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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Soul of Nature
The Soul of Nature

God in All Things

Friday, March 8, 2024

Father Richard acknowledges the shift that is required to recognize and honor the soul of nature:

Acknowledging the intrinsic value, beauty, and even soul of creation, elements, plants, and animals is a major paradigm shift for most Western Christians. In fact, many in the past often dismissed such thinking as animism or paganism. We limited God’s love and salvation to our own human species and then in this theology of scarcity, we did not even have enough love left to cover all of humanity! To be honest, God ended up looking quite stingy and inept—hardly “victorious,” as our Easter hymns claim.

The word profane comes from the Latin words pro (“in front of”) and fanum (“temple”). We thought we lived “outside the temple.” Without a nature-based spirituality, it was a profane universe, bereft of Spirit. We had to keep building shrines and churches to capture and hold our now domesticated and tamed God. Soon we didn’t know where to look for the divine, as we made God’s presence so limited. We became like fish swimming around looking for water, and often arguing about who owned the water!

I’m not saying that God is all things or that all things are God (pantheism). I am saying that each living thing reveals some aspect of God. God is greater than the whole of our universe, and as Creator inter-penetrates all created things (panentheism). [1]

When God manifests spirit through matter, then matter becomes a holy thing. The material world is the place where we can comfortably worship God just by walking on it, loving it, and respecting it. Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God. What else could it really be? The incarnation is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event, which is why John’s Gospel first describes God’s presence in the general word “flesh” (John 1:14). This is the ubiquitous Christ that we continue to encounter in other human beings, in a mountain, a blade of grass, a spider web, or a starling. [2] When we can enjoy all these things as holy, “we experience the universe as a communion of subjects, not as a collection of objects” as the “geologian” Fr. Thomas Berry said so wisely. [3]

When we love something, we grant it soul, we see its soul, and we let its soul touch ours. We must love something deeply to know its soul (anima). Before the resonance of love, we are largely inattentive to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” us and help us live in union with the Source of all being. In fact, until we can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, we probably haven’t discovered our own souls either. Soul knows soul through love, which Jesus teaches as the great commandment (Matthew 22:37–39). [4]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Nature Is Ensouled,” Daily Meditations, March 11, 2018. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2019, 2021), 13.

[3] Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker(New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 86.

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible, (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2009). Available as MP3 audio download.

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled Porcupine (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

“I relate tradition to habit, one of my habits brings me to my nature walks, where I see the same scenery, the same foliage, the same animals. Yet none of these are the same, they have their own unique progression.” —Benjamin Yazza, photographer

Story from Our Community:  

As a child, I was startled by the abundance of miracles in nature. 70 years of observing the living, dying, and decaying is a cherished education. Even the moth I just discovered in the dark morning impresses me with the sincerity found in all life. It comes with pain, frustration, awe, silence, love, and anger. Thank you God for this blessing; please show me how to use it. —Kathi S.

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