Editor’s note: DC Service Corps volunteer, Fatima Godfrey, describes her tentative experience in approaching the DCSC fall retreat. However, by grace her hesitancy was dispelled by God’s hand in the transcendental beauty of creation, resulting in true peace and retreat.

Before entering into an intentional community with my fourteen housemates and striving to live out Franciscan charisms and traditions, my thoughts about nature and the earth were limited. I never gave my earthly surroundings much thought outside of enjoying the colors of the sky during sunset and strongly disliking rainy weather. It was quite the surprise to me as I learned that God loves the earth, not just because it sustains life for me, but simply because it is a part of his creation. During a joint Formation session with DCSC and the missioners, we dove into Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. I learned that I do, in fact, have a responsibility to respond to God’s gift of creation with attentiveness and care. This session took place just in time for DCSC’s fall day of reflection, which was spent on the Potomac River, its neighboring Overlook Park, and the gardens of the Washington National Cathedral. 

I was not particularly excited to spend the morning canoeing on the river. As a dependent glasses-wearer, water activities have naturally not become my favorite, and the idea of drifting in the middle of a vast body of water was not the most comforting. As time grew closer to our fall day of reflection, my concerns also grew stronger. I took my concerns to prayer and I perceived that God was inviting me to say “yes” to his desire for me to experience something new with Him. As our fall day arrived, I entered into our reflection with a spirit of peace and an openness to receive whatever gift and graces the Lord desired to share. 

I hopped into my canoe with my partner, my sweet housemate Emily, and we paddled into the river. Immediately, we were both amazed by the view. The trees were many, towering, and richly green. The waters and sky were beautifully clear and still, as if they were just waiting to embrace us. I felt and saw God so strongly and clearly in my surroundings; He was truly present in the canoe with Emily and me. 

“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” ~Pope Francis, Laudato Si, no. 84

In the waters and sky, I saw God’s sovereignty. Just as the endless trees around us provided life-sustaining oxygen, I was reminded of God as the ultimate life source. In the beauty of our natural surroundings, I saw God in his creativity as author, artist, and creator. 

By the end of that Tuesday, I had gained a few canoeing skills, a bigger camera roll, and more insight about my fellow volunteers. Most importantly, I received so much more from God than I could have expected. God graced me with an encounter that left me in greater appreciation and awe of my connection to him, those around me, and the world I find myself in.