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A SPIRITUAL RETREAT IN HONG KONG – Learn to see and appreciate beauty

admin / November 30, 2018
PHOTO BY: Angela Chong

– Angela Chong

I was in Hong Kong attending a spiritual retreat organized by the Macau Biblical Association over the past weekend. Prior to that, we had been assigned a few paragraphs in Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “On Care of Our Common Home” for our reading. We thus went with the expectation for a message from God through our contact with Nature.

The retreat began with a hiking trip in the Pat Sin Leng Country Park in Tuen Mun  (八仙嶺郊野公 園),  Hong Kong. Upon our arrival, we had a leisurely walk along the Lau Shui Heung Country Trail (流水響郊遊徑), stopping occasionally to admire the breathtaking scenery. The trail was lined with trees of different kinds. In spite of the approach of winter, most of the leaves remained fresh and green. We were particularly captivated by a rectangular-shaped pond with rows of trees forming what seemed to be a green curtain on one bank while their shadows cast on the water looked like a green carpet covering part of the pond. And in one area there was a large patch of flowering plants with a delightful pink that broke the monotony of the greenness.

Fascinated by the scenic beauty of the place, we could not resist the camera urge. It seemed as if photo taking were the only thing we could do to show how much we appreciated the beauty of Nature. In fact, we saw the beauty as a rarity in Hong Kong, a city so prosperous and so filled with boisterous activities.

On our return journey, we met a number of school boys coming in the opposite direction. As they few walked past me, I heard one of them saying with excitement, “I’ve just scored a goal!” I then noticed the mobile phone in his hands. Obviously absorbed in his game, he walked unsteadily as he was making his way along the narrow path. I was about to call out to him to mind his steps but thought better of it when I caught sight of a young man who was probably the teacher.

When I got back to my reading later that evening, I started searching for the verses which had arisen on my mind during the hiking. One of them was verse 97 of “On Care of Our Common Home”, which tells how Jesus has taught us with his exemplary deeds to be in constant touch with Nature and to be attentive to its beauty.

In addition, verse 215 stresses the importance of the relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment. If we learn to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism and consumerism. On the other hand, people who do not learn to stop and admire something beautiful tend to treat everything as an object to be used, thus abusing without scruple. It further draws attention to the need for education on a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with Nature.

The new way of thinking, as I see it, refers to being appreciative of beauty in its natural sense. Only when we appreciate the beauty of Nature will we show genuine concern about environmental conservation. When I was admiring the towering trees along the country trail, I wondered how long they could survive. Would these trees fall victims to increasing urbanization one day? On the other hand, people who care only for material gains from a prosperous economy and do not see the beauty of trees would find deforestation a means to an end and turn a blind eye to the resultant damage to the environment.

An awareness of the beauty of Nature ought to be aroused among the people, especially the youngsters. The school kid whom I met on the trail was so engrossed in his game that he was hardly aware of the trees along the way, far less admiring their beauty. Their teacher had done a good job arranging for them a visit to the country park but more efforts were needed to educate them on the right concept about the beauty of things. If youngsters like that one do not learn to appreciate the natural environment, and, instead, constantly indulge themselves in material goods, how can they be trusted to contribute to environmental conservation? 

We have got a lot of inspiration from the retreat. And my reflection focuses on one particular message from God: we must learn to appreciate the beauty of Nature, our common home, and take great lengths to ensure its sustainability.