John Cuddeback appreciates the natural world both as a place where people can exercise a role of stewardship and as a place where God reveals himself and calls his people to contemplation.

It's something that he learned from studying the philosophy and theology of Catholic tradition. And it's because of that interconnectedness that he and his wife, Sofia, are raising their family on a 21-acre homestead near Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

"My wife and I are convinced that living close to the rhythms of the natural world helps to dispose the soul to hear the Word of God," he said. "We as Christians must see nature as a gift to us that shows forth the glory of God.

"Nature is something over which we exercise stewardship and in which we contemplate God. Both are from our faith."

Interconnectedness

Cuddeback is associate professor and chairman of the department of philosophy at Christendom College in Front Royal. The college, he said, "has always stood for a full-bodied understanding of the Catholic faith and the way it forms everyday life." That enables another interconnectedness between his work and his private life.

The Cuddebacks are living their faith in a simplicity that keeps them close to the land. In maintaining responsible stewardship of the environment, they use organic and sustainable practices to raise vegetables, fruits, berries and pigs.

"We use waste and weeds from the garden and orchard to feed the pigs, and then fertilize the garden and orchard with pig manure," Cuddeback said. "In this way, we experience God's wonderful design as we conserve resources and raise food that is of higher quality and nutritional value. Stewardship of our forest includes harvesting dead wood for fuel, and selective thinning of trees for lumber."

The couple's five children help feed the pigs, weed the garden and pick fruits and flowers.

"There's always something to teach them about nature, or about how we steward it," Cuddeback said.

Proper world view

The lessons come from the Catholic philosophy that puts man above nature.

"Pope John Paul II made this very clear," he said. "So we must strive, as he did, to emphasis environmental stewardship precisely in the context of understanding the dignity and the otherworldy goal of human life."

Cuddeback noted that some radical secular movements "don't understand the primacy of God and get everything out of order."

"Those people make the mistake, if not really consciously, of putting the rest of nature on par with man, and thus we have environmentalists emphasizing the environment at the expense of man," he said. "It's only when you have the proper world view that has God first and everything else in its proper place, that you can address these issues intelligently."