By Steve Banko
My wife and I have been fortunate enough to travel a bit in our retirement. We’ve seen the great cathedrals in Rome, Florence and Assisi, Italy. We’ve seen St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and in Budapest, and Notre Dame in Paris.
Each of these magnificent structures is an exquisite attempt by man to show honor and glory to God. Craftsmen laid foundations for these structures knowing they would never live to see the finished product. Thus, these tributes are also evidence of an abiding faith that one’s work today would be a masterpiece tomorrow.
The vaulted ceilings, the ornate paintings and statues, the elegant scroll work around the altars all stand as testament to man’s talent, industry and faith. It’s impossible to stand before these incredible structures and not feel the awe and inspiration that caused men to create such spectacular works.
This year, though, our travels have taken us through another catalogue of awe-inspiring sites. These were not built by man to honor God but rather, by God as an abiding gift to man. We spent almost two weeks touring our national parks. We saw the majesty of the Grand Canyon. We stood in the deep canyons of Zion National Park. We trekked along trails in Bryce Canyon and marveled at the kaleidoscopic changing scenery of Yellowstone.
We watched a large variety of animals in their natural habitats. We wandered through the almost psychedelic scenery in the slot canyons at Antelope Creek where the natural forces of wind and water have sliced narrow openings through what was once solid sandstone. In each locale, it is impossible to witness these natural wonders without appreciating a divine hand in this expansive creation.
I long marveled at the ability of photographers like Ansel Adams to capture such a feel of the landscapes he pictured. But in the midst of the places he photographed, you understand that his art was surpassed by the beauty he captured.
As we traveled through this natural heritage that is our country, I felt the same kind of wonder and appreciation I felt before the man-made structures in Europe. Where one set of monuments were man’s tributes to his creator, this other set of natural cathedrals led me to sense they were God’s tributes to man. They have stood for thousands of years. They have evolved, adapted and shifted shape. They have given great joy and awe to millions of visitors.
Until you’ve seen these landscapes, cliffs and chasms, these soaring peaks and deep canyons, it is hard to appreciate the diversity that is America. Once you’ve seen them, their beauty should generate an abiding sense of responsibility each of us has in the preservation of these natural treasures for succeeding generations. Not everyone will have the same sense of religious experience that I felt, but everyone will recognize the great legacy that we have inherited.
The wisdom and foresight of naturalists and preservationists like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and John James Audubon have granted us the great gift of unspoiled creation. The initiative and industry of succeeding generations are necessary to preserve this natural heritage.
We would never think to desecrate the great cathedrals by converting them to housing or retail centers; to promote their beauty as merely a marketing ploy. Yet it has now become acceptable to think of the natural legacy of our country as something that can be mined, timbered or drilled by private interests for private profit.
Odd that we will spend countless millions to build temples, churches and mosques to honor God but we can be so cavalier in our appreciation of God’s gifts to us.