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Where do you sense God’s presence most clearly? In other words, what places feel most sacred to you?

Many people find that sacred feeling inside vaulted Gothic cathedrals, where every sound echoes back from stone walls and stained-glass windows.

Most European cities of any size can boast of at least one impressive structure intentionally designed to invoke a sense of mystery and majesty.

When shiploads of European settlers decided to make America their home – at the expense of the many Indigenous peoples who were here before them – they had no towering edifices harboring impressive works of art and hundreds of years of history.

But what the land lacked in monumental cathedrals, it made up for in mountains and canyons, rivers and forests that bespoke awe of the natural world and pointed many toward thoughts of a creator.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of our hoped-for Good Faith Experiences trip to Yosemite National Park this year, but it didn’t stop some of us from seeking the inspiration that comes from immersing ourselves in the stunning landscapes of its granite mountains, lofty waterfalls, and verdant stands of redwoods and sequoias.

The sun rising behind Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

The experience did not lack for grandeur of the first degree: Half Dome in half light, rainbows in the mist billowing from Vernal Fall, towering vistas on every side.

Sights like these inspired pioneering naturalist and writer John Muir to claim, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park (Photo: John D. Pierce)

It’s not surprising that one of Ansel Adams’ most celebrated photographs is of Yosemite’s iconic “Cathedral Rocks.”

The opportunity to visit places like this inspires a sense of awe, of human smallness in the face of something much greater – and the imposing cliffs and domes brooding over Yosemite are just a tiny corner of the larger world and its many marvels.

Our human spirits naturally look beyond themselves for meaning. We may find clues to that in constructed buildings where God is worshipped and experienced in the community of God’s people. I am grateful for them.

The glories of nature incite a different sense of wonder, but one that likewise speaks to the listening heart and feeds the soul.

Thanks be to God.

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