The great chain of being was the medieval metaphor for ecology before we spoke of ecosystems. I view it as a philosophical and theological attempt to speak of the interconnectedness of all things on the level of pure “Being.” Today we might call it “the circle of life.” For me, it speaks of the inherent sacrality, interconnectedness, and communality of creation.
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. —Richard Rohr
Every single living life form has been given a seat on this sacred hoop of life, this medicine wheel … and that includes us. Every single member has a methodology for upholding its part of the sacred hoop. Every single member must uphold their part of the sacred hoop, or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail. —Pat McCabe
The shift from God at the zenith of the great chain of being toward God with us in a great web of belonging is the heart of today’s spiritual revolution. —Diana Butler Bass
Francis of Assisi claims all the world as family. Everything becomes brother or sister. I think that comes out of a mystical and contemplative insight that recognizes we are all part of this great chain of being, that these are brothers and sisters, and therefore we may not disrespect them. —Richard Rohr
We were created in unity, proceed forward insofar as we are in unity, and return to God’s full gift of final unity, according to Bonaventure. It is grace before, during, and after. —Richard Rohr
Kinship with Creation
In the book Rooted and Rising, editors Leah Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas suggest a practice to embody our connection to creation:
The insights of science accord with the wisdom of religion: human beings do not exist in isolation. We exist within an interconnected web of relationships. This meditation invites us to exercise our imagination and deepen our understanding of our place in the universe. How would our behavior change if we were more keenly aware that we are brother-sister beings with the rest of life and spring from the same divine Source?…
Go to your sacred place.
Find a position on your chair or cushion in which you feel comfortable, relaxed, and alert.
Close your eyes.
Notice that as you breathe in, you are taking in oxygen, which is released by trees and all green-growing things. As you breathe out, you exhale carbon dioxide, which in turn is being taken up by trees…. Let yourself feel your connection to the air, to the trees, and grass, and everything green.
Now let yourself feel the weight of your body in the chair…. You are as solid as the earth and made from the same atoms of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen that make up the earth….
Now let yourself sense the inner motions within your body…. Maybe you are aware of the gurgling in your belly or the throb of your beating heart. Maybe you sense the circulation of blood as it moves through your body…. It is as if within your body you are carrying rivers, lakes, and the ocean….
Now scan your body. Get a sense of your body as a whole…. Now consider this: all the elements that make up your body came from stars that exploded millions of years ago….
Our bodies connect us to the air and to plants, to the earth, to waters and the sea, to the animals, and to the stars.
Let yourself appreciate the goodness of the amazing body that God has given you and feel your kinship with the whole Creation.
“Questions to Ponder and a Spiritual Practice: Kinship with Creation,” in Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, ed. Leah D. Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 76–77.
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.