Persons, places and things: The vaults of heaven

Patrick Fye
A view from Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, Illinois.

By Barb Arland-Fye


Humidity hung in the air but did not detract from the quietude I felt walking with my family on a path lined with trees that seemed to reach the heavens in Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, Illinois. We stopped at lookout points on the bluffs and gazed at the water-swollen Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois. An antiphon from Monday Morning Prayer, Week II, echoed in my mind: “The vaults of heaven ring with your praise, O Lord.”

How many of your people, O Lord, have walked these paths through the centuries? Did they stop to think about and express appreciation for your handiwork as I am doing now? A brief description of the park on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website gives a hint about the long-ago walkers.

“The Native American pathfinders along the rock palisades of the Mississippi River did as present-day hikers do — in coursing the bluffs, they took the paths of least resistance. The trails at the Mississippi Palisades, especially the park’s southern routes, put you in touch with the past. Walk them and you’ll trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.”


Riding home from the park, I was reading “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” by Father James Martin, S.J., and the section I had reached must have been God’s intention.

Father Martin said that his busy life in New York City gave him few opportunities to appreciate nature, so he treasured any time outdoors. While directing a weekend retreat one morning in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he had this experience:

“[In] the early morning, when I stepped outside into the bright autumn sunshine, the view almost took my breath away. Near the retreat house were tall trees with red and orange leaves that stirred the cool breeze. Above was the vault of a brilliant blue sky. As I walked behind the retreat house, I saw fishing boats chugging around the bay, plowing through the steel-blue water. And though the air was filled with the calls of seagulls, ducks and blackbirds, it seemed as if a silence filled my soul. The colors, the smells, even the sounds, seemed ways of God comforting, calming, and consoling me.”

The setting and scenery in his experience differed from mine, but we shared the vivid presence of God in our lives. An excerpt from the psalm that follows the antiphon I mentioned earlier entered my mind: “… The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands. Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message.”

I hope that experiencing God’s presence when I am engaged in a relaxing, enjoyable activity will also help me to appreciate God’s presence in trying times as well. Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times serves as a reminder that God is present even in our suffering.

Bishop Barron reflected on the second reading from the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians in which Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh given to him. Bishop Barron shared several stories to drive home his point. This one affected me most: Clare Boothe Luce, an American writer, politician and U.S. ambassador, was grieving the death of her beloved daughter in a car accident. She asked Archbishop Fulton Sheen, with whom she was exploring the Catholic faith, “If God is good, why would he have taken my daughter from me? The archbishop replied, “Perhaps, because in your suffering you’d be led back to him.”

The vaults of heaven ring with God’s praise because God is with us always, in good times and in bad, something to contemplate as I savor God’s handiwork.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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