Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Sister Mother Earth

About the Earth, St. Francis of Assisi sings in his "Canticle of the Sun":
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
I grew up loving the outdoors, but mostly in an aggressive way, using the outdoors to play at being a cowboy or a soldier or some kind of adventurer. The general attitude I sensed as a child, and went along with, was that hugging trees, saving whales, and recycling were things that only "liberals" did. But over the past four years or so, especially in the past year, I've grown to appreciate nature both in its own right and in the way that it seems to be able to help heighten my awareness of the loving omnipresent spirit of God.

Mary Frohlich suggests that those who are interested in Christian spirituality "are called to place the Earth and its wounds at the center of our attention in very concrete ways." She suggests that one of the proper transformations in the mystical journey through unknowing is to "[accept] the gift of oneself as a servant among servants in the company of God’s wondrous cosmic ecosystem." She quotes Teilhard de Chardin, saying that he "has best captured this insight into the divine at the heart of matter":
Oh, the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, as I have experienced it through contact with the earth—the divine radiating from the depths of blazing matter. Oh the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth! Oh human one, bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.
I've taken a few small steps to increase my interactions with and connections to the Earth. Really, there is very little in the world that is not part of the Earth, so actually, it's my awareness that I'm working on.

  • I've begun recycling. : )
  • I've taken to really enjoy cutting fresh vegetables, to feel the sweet, clean vegetable flesh in my hands. 
  • Sometimes, when out for a walk, if I see a stump or a large stone, I lay my hands on it for a few moments to touch and take in its physicality. 
  • I've set up an aquarium in my office, and cultivated an an ecosystem in it with live plants, bacteria, shrimp, and fish. 
  • I've brought home a potted plant, a bromeliad. Christine takes care of it. 
  • Christine and I have both also taken to keeping fresh flowers on our dining room table. 
  • I've begun to try to be intentional about noticing the air and grass when I'm outside, even if it's just on my way to my car. I've also tried to notice more often the grass and trees along the road as I drive. 
  • And finally, I try to get out into nature when I can. Sometimes this is just a short visit to a park. But today, for instance, waking up and realizing that today was Earth Day, my family went to a nearby nature reserve that we'd heard about but had not been to before. We spent about a half an hour there. It really refreshed and recharged me for the day with a sense of presence, peace, and wholeness. Below I've posted some pictures that Christine took.
Mary Oliver says that those who love God will look "most deeply" into God's works. I pray that we may do this, that we may be blessed with such attention and awareness, that we may be refreshed, renewed, and grounded through "our sister Mother Earth."

Me with my daughter Elea in an oak tree.

A dead tree against the sky with wetland (I believe) in the background.

A mother and baby Sandhill Crane just a little off the path.

A plant with about four different types of insects on it.


living stones said...

Paul, thanks so much for this encouraging reflection and the practical ways you are connecting. I really enjoyed the variety of photos. As often happens, I smiled at the mother and baby bird photo and at the daddy and baby girl photo. There is something precious about the connection between parents and children, protection and fragility, wisdom and learning. Thank you and blessings.

RC said...

Wow! What a beautiful, meaningful post. Thank you for investing and sharing this way. You share a very important truth with us, and you do it in a lovely and delightful way. I was just out in my yard before reading this post, enjoying the fresh green-ness and lovely flowers and bushes. Your post deepens my awareness and my gratitude for them. (Interestingly, the man who originally came up with the name Earth Day was a Pentecostal minister, John McConnell. You can google his name along with the words Earth Day.)

Sarah said...

It's interesting, Paul, that you've begun to notice and be more aware of God's work around you in nature because that is where my journey is leading me now, as well. I grew up in a tradition that I think was similar to yours in which anything that sounded remotely like "saving the Earth" was liberal and to be avoided.

I've journeyed far from there. So many of the "conveniences" of our modern life only distance us from nature. I am seeking simplicity, and it's nice to meet you here on the same path.

Daniel said...

Paul, I love the way you bring attention and depth to these simple activities. I'm really enjoying our beautiful spring weather, and your words deepen my awareness of its beauty.

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