Editor’s Note: On this twentieth day of our Advent blog series “Hidden Joys,” FMS board member Teresa Redder reflects on the importance of gazing upon God’s creation with awe and wonder after a camping trip in Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota with her husband.
While returning to my husband’s home state of South Dakota this summer for his 50th high school reunion, Jeff and I planned to make a long tent camping trip to places that we had not visited before in our 45 years of marriage. Our itinerary included the states of Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota. In earlier adventures with our four children (and now our six grandchildren), we always valued the word “gaze” in our travels in a most unique way: What would it be like to gaze upon this place if we were the first humans to see it? Some of our best family memories came from what we saw during our gazing. For example, the summer that we drove to Newfoundland, Canada, we were able to gaze upon the exposed Earth’s mantle! Each good experience of gazing brings with it awe and wonder—a powerful encounter with God our Creator.
Although it was not our intent to experience this, our gazing this summer unfolded like a quilt that was being stitched together with each place that we visited. While we were camping in Niobrara State Park in NE at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, we spent a day with our brother-in-law who lives there, and crossed the river into SD, standing on a steep bank with a wondrous gaze upon the river and the rolling prairie as far as the eye could see. At this overlook, there was a National Park Service tribute to the Lewis and Clark expedition, which had embarked in 1804 at the request of President Jefferson to explore the wilderness. Just like with other trips, we found ourselves wondering:
- What did those explorers think more than 200 years ago when they gazed upon this land, the mighty river, and the wildlife (buffalo and antelope) that roamed freely?
- Did they learn to appreciate how the Native Americans of the Great Plains gazed upon the sacred lands of the Great Spirit?
As we continued our journey, we arrived at the focal point of our trip—Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of western ND. In 1884, Roosevelt came here grieving the same-day loss of both his young wife and mother. Gazing upon these beautiful Badlands at many different places and hikes, we were grateful for the commitment to conservation that Roosevelt later made as our president.
During our stay in ND, we camped at Lewis and Clark State Park and had yet another intersection with the 1804 expedition. The gaze in ND was so different from NE. It was impossible to travel across the rural roads and be oblivious to the oil pumps going continuously and, especially while traveling at night, to see flames of methane continuously burning across the rolling fields. Due to drought, the mighty Missouri River was only a small trickle in some places. Although there were still places to imagine being the first human to gaze upon the natural wonders, it was also unsettling to realize what humans had done to diminish God’s awesome legacy to us.
The hidden joy of Advent is to experience the awe and wonder that God-is-with-us (Emmanuel). Advent invites us to cast our gaze anew at people, places, and things, and look upon them with heartfelt delight, seeing something as though for the first time. It takes practice to gaze as God does, with eyes of love and intentional relationship.
Reflection: When you gaze upon a creche that depicts the Nativity of Christ, what brings you the most joy?
Teresa is a Secular Franciscan from St. Katharine Drexel Region who currently serves on the FMS Board of Directors and as minister of her local fraternity. She and her husband Jeff live in Eastampton, NJ, close to their four adult children and their six grandchildren, and is a long-time prison minister and RCIA catechist in her local parish. Teresa’s first encounter with FMS was at the Secular Franciscan Quinquennial Congress in Newark, DE, in 1997.