Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

From the Concrete to the Universal

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Great Chain of Being

From the Concrete to the Universal
Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The contemplative way, and surely the Franciscan way, is to start with the concrete thing in itself. If you start with mere concepts or ideas, you too often stay right there. The heart is not evoked. Instead you must recognize the Presence in one rock, one flower, one lizard, one tree, and then from loving the concrete thing, you build up to loving everything, and everything in between. That’s why St. Francis could love God, animals, his enemies, and Brother Sun and Sister Moon, too. How you do anything is how you do everything. In his first Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano wrote that Francis would “meditate within himself and draw external things inside and then this would lift his spirit to higher things.” This also has the wonderful side effect of making you at home with yourself, because your inside is alive and content.

So can you see the full circle flow? God first seems totally beyond and transcendent, fully opposite of (or fully Other than) the outer world of things, nature, animals, and plants. It is the unique capacity of the soul to gather them into one and see them as one. The human soul is the mediation point of all creation. Once this divine flow starts, there is no reason for it to stop, unless we stop paying attention, which unfortunately many people do. To keep paying attention, and remain consciously in the flow is to “pray always.” To stop the flow is the core and foundational meaning of sin, much more than the individual doing of “bad” things.

Beginning with an early sermon, which was said to be given to a tree full of birds, Francis was always telling creatures that by their very existence they were giving glory to God, so they should just be who they are and do their own unique thing, and that was enough. This undoubtedly allowed Francis to do his own unique thing too (do not understand that in a narcissistic way) and give his one life back to God. What else would God want from us? You cannot give what you are not, nor would God want it. You can only give what you are, warts and all, and it is the very giving back that delights the Creator—not the supposed perfection of the gift.

Each creature “Myself it speaks and spells, crying what I do is me: for that I came,” Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” At its best, the pure loving consciousness of each individual thing—doing itself—brings us to a rare inner freedom, deep delight, and often a sympathy and solidarity with the “one suffering” of all things; whereas mere abstract or conceptual theories about things will keep you split and apart.

Gateway to Silence:
Loving God in creation

Adapted from The Great Chain of Being: Simplifying Our Lives (MP3 download); and
In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (CD, MP3 download)

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.