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Created to Love

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Natural World: Week 1

Created to Love
Thursday, March 8, 2018

In the fourth century, St. Augustine (354-430), an official “Doctor of the Church” (meaning he can be reliably trusted) in both Eastern and Western churches, said, “the church consists in the state of communion of the whole world.” [1] What an amazing and inclusive line, based on his Trinitarian theology (which lagged in later centuries). Wherever we are connected, in right relationship—you might say “in love”—there is the life of God flowing freely, there is the authentic image or body of God revealed. This body is more a living organism than any formal organization, denomination, or church group. As Jesus puts it, “Do not believe those who say, ‘Look here! or Look there!’” (Luke 17:23) because the Reign of God can never be contained or fully localized in one place.

Non-human creation is invariably obedient and loyal to its destiny. Animals and plants seem to excitedly take their small place in the “circle of life,” in the balance of nature, in the dance of complete interdependence. It is only we humans who have resisted our place in “the one great act of giving birth” (see Romans 8:22), even though we had the role of consciousness. Instead, we have been largely unconscious, senselessly participating in the death of our own and other species. We are, by far, the most destructive of any animal. As St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179, also a Doctor of the Church) writes:

Human beings alone are capable of disobeying God’s laws, because they try to be wiser than God. . . . Other creatures fulfill the commandments of God; they honor [God’s] laws. . . . But human beings rebel against those laws, defying them in word and action. And in doing so they inflict terrible cruelty on the rest of God’s creation. [2]

In poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins proudly affirms “each mortal thing” as having a soul, not just humans.

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
. . . myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came. [3]

Jesus taught that if we would “first seek God’s Reign” (Matthew 6:33), and obey his command to “love God and love one another” (Matthew 22:37-40), all the rest would take care of itself. We would no longer defy the laws of nature but seek to live in harmony and sustainability with Earth and all her creatures. This radical lifestyle demands a deep sense of the inherent dignity of all things. We cannot pick and choose who has inherent dignity and who does not.

We must all firmly know that grace is inherent to creation, not an occasional additive. God’s goodness—not Adam’s sin nor some catastrophic Armageddon—has the first and final word. We thus begin in hope and end in hope, without which history has no purpose, motive, or goal—and love comes with great difficulty.

[1] Augustine, “Ecclesiam in totius orbis communion consistere,” from De unitate ecclesiae (On the unity of the Church), XX, 56.

[2] Hildegard of Bingen: Devotions, Prayers & Living Wisdom, ed. Mirabai Starr (Read How You Want: 2008), 43-44.

[3] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “When Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics: 1985), 51.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Creation as the Body of God,” in Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, ed. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (The Golden Sufi Center: 2013), 2.

Image credit: Two Crabs (detail), by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Faggionato Fine Arts, London, England.
Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence. —Richard Rohr
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