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Center for Action and Contemplation

Bringing the Outside In

Friday, November 3, 2023

Richard Rohr finds clear and unambiguous respect for creation in both Jesus and his own Franciscan tradition:

Creation itself—not ritual or spaces constructed by human hands—was the primary cathedral for Francis of Assisi (1182–1226). It is no accident that the majority of Jesus’ stories and metaphors are based on human and natural observations, not classroom theology. It is not unimportant that both Jesus and Francis were peripatetic teachers—talking while walking—on the road of the world. In our own time, major teachers like Thomas Berry and Ilia Delio have rediscovered this natural and universal theology.

The gospel transforms us by putting us in touch with that which is much more constant and satisfying, literally the “ground of our being,” and has much more “reality” to it than theological concepts or the mere ritualization of reality. Daily cosmic events in the sky and on the earth are the Reality above our heads and beneath our feet every minute of our lives: a continuous sacrament. I find that a preoccupation with religious rituals tends to increase the more we remain untouched by Reality Itself—to which the best rituals can only point.

Jesus himself commonly points to things like the red sky, a hen, lilies, the fig tree, a donkey caught in a pit, the birds of the air, the grass in the field, the temple animals that he released from their cages, and on and on. He was clearly looking at the seemingly “nonreligious” world, ordinary things all around him, and appeared to do most of his teaching outside. Francis said, “Wherever we are or wherever we travel, we have a cell with us. Brother Body is our cell, and the soul is the hermit who remains inside the cell to pray to God…. If the soul does not remain in quiet and solitude in its cell, a cell made by hands does little good to a religious.” [1]

Both Jesus and Francis knew that everything created was a message about the nature of God. Nature was not empty of divinity. Seeing nature as secular or merely functional created much of the loneliness and seeming meaninglessness in our contemporary worldview.

In the five-day Men’s Rites of Passage (MROP) [2]—which was a focus of my work for fifteen years—so many men felt that prayers and rituals inside of human-scale buildings were rather domesticated and controlled. They often perceived that the salvation offered inside these artificial constructs was also “small” and churchy. Almost without exception, the greatest breakthroughs for our men occurred during extended times of silence in nature, where the human and the merely verbal were not in control, or during rituals that were raw and earthy.


[1] The Assisi Compilation 108, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New City Press, 2000), 215.

[2] Richard’s work with men’s spirituality is now carried by Illuman. Visit for information about male initiation rites and other resources.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 47–48.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Loïs Mailou Jones, Jeune Fille Français (detail), 1951, oil on canvas, Smithsonian; Textile Design for Cretonne (detail), 1928, watercolor on paper, Smithsonian; Eglise Saint Joseph (detail), 1954, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

Creation teaches us to love God in all Her death, decay, fallow times, insemination, growth, blooming and life and death and life.

Story from Our Community:  

It always seems like each meditation is pertinent to what our Holy Spirit is working in our lives. Today, talking about God’s spirit in nature actually made me chuckle. Early this morning around 4:00 a.m. I was awakened by this strong odor. I live on the beach, and in my sleepiness I thought “oil spill.” [It was] so strong, and as I woke up further, I ran over and shut the window, exclaiming, “skunk”! I went back to sleep covering my face. Later I woke up to read your morning meditation about God in His animals. I just had to smile. A reminder, God created and [even] loves the skunk! —Sue B.

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