I am learning slowly slowly, slowly, to let the created world teach me about its revelation of the Holy. Somehow my early experiences and teaching left me without the sensibilities that could easily sense God in Creation. I certainly appreciated glorious sunrises and sunsets, loved any place I could get close to the ocean, and delighted in the parade of dogs that marched through our growing family. However, I don’t seem to have the natural affinity for Nature that comes to others easily that is a part of our faith journey–the understanding of the Holy in the natural world, which Calvin calls the second book of revelation, after the written sacred texts.
Two events have coincided this past year to pique my attention and to ground my intention to seek the Holy in becoming a deeper lover of the beauty of this Earth God made, and to be a more faithful steward of its resources. First, partly in response to California’s desperate drought, we have replaced our front lawn with a drought resistant garden last summer. I am sure we had no idea of the complexities of what we were doing, but with the help of a landscape designer and our long time gardener, my husband brought together an array of native plants and flowers that have become a garden of earth grown delights. Each morning as I go out the door, I am reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning. And I am often surprised: irises bloom, bees hum, the lavender bush is full of tiny birds–wrens maybe?
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small/all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Hymn words: Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848
The other stream of opening awareness has come from the urgent writings about the care for the Earth by theologians, as well as by scientists, sociologists and other people of faith who are stepping up their banner call to care of the earth as part of the spiritual journey. My own consciousness was raised initially by my former colleague, Dr. Sam Hamilton-Poore, in his lyric book, Earth Gospel, in which he creates a four week set of daily liturgies and reflections, garnered from ancient and modern sources, all focused on caring for Creation in the way humans are intended to do. I found that singing and praying with eyes and ears open to goodness of God expressed in Creation began in me a more organic reflection of my own connection to all of the earth. Sam’s blessing for a Saturday morning has given shape to my own reality: May I see the glory of God in sun and sky; may I hear the Creator’s song in bird and breeze; and may the grace of Christ’s Spirit course though me, body and soul. (Hamilton-Poore, 33)
With my soul primed to learn and practice more stewarding of the earth, I have read the compelling books of Beldon Lane, retired professor and Presbyterian minister, in which he lays out both the this theology and his practice of experiencing the Presence of the Holy in nature. In reading a compilation of the essays of Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson, I was further enlightened and inspired by her clarity on her premise that a person of faith mus embrace caring for Creation, particularly in its present crisis. Then, a colleague referred me to Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudate Si’, as a gripping and important perspective of the Church in the 21st Century in relationship to the Earth, a document I am eager to read. My intellectual awareness has become replete with ideas and premises that are beginning to re-shape the lens with which I view the natural world.
So as I went away with my family to a campground last weekend, I chose as my spiritual practice to attend as closely as I was able to what was there in the natural world, to watch it closely, and to trust that the Holy One could speak to me through what I was experiencing. In a canyon that led to the beach in the California sunshine, I saw all kinds of birds–bullying scrub jays, swooping ravens, supersonic hummingbirds; and as evening fell, the was a huge bevy of quail walking across the road, then ascending to the sky as a noise disturbed them. I sat in stillness under a bright half moon, and listened to the quiet. And I also noticed the bright red poison oak, and heard about the distressed sycamore trees, suffering from lack of water. One writer from my reading had posited that each particular created thing brings glory to God by being exactly what it is, nothing more, nothing less. And that was the Word for me, among the variegated array of God’s ingenuity–I am to be myself–nothing more, nothing less– and by so doing, I am bringing glory to God. I can rest, beloved and grateful, in the Presence of the One who made us all bright and beautiful!