The Spirituality of Camping: 3 Faith Lessons From Time Spent Outdoors

Photo Courtesy of Veronica Szczygiel

While I am an avid hiker, I had never been camping before, and last year seemed like a good time to start. COVID restrictions made me wary of traveling, and I wanted to get my mind off the state of the world. When planning the trip, I happily envisioned eating s’mores with my husband, telling spooky stories, and wrapping ourselves in cozy blankets. What I didn’t expect was how deeply spiritual the experience would be and how much I would learn about living a life of faith. 

Slowing down. Out in the wilderness, there were no trains to catch and no meetings to rush to. If I wanted to lay curled up in my sleeping bag all morning, take a long walk with my dog at the lake, or just listen to the birds sing, I could. I relished doing things that I would normally tell myself to enjoy later, whenever I had the elusive “more time” to spare.

It’s precisely these slow-motion moments that captured the real meaning of life for me. I learned that when we slow down, we are able to more clearly perceive God’s grace working in our lives. 

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I felt this sense of leisurely grace most during mealtimes by the campfire. My husband Arthur and I took our sweet time cooking over the fire. As he chopped and stacked firewood, I prepared all the necessary ingredients. The fire crackled as meat sizzled on cast iron pans. We poured wine and stared at the stars. We savored mealtimes as moments full of love for each other. For me, this was a testament to God’s grace.

Photo Courtesy of Veronica Szczygiel

Facing fears. I witnessed this grace not just in slow moments but in scary ones, too. My biggest challenge happened when Arthur coaxedme into taking a night hike with him. He used to go night hiking with pals at his military base, and now he wanted to experience it with me. While the invitation was romantic, it provoked great anxiety in me. What if we get attacked by a bear? A bobcat? A mass murderer? While some of my fears were wilder than others, the stress I felt was real. When I dove into the deep woods, I thought I was entering certain doom. 

Everything was shadowy, sinewy, and dark. I thought the bugs were big at base camp, but the ones catapulting themselves towards my headlamp were even bigger. Leaves rustled, and tree limbs creaked eerily. Something flopped in the water. Something snapped a stick nearby.

My heart raced and my breathing became haggard. But by the time we were done with the trail, I couldn’t help but admit that I actually enjoyed myself.

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I noticed things I wouldn’t be able to see in the daytime. The moon reflected brightly on the lake’s surface. The mountains softened into a rolling silhouette. A spider effortlessly engineered its massive web (I secretly thanked it for its bug-catching service). In the crisp night air, owl hoots, cricket strums, bat squeaks, and frog croaks magnified. 

Soaking in everything around me, I learned that when we face our fears head-on, we are reminded of how God is with us at every moment of our lives – both good and bad. While I was scared at first, the more I let myself abandon my need for control, the easier the path became. That’s a metaphor for many of the uncertain, frightening, difficult situations we have in life – we need to trust that we’ll get out of the woods, with God’s help.

It also taught me that sometimes, it’s not so crazy to listen to your husband.

Photo Courtesy of Veronica Szczygiel

Recognizing ‘How Great Thou Art.’ All of my various adventures led me to a single conclusion: God is truly great. He paints the autumn leaves in radiance; he clothes the night owl in striking white feathers to reflect the luminescent moon. From the bright yellow goldfinch zipping through trees to white, powdery Queen Anne’s Lace dotting the lakeshore, everything around me was imbued with the spirit of our God. The more we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, the more we can appreciate the glory and grandeur of God’s divine imagination. I felt I was able to focus on truly perceiving God’s creative grace because I was disconnected from all else – meaning my phone and the internet. Without devices to distract me, I felt the divinity in both the vastness of nature and its minute, intricate details. At a Capuchin retreat house in Garrison, NY, I once found a sign hanging in a retreat house that read, “There is no Wi-Fi here, but I promise you will find a better connection.” I can’t think of a more perfect way to describe my camping experience. 

Ultimately, what camping taught me most was that God was calling my name in those woods. And I will keep returning to meet him there.

Originally published June 8, 2022.