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Creation Is the Primary Cathedral

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nature: Week 2

Creation Is the Primary Cathedral
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Creation itself—not ritual or spaces constructed by human hands—was Francis’ primary cathedral. 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—and on the road of the world. In our own time, major teachers like Thomas Berry and Teilhard de Chardin 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 out of doors. Francis said, “Wherever we are, wherever we go, we bring our cell and our soul with us. Our Brother Body is our cell and our soul is the hermit living in the cell. If our soul does not live in peace and solitude within this moving cell, of what avail is it to live in a man-made cell?” [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 [2]—that 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. Remember that good ritual, like art itself, merely imitates nature.

Gateway to Silence:
Praised be You, my Lord, through all your creatures. —Francis of Assisi

[1] “Legend of Perugia,” St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, 1055-1056.
[2] My 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 (Franciscan Media: 2014), 47-48.

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