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Creation and Connectedness
Creation and Connectedness

Building on a First Love

Monday, November 20, 2023

Father Richard understands the teachings of Bonaventure as a call to love all creation.

St. Bonaventure taught that to work up to loving God, start by loving the very humblest and simplest things, and then move up from there. “Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror, through which we may pass over to God, who is the Supreme Craftsman,” he wrote. And further, “The Creator’s supreme power, wisdom and benevolence shine forth in created things.” [1]

We can apply this spiritual insight quite literally. Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people; love elements and rocks first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. Angels will soon seem like a real possibility, and God is then just a short leap away. It works. In fact, it might be the only way to love, because how we do anything is how we do everything. In the end, either we love everything or there is reason to doubt that we love anything. This one love and one loveliness was described by many medieval theologians as the “great chain of being.”

Creation—be it planets, plants, or pandas—was not just a warm-up act for the human story or the Bible. The natural world is its own good and sufficient story, if we can only learn to see it with humility and love. That takes contemplative practice, stopping our busy and superficial minds long enough to see the beauty, allow the truth, and protect the inherent goodness of what is—whether it profits or pleases us or not.

Every gift of food and water, every act of simple kindness, every ray of sunshine, every mammal caring for her young, all of it emerged from this original and intrinsically good creation. Humans were meant to know and enjoy this ever-present reality—a reality we too often fail to praise or, maybe worse, ignore and take for granted. As described in Genesis, the creation unfolds over six days, implying a developmental understanding of growth. Only the seventh day has no motion to it. The divine pattern is set: Doing must be balanced out by not-doing, in the Jewish tradition called the “Sabbath Rest.” All contemplation reflects a seventh-day choice and experience, relying on grace instead of effort.

All the other sentient beings also do their little things, take their places in the cycle of life and death, mirroring the eternal self-emptying and eternal infilling of God, and somehow trusting it all. If we can recognize that we belong to such a rhythm and ecosystem, and intentionally rejoice in it, we can begin to find our place in the universe. We will begin to see, as did the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.” [2]


[1] Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God 1.9, 10, trans. Ewert Cousins (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 63.

[2] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, ed. Kerry McSweeney (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 246.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2021), 57–59.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Madison Frambes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2023, naturally dyed paper and ink, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

The squares, circles, triangles, reds, blues, yellows, patterns and textures are all part of the same great whole.

Story from Our Community:  

Many years ago, as I sat on a deserted beach in Western Australia overlooking the Indian Ocean, I became overwhelmed by the ocean’s vastness and power. I felt so very small. I found myself frozen in awe and I could not leave that place for what felt like hours. Finally, as I made my way back to our car across some small sand dunes, something caught my eye. Beside the old boardwalk amongst the scrub was a single, tiny purple flower. The God of the vast ocean spoke to me in that moment reminding me that although I may sometimes feel as insignificant as that little flower, I too am fearfully and beautifully made, and deeply loved. —Patti A.

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