We just returned from a two-night camping trip to one of Indiana’s beautiful state parks. We spent our time hiking through 100-degree heat with eight children under 12, carrying water and snacks sufficient for all, only to return to a camper with no air-conditioning located under a canopy of sap-dripping trees atop a bed of hot, sticky gravel. Add to this my husband’s infected great toe, my toddler’s heart-breaking coffee spill, and enough whine to supply the French Riviera (anyone for cheese and crackers?), and you have a tableau to rival Dante’s Inferno. Still, as we pulled away from our campsite this morning, our children moaned, “I don’t want to go home!”
Believe it or not, we love to camp. We went for the first time a few summers ago, and we were instantly hooked (to the utter shock of my longtime friends). Never mind having to change diapers on the side of the trail or washing bottles at the pump, we were determined to make it work. And why? There’s just something about being outside.
When God first created man, He “settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). He could have put man anywhere. In his omnipotence, He could have erected a steel highrise apartment building in lower Manhattan or thrown together a wooden hovel in northern Siberia, but He chose instead to put Adam in a garden. Yes, He knew that man would one day conceive of those architectural wonders, but He wanted us to start in the garden, so close to the earth He created for us.
In teaching our children to love the outdoors and become good stewards of God’s creation, my husband and I find that we connect with them on a different level than what modern life often allows. There are no video games on the trail; there is no DVD player along the river. There are only nine people, enjoying one another’s company amidst God’s natural wonders. Our kindergartener learned her colors while hiking among the flowers. My middle-schooler developed some understanding about the difficulties our predecessors faced in settling the frontier. Our children ask thought-provoking questions about science, math, history, and religion. All of this on a simple nature hike, which requires nothing more than a bottle of water and a good pair of sneakers.
If I haven’t convinced you yet (I know you’re out there, “Hotel Campers”), the Church has something to say about it as well, “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #341). We may build skyscrapers and sprawling hillside mansions, but nothing can compare to the foundation God gave us to build upon. Everything in this world works according to His perfect order, a fact that becomes obvious when you get out into it. Even those annoying bees that were swarming our s’mores have their purpose.
Okay, okay, so you don’t have to be a camper to have a healthy respect for God’s creation. You don’t even have to like the outdoors. After all, in our fallen state, we encounter God most fully through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and no cave or waterfall can come close to that. But it is important that we all see God reflected in the great mirror of His creation. It is imperative that we care for this world and respect its natural order. In doing so, we give glory back to God for the gifts and talents He gives to us. And who knows, in so doing, you may discover your “inner-camper” as well.
“God looked at everything He had made, and he found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).