When our family first moved to Calgary in 2014, we immediately fell in love with the unparalleled beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Over these past six years, our family has made regular hiking trips in the Albertan wilderness. For us, hiking is a profoundly spiritual encounter with the Divine. Below are several of the spiritual benefits we experience when spending quality time in God’s creation:
Reinvigorated prayer life
The Judeo-Christian tradition has long promoted immersing oneself in the beauty of creation to help us better appreciate the power and wisdom of God. Sacred Scripture is full of beautiful verses and images praising God the Creator. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1). Daniel 3:56-88 is a powerful canticle of all creation blessing, praising, and exalting the Lord. More recently, Saint John Paul II wrote: “Every time that I have the opportunity to rest in the mountains and contemplate these landscapes, I thank God for the majestic beauty of creation. I thank him for his own Beauty, of which the universe is a reflection, capable of fascinating attentive souls, urging them to praise its greatness” (July 11, 1999). To emphasize this spiritual aspect of time spent in nature, our family begins our hikes asking God to bless our time by making us more mindful of creation. When we reach our destination (the summit of a mountain or a physical landmark) we spend time offering prayers of thanksgiving for God’s abundant generosity in creation. Inevitably when we find ourselves in particularly difficult parts of the trail, we often invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother to bring us to our destination safely! At the conclusion of our hike, we always thank God for such a privileged experience.
Pushing our physical limits
In addition to affirming the beauty of creation, the Catholic tradition also affirms the beauty of the human person. Saint Paul writes “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is important that we keep our bodies healthy. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – a Lay Dominican who had a deep love of the mountains and the outdoors – adopted for himself the personal motto of verso l’alto (in English, “toward the top”). This phrase synthesized his way of life: to always seek what enhances, that which carries us beyond ourselves, to strive for the highest goals, to avoid mediocrity, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. For Frassati, this meant pushing our own physical and spiritual limits. While hiking provides a variety of physical benefits - such as improved muscular fitness, lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, and improved cardio-respiratory fitness – it also pushes us to overcome our (perceived) physical limits. In my situation, climbing to mountain summits is slowly helping me to overcome my fear of heights. Achieving small goals empowers us to attempt bigger goals next time. Pushing ourselves to our physical and spiritual limits forms us into the best versions of ourselves - healthier and stronger temples of the Holy Spirit. Verso l’alto!
Deep, meaningful conversations
Daily life for our family has many moving parts: two parents that both work full time; three young children in three different schools; extracurricular activities; etc. Amid all this busyness, it is important to actively cultivate meaningful connections with each other. Going on hikes forces us to unplug from social media/entertainment and to spend quality time with one another. Hiking together for several hours allows us to engage in deep and intentional conversations. It allows us to share our “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” with one another – and with God. These hikes are sacred moments of connection between spouses, parents and children, and siblings.
Written by Dr. Peter Baltutis, associate professor of history and religious studies and the Catholic Women’s League Chair for Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. He is also a Lay Dominican. Peter and his family are parishioners of St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers