and glory. But this majesty and glory is but a reflection, an imperfect image of the one light that is the most majestic and glorious of all: God’s love. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in this manner: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

And I began to realize that these places, these encounters with nature, were majestic and wonderful not only because they were awe-inspiring, but also because that awe and wonder had given me a small window to see the proper relationship between the world, God and myself. As Pope Francis recently wrote, “If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be.”
And through all this, I realized an important truth: God humbles us not to make us feel small, but to help inspire and draw us to himself, to help us realize that the earth, our lives and our possessions are not the end.

He is.

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