The power of nature & the human body Morgan Rentzheimer

Outdoor Sports in Relation to Finding God and Perspective in the Universe

The University of Scranton course, “Parables in Pop Culture”, examines sources of popular culture in order to find meaning and ultimately metanoia. Metanoia means a transformative change of heart and sources of it are often hidden in metaphorical stories or parables (Crossan, 2012). So, one may ask how transformation or metanoia occurs and how parables help ignite this phenomenon. “Parables of Pop Culture” demonstrates that transformation occurs through metaphorical stories within our societies and by the beauty of the experience within them. Furthermore, this class has demonstrated that individuals have memories, backgrounds and experiences that shape who one is, and through the parable of one’s life, they can find metanoia.

For example, in Persepolis, Marji was shaped by parental influences and societal and environmental factors. Through Marji’s experiences, her life formed its own parable and her identity transformed throughout time. Moreover, metanoia occurs when we find God in all things, an Ignatian principle glorified at the University of Scranton. This principle of finding God in all things can apply to one’s interests and often is exhibited through examples in popular culture. While one individual may find joy and God in one activity, another may find same in entirely different practices.

My history/background with exercise and nature that shaped my interest?
Highlights of family vacations included National Forests rather than Amusement Parks.
My dad use to put me on the back of his road bike and workout all over our community
Luke 11:33-36 “No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Sharing passion with others)

Thus, this paper will demonstrate how an interest of outdoor sports within our culture helps connects the body, mind and nature with God and allows perspective, or even metanoia, to be found in the greater universe, similar to a parable.

Exercise+Nature=Outdoor Sports

Outdoor sports include leisure activities that are enjoyed in the outdoors such as backpacking, canoeing, hiking, skiing, cycling as well as outdoor team sports. For the purpose of this paper, hiking/backpacking will be the main outdoor sports focused on. Many examples in popular culture exist that analyze the connection to God, perspective of the greater universe, and metanoia that occur with this outdoors activity.

Passion for outdoor exercise

First however, the science behind the human body and outdoor exercise must be analyzed to show individuals’ attraction to outdoor sports. When one is attracted to something or someone, three “love hormones” are released. These hormones include dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. (“BBC science”).

"3 Love Hormones"

  • DOPAMINE: improves motivation, focus and learning
  • NOEPINEPHRINE: improves attention, perception, and motivation
  • SEROTONIN: natural mood enhancer

The brain also releases all three of these hormones when we exercise. The most beneficial of these three hormones to human joy is serotonin because it is a natural mood enhancer. When one has higher levels of serotonin, lower levels of depression are present (Waren, 2017). The brain also releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which reduces depression and enhances brain health and memory (Waren, 2017). Furthermore, endorphins are released which decrease pain and stress and leave humans with a euphoric, post-exercise high.

Outdoor VS. Indoor Exercise

Next, one must analyze the difference between indoors and outdoors sports as to see how outdoor sports cause joy, God and perspective to be found in the greater universe. It has been found that more psychological and physiological benefits occur with outdoor exercise. Psychological tests, from various studies, found that exercising outdoors causes “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy” (Thompson Coon J., n.d). Subjects of the study said that they found more enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activities and desired to do them again (Thompson Coon J., n.d). This may be due to the fact that exposure to natural elements causes decreased levels of diastolic blood pressure and anxiety and increased attention capacity (An, Colarelli, O'Brien, & Boyajian, 2016). The physiological aspects of lower blood pressure and anxiety could be linked to the stress hormone, cortisol, which is found at lower levels after outdoor activity (Logan & Selhub, n.d.). A common example of nature’s calming effect can be seen through the beneficial impact clean running water has on human physiological and psychological factors. Furthermore, in regards to attention capacity, human minds are like a muscle and when they are overused directly, they become fatigued. However, being outdoors in nature involves indirect attention, which restores the mind and counters fatigue (An, Colarelli, O'Brien, & Boyajian, 2016). To elaborate, the hippocampus and amygdala are associated with memory and anger respectfully and they become activated when people view urban scenes. However, rural scenes activate the basal ganglia, which is the pleasure center (An, Colarelli, O'Brien, & Boyajian, 2016). Moreover, direct sunlight in the outdoors seems to play an extensive role in overall mood. Direct sunlight can cause vitamin D synthesis, which improves immunity and inflammatory responses. Direct sunlight also helps sleep cycles and the production of serotonin, a mood enhancer (An, Colarelli, O'Brien, & Boyajian, 2016). The positive psychological and physiological effects that the outdoors and exercise have on a person allows one to have a more open and clear mind, resulting in a greater capacity to allow God and perspective to enter one’s world, leaving them with an experience of metanoia.

common debate: Science vs. Religion

Subsequently, there has been a long held debate between science and religion. This paper will demonstrate the connection between the biological science of life and God’s workings, which in turn allows humanity to find perspective and experience metanoia in nature. The media often portrays the common argument of science vs. religion as a conflict debate between evolution and faith. However, these two fields can also be thought of independently as separate compartments, as dialogue when science cannot answer larger questions or even integration by using science as proof of God’s existence (Barbour, 2002).

Distinctive features of organic life:

Many “biologists have described distinctive features of organic life such as self-organizing, indeterminacy, top-down causality, and the communication of information” (Barbour, 2002). Therefore, nature is often its own metaphorical story.

Thus, God is thought of as:

"designer of a self-organizing system, as determiner of indeterminacies, as top-down cause, or as communicator of information” (Barbour, 2002). These identities of God can help create an understanding of how one can find God in nature while performing outdoor sports, which can result in experiences of metanoia.

1. Nature as Self-Organizing and God as the Designer

The first feature of organic life, self-organizing, can be seen throughout evolution as a gradual trend towards greater complexity of life, consciousness and human culture has developed (Barbour, 2002). God is seen as a designer in this self-organizing process because “God designed a world as a many-leveled creative process of law and chance” (Barbour, 2002). God’s designer characteristics are viewed through the formation of life:

“if amino acids in primeval oceans had assembled themselves by chance to form protein chains, the probability of being assembled in the right order to form a particular protein would be fantastically small. It would be highly unlikely to occur even in spans of time many times longer than the history of the universe” (Barbour, 2002).

Furthermore, psychiatrist and neuroscientists Eugene d’ Aquili and Andrew Newberg state evolutionary history has:

“wired the neural circuits of our brains for religious experience. Religion fulfills a basic human need to orient oneself in a wider framework of meaning, which can be provided by the experience of the unity of all things as well as by cosmic myths” (Barbour, 2002).

God creating a complex life that requires religion to allow humans to search for a wider framework of meaning is similar to the concept of a parable.

Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

An example of orienting oneself in a wider framework of meaning and unifying all things is seen in the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. In this parable, a man sowed good wheat seeds in a field and overnight, weeds were sowed among the wheat. In the morning, the man’s servants asked who did this and if the owner wanted the weeds removed. The owner stated that an enemy planted them but to not pull the weeds because that risked also pulling the wheat. Thus, the servants should “let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 3:26-30, New American Bible Revised Edition). A greater framework of meaning such as seeing more in nature can be found in this parable. Humanity should avoid thinking black and white as good and bad and allow people to grow together and prove themselves. All people have good and bad characteristics and the “wheat” should be nourished in each person.

Nature and the Body intertwined and co-existing

Therefore, God created the complex and conscious life many live today by connecting all things so that through nature and religion one can find humanity intertwined with the greater world. The way God formed this self-organizing world is similar to a parable because it is a temporal narrative with hidden, metaphorical elements. For example, God presents metaphors while connecting nature and the human body in the Bible.

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

John 15:5 " I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."

The way the Bible humanizes nature demonstrates the interconnection of nature, the human body and God in a parabolic way.

Although God is thought of as the designer of life’s self-organizing system, God is not an absolutist ruler in creation. God allows for moral decisions to be made and perspective and metanoia to be found within nature. While some think the world cannot stand on its own without God’s constraints, others think that God “works through the matrix of secondary causes in the natural world”, indirectly designing it (Barbour, 2002). This is another similarity to a parable because God, through nature, indirectly tells a story or teaches a lesson; a major aspect in finding perspective through nature and outdoor sports. While exercising outside, one can see how complex nature is while also observing the power of the human body. Through comparing the differences between the two, which God both created, one can find perspective in how incredible this world is. This could lead to an experience of metanoia. Humans are capable of doing this because the continual trend of evolution towards complexity allows the mind and physical brain to reach a very high capacity. However, “if the mind is not separable from the physical substratum of the brain…and the physical brain is embedded in the materiality of the world, then we cannot have duality in the activity of God”(Fiddes, 2013). By emerging oneself in nature through outdoor sports, one avoids embedding the brain in the material world and can thus find perspective, God, and metanoia in the greater universe.

2. Nature's Indeterminacy and God's Predestination

Next, organic life is often described through its indeterminacy. Nature is unpredictable due to many co-evolving species interacting competitively and cooperatively (Barbour, 2002). A radioactive atom could decay in a second or in many years to come and “in some biological systems…changes in a small number of atoms can have large-scale effects” (Barbour, 2002). While science looks at laws and chance, “perhaps in God’s knowledge, all events are foreseen and predetermined through a combination of law and particular divine action” (Barbour, 2002). One may question why life is still left with indeterminacies if God controls all uncertainties and they are predestined. However, Nancey Murphy, an American philosopher and theologian states that God “determines all quantum indeterminacies but arranges law like regularities to make stable structures and scientific investigations possible and make sure humans actions have consequences so moral choices can still be made” (Barbour, 2002).


This concept of indeterminacy and law like regularities making moral choices possible is seen in the book and motion picture Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In Wild, a young woman, Cheryl Strayed, whom never backpacked before, went on a treacherous journey along a massive west coast trail. Cheryl left a troubled life for one of indeterminacy in nature. Cheryl experienced many hardships along the trip and while meditating on a mountain, she wrote, “They were, I now realized, layered and complex, inexplicable and analogous to nothing. Each time I reached the place that I thought was the top…there was still more up to go…I was entirely in new terrain” (Strayed, 2012). This describes how the indeterminacy of nature and God’s predetermined way of teaching moral lessons allows the narrator to find a new perspective and even metanoia in life. The New York Times mentions, “how [Cheryl’s] actions and… internal struggles intertwine and… appreciate the lessons [Cheryl] finds embedded in the natural world” (Shapiro, 2012). The parabolic natural world around her allowed her to find the wider framework of meaning in her life.

Fiddes (2013) describes the lessons to be learned through the world’s indeterminacy by saying “objects of attention and love are open to an infinity of perspectives, allowing for ceaseless supplementation, expansion of meaning and re-composition”. Humans have the innate ability to establish different perspectives on similar situations in the uncertain world because God allows it. Through exercising outdoors, humans physiologically and psychologically clear the mind of other burdens and are able to find new perspective and even God in an unpredictable world leaving us to experience metanoia.

Furthermore, Barbour (2002) describes the social world as internalized in the self and “human beings form symbolic representations of the self and the world that are always partial and selective. We seek meaning and order by seeing our lives in a wider context that is ultimately cosmic in scope” (Barbour, 2002). This concept can apply to Marji in Persepolis. Marji was influenced by a changing social world and environment. When Marji analyzed her identity in a wider framework, it was found that her identity was being pulled in many different directions. Once Marji looked at the larger picture and realized her morals were being left behind, the importance and meaning behind having a unique identity was found (Satrapi, 2003).

This is also exactly what Cheryl Strayed did in Wild. Cheryl desired to disassociate from a past of drug addiction and family issues and through immersion into the wider context of nature, more meaning and order was found in her life. Thus, the best way to become involved in a wider context is to submit oneself into nature while doing outdoor sports and experience the parabolic power it can have on one’s perspective, which in turn leads to metanoia.

3. Nature is Top-Down Causality & God is Top-Down Cause

Thirdly, natural life is classified by top-down causality, which means everything larger can be understood at lower levels. For example, in ecology “No part of an ecosystem can be considered in isolations because changes in one component often have far-reaching ramifications elsewhere in the system” (Barbour, 2002). Top-down causality can also be described by epistemological reductions, which is a claim that laws and theories at one level derive from same at lower levels (Barbour, 2002). Lastly, one can think of this concept through third-order emergence; “scales of causality are linked across wider spans of time and space” and “representation, memory, and reference are crucial features of cognitive mental processes expressed in global configurations of neural activity” (Barbour, 2002). If God is the top-down cause, he would be thought of as a higher level of nature and he would influence human beings at “their highest evolutionary level, that of mental activity which would affect the neural networks and neurons of the brain” (Barbour, 2002). The relationship between mind and body seems to be synonymous with God’s relationship with the world. While our body and the world can only do so much, the mind and God have endless powers.

Popular Culture

This concept of top-down causality can be seen through the perspective Erik Weihenmayer finds in nature while hiking in a Nature Valley commercial called “Energy”. Erik is blind, however, Erik describes the larger level of nature in smaller levels. In the commercial, Erik says, “listen to its sounds, each one has something to say and explore all the different sensations….I discover something different every time. This is nature, see it or not, it always fills you with energy” (“Energy”, 2014). The perspective Erik finds in nature is empowering because lower levels of understanding are used to find a greater picture of the energy God has created. Fiddes (2013) elaborates on the concept of top-down causality by saying the knowledge of God “emerges precisely because in daily practices, in a created context which is ‘other-than-God”, we are participating in a self-giving movement of God”. Through our daily practices, such as outdoors sports, which are ‘other-than-God’ we are participating in our own metaphorical narrative of God’s greater movement, thus finding knowledge of God’s power and even metanoia.

4. Nature is Communication of Information and God is Communicator

Lastly, nature and biological life serves as the communication of information. Messages and occurrences in life happen everyday and nature can be viewed as a parable because “the meaning of the message is dependent on a wider context of interpretation. It must be viewed dynamically and relationally rather than in purely static terms as if the message were contained in the pattern itself” (Barbour, 2002). Furthermore, God can be thought of as the communicator of such information or a choreographer who leaves a lot of the action up to the dancers (Barbour, 2002). He communicates his purpose “through patterns of events in the world” and “an input of information from God could influence the relationships among our memories, images, and concepts, just as our thoughts influence the activity of neurons” (Barbour, 2002).

Popular Culture

Paul Stutzman found this to be the case in the book, Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail. After losing his wife to breast cancer, Paul quit his job and went on a five-month journey along the Appalachian Trail. Paul says that immersing himself in nature helped him recover from a devastating loss and that somewhere along the journey he realized God was with him every step of the way, allowing him to find his path to peace and freedom (Stutzman, 2010). Paul physically sought out God throughout the five-month journey he embarked on. The action of outdoor sport that took place is important because perception is thought to be more than passive perception of information, but rather “an action oriented restructuring of the world” (Barbour, 2002). Through Paul’s action of hiking the Appalachian Trail, he found great perspective and metanoia in his situation after he communicated with God.

Fiddes (2013) elaborates on this idea of action by talking about the verb haptein, which is to seize, grasp or touch. Fiddes says

“’haptic vision’ emphasizes ‘the holistic, embodied, and relational aspects of seeing’ and…. cultivating a tactile vision will ‘allow visual experience to be richer and more nuanced [so that] deeper relationships with visual artifacts might be developed” (Fiddes, 2013).

Through physically submerging oneself in nature, a haptic vision is cultivated and richer, deeper relationships are capable of being formed with oneself, nature and God, resulting in metanoia.


In conclusion, participating in outdoors sports helps connect the body, mind and nature with God and allows perspective or even metanoia to be found in the greater universe, similar to a parable. There are positive psychological and physiological effects of outdoor exercise that allows one to have a more open and clear mind and find perspective and God. The are also four identities of nature including complexity, indeterminacy, top-down cause and communication of information that God can be found to take on, ensuing a connection between God and nature. This in turn creates the human ability to find perspective and metanoia through outdoor sports for

“ God offers an aim-or at least parameters for development-to every entity in creation to enable it to grow into fullness of life, and because there is a mental element (or a ‘feeling’ aspect) in everything, all can accept, reject, or modify the divine purpose” (Fiddes, 2013).

This concept has been glorified through the many references of outdoor sports in popular culture in the forms of parables, books and commercials. These forms of popular culture suggest greater meaning can be found through examination in nature similar to the concept of a parable. In sum, the power of God and the perspective on life that can be found while preforming outdoor sports is a joy of many and a beneficial way to experience the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things and ultimately metanoia.

Additional information:Outdoor sports Culture

Lance Armstrong is known as one of the best outdoor cyclers in the world. However, his passion for cycling turned to greed and the culture of performance cycling got a bad reputation for performance drug use after his doping scandal was publicized.

Tour de Scranton is a bike ride or river walk that occurred on April 29, 2018. It benefits Erin's fund which is a drug and alcohol treatment fund. It helps people live their lives and conquer their dreams while battling addiction through treatment. This outdoor sporting event/charity event is a great way to find a greater purpose in life while experiencing the outdoors.


An, M., Colarelli, S. M., O'Brien, K., & Boyajian, M. E. (2016). Why we need more nature at work: Effects of natural elements and sunlight on employee mental health and work attitudes. PLoS One, 11(5) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155614

Barbour, I. G. (2002). Nature, human nature, and God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

BBC Science | Human Body & Mind | Science of Love. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love/

Crossan, J. D. (2012). The power of parable: How fiction by jesus became fiction about jesus.

"Energy", Nature Valley commercial with Erik Weihenmayer [Video file]. (2014, September 2). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QqLtS4-eUg

In Senior, D., In Collins, J. J., In Getty-Sullivan, M. A., Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, & Catholic Church. (2016). The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, Revised edition.

Julie Warren, PT. (2010, November 28). Does Exercise Release a Chemical in the Brain? Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/320144-does-exercise-release-a-chemical-in-the-brain/

Logan AC and Selhub EM. (n.d.). Vis Medicatrix naturae: does nature "minister to the mind"? - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22472137

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis.

Shapiro, D. (2012, April 1). The high road. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/wild-a-hiking-memoir-by-cheryl-strayed.html

Strayed, C. (2012). Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Stutzman, P. (2010). Hiking Through: One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail.

Thompson Coon J , et al. (n.d.). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activi... - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21291246


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