“But you’ll be so far from a church and the Sacraments! Aren’t you afraid your faith will suffer?”
I’ve heard these well intended concerns from many Catholics throughout my life. My career as an informal science educator has taken me to some unusual and remote locations: first Big Bear, California, then to Catalina Island, and most recently, to the South Pole Station in Antarctica.
As I’ve accepted each opportunity, I have been filled with excitement, anticipation, and overwhelming peace knowing that this is where God wants me to be. Prayer and my faith have played a big role in each of these decisions, and I’ve always known that they would continue to play a big role, regardless of distance to a physical church building.
Since I was young, I have always felt most connected to God in nature. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lucky enough to experience God in some beautiful churches across the world. But most often, when I want to be with God, I head outside.
When I was little, I used to run around in grassy areas behind our house singing songs or just talking to Jesus. When I was an angsty teenager, I used to ride my bike into the forest preserve and vent my feelings to God. As a working adult, I take walks through the park on my lunch break to say a little prayer. Even most of my hobbies occur outdoors – from golfing to skiing, from hiking to SCUBA diving. Whether I’m on top of a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean, I can’t help but look out at such incredible beauty and feel an undoubtable sense of Wonder and Awe for its creator.
When I arrived at the South Pole, I was immediately overwhelmed with this sense of Wonder and Awe. In Catholicism, Wonder and Awe is considered one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a moment when we are so overwhelmed by God’s presence that we know He exists and loves us.
As my mind struggled to grasp the seemingly never-ending expanse of ice that extended beyond my eyesight, I couldn’t help but think of God. At one point, we took snow machines about five miles past the last building. It was a beauty unlike anything I had ever experienced. As I turned and looked all around me, all I could see were sastrugi – frozen wind-swept formations – coating the landscape like frosting on an infinite cake. When the sun hit the crystals of ice on each sastrugi peak, they glistened like God had sprinkled glitter across the entire continent.
Some would say there was nothing there. There were no mountains, no ocean, no forests. I would say there is incredible wonder knowing that wherever you step – chances are no one has ever stepped there before. And that the footprint you made will be swept away days later, returning the landscape to repeating sastrugi formations.
It’s a similar feeling to the one I get when I look at the stars – and I try to comprehend just how far away one light year even is. I look at those stars and feel so small knowing how much bigger our universe is. But at the same time, I feel so important knowing that my Creator who willed those stars into being, also willed me into being. And loves me so much more and is so much more intimately involved in my life than those stars. And my wonder for nature turns into awe of God.
As my plane left Antarctica, I stared out the window one last time at that beautiful icy expanse. I smiled knowing that I will never be able to fully grasp the extent of this frozen continent, and I will never tire of taking in its beauty. Just like I will never truly grasp who God is, but I will also never tire of taking in the beauty of His creation.
Elaine Krebs is a Roman Catholic Christian currently living in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master’s Degree in Marine and Environmental Biology, and now works as both a science teacher at a local museum, as well as Confirmation Coordinator at her local parish. Elaine was first introduced to interfaith work as a member of USC’s Interfaith Council, and continues to be involved, especially surrounding the intersection of science and religion. She also enjoys studying and experiencing diversity within religions, especially the different rites within Catholicism.