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A Communion of Subjects

Cosmology and Nature

A Communion of Subjects
Friday, June 26, 2020

Acknowledging the intrinsic value, beauty, and even soul of creation, elements, plants, and animals is a major paradigm shift for most Western Christians. In fact, many in the past often dismissed such thinking as animism or paganism. We limited God’s love and salvation to our own human species and, then, in this theology of scarcity, we did not even have enough love left to cover all of humanity! To be honest, God ended up looking quite stingy and inept—hardly “victorious,” as our Easter hymns claim.

The word profane comes from the Latin words pro, meaning “in front of,” and fanum, meaning “temple.” We thought we lived “outside the temple.” Without a nature-based spirituality, it was a profane universe, bereft of Spirit. We had to keep building shrines and churches to capture and hold our now domesticated and tamed God. Soon we did not know where to look for the divine, as we made God’s presence so limited. We became like fish swimming around looking for water, and often arguing about who owned the water!

I’m not saying that God is all things or that all things are God (pantheism). I am saying that each living thing reveals some aspect of God. God is greater than the whole of our universe, and as Creator inter-penetrates all created things (panentheism).

When God manifests spirit through matter, then matter becomes a holy thing. The material world is the place where we can comfortably worship God just by walking on it, loving it, and respecting it. Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God. What else could it really be? The incarnation is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event, which is why John’s Gospel first describes God’s presence in the general word “flesh” (John 1:14). This is the ubiquitous Christ that we continue to encounter in other human beings, in a mountain, a blade of grass, a spider web, or a starling.

When we can enjoy all these things as holy, “the world becomes a communion of subjects more than a collection of objects” as the “geologian” Fr. Thomas Berry (1914–2009) said so wisely. [1]

When we love something, we grant it soul, we see its soul, and we let its soul touch ours. We must love something deeply to know its soul (anima). Before the resonance of love, we are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” us and help us live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until we can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, we probably haven’t discovered our own souls either. Soul knows soul through love, which is why it’s the great commandment (Matthew 22:36).

References:
[1] Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe (Columbia University Press: 2009), 86.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible, discs 1 and 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CDMP3 download;

“Is ‘Green’ a Christian Position?” Radical Grace, vol. 22, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), 3, 22; and

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, And Believe (Convergent: 2019), 13.

Image Credit: Una “rete” di rami all’Arte Sella (Wood and Art in the Forest of Italy) (detail), 2008, Arte Sella, Trento, Italy.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is the web, the energy, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. —Barbara Brown Taylor

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