Beholding the Moment

wheat field by CT757fan/iStock/Getty Images

I’m reading through essays that my students have submitted in response to the assignment to spend one hour in nature, undisturbed by phones or to-do lists. They write about the maelstroms of stimuli coursing through their over-busy minds. They write about memories that have surfaced: of times at home with parents, grandparents, or siblings, playing on the beach or hiking through forests. They make observations about trees, breezes, and the shouts of children in the distance. Some discern symbols in what they see: the trees that have grown apart, like a past relationship; the calmness of birds cooing, in stark contrast to their own anxious minds as they confront a job search.

I assign this essay every year, and every year I am moved by the longings that emerge in their writing. “Why don’t I do this more often?” they frequently ask. I share the science about how times in nature yield positive mental and physical effects. We talk about how unplugging from devices, even for a short time, can reduce anxiety and provide calm in a sea of busyness.

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of his own experience in nature at this time of year: “Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty…” He pays attention to sheaves of grain gathered at harvest time and sees clouds coursing across the sky. He contemplates hillsides and lets his mind wander to the figure of Christ, so present in all this creation, because he has loved it into being. Hopkins states the paradox as he gazes across all this beauty, wondering why people don’t avail themselves of it every day:

These things, these things were here and but the beholder

This line stays with me, especially at this time of year, when in prayer I ask that God increase in me the desire to be a beholder. The Lord, in turn, returns me to the practices that the Lord has instilled in me since youth: of beholding, of remembering, of savoring, of delighting, and then returning, refreshed, to the world in all its complexity.


  1. Let me borrow the words of Desiderata “what peace there may be in silence”..Silence is peaceful and gives a person time to think deeper and heal. Your exercise was very good, for your students to look within and quieten their minds that there are better things to do without cellphones and computers.
    Thanks so much for sharing

  2. Wishing we could all get back to the outdoors, to some part of the wilderness and experience again the joys that God created for us. It is a long time since I (who was raised in the country And much later lived on a farm) Wonderful that your young people are doing this. I wish I could. God Bless you in your work.

    Too soon time passes and sometimes one just can’t experience a walk, even in the park. A. M. D.G. Enjoy it while you can!

  3. Thank you! This is what today’s youngster needs and that is S P A C E. I am sure many had inspiring reflections to share. Keep going!

    • Hi Daphne, are you the same Daphne we knew in Kolkata and who used to conduct sessions for our loreto students. If you are I hope you keep well and have settled happily on the other side of the world.
      God bless
      Sr Philomena IBVM

  4. So true, what a great assignment, both energizing and calming. I think I will do that for myself. It’s interesting as all God’s creatures basically live outside, they may have nests or dens but mostly they are outside. Only us humans have built ourselves into something of our own creation and have locked our doors to keep the outside, out. We bring in houseplants, pictures, etc. to remind us of the beauty of God that is just out the door. I know it’s more comfortable being inside of course but it’s just interesting to me. We think we are so smart because of all we have done and created, but sometimes I think we’ve outsmarted ourselves.

  5. Thank you so much. What a great influence and model you are for young adults living in a world surrounded by darkness, violence, noise………. I’m going to try to fulfill your assignment also!


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