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Center for Action and Contemplation
Alternative Orthodoxy
Alternative Orthodoxy

Mysticism and Eco-Spirituality

Friday, February 7, 2020

Alternative Orthodoxy

Mysticism and Eco-Spirituality 

Friday, February 7, 2020 

When the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature—every mortal being that is on the earth. —Genesis 9:16

Franciscan alternative orthodoxy emphasized mysticism over morality. Moralism is the task of low-level religion, concerned with creating an ego identity that seemingly places us on moral high ground. But moralism is normally not a primary concern for love, the focus of mature spirituality. Scripture, Jesus, the mystics, and the saints recognized that the goal of religion is not a perfect moral stance, but union with God. Mysticism is about connection not perfection. [1] Perfectionism always leads to individualism—as if the individual could ever be perfect.

The single biggest heresy that allows us to misinterpret the scriptural tradition is individualism, revealed now in the problems we are facing with climate change, pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and the extinction of many species. We became so anthropocentric and self-referential that we thought God cared not about “every living creature” nor about the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1), but just about “us people” and not even very many of us. That’s what happens when we go down the track of individualism and lose the mystical level of perception.

Eco-spirituality could be considered another gift of Franciscan alternative orthodoxy. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of ecology because he granted animals, elements, and the earth subjectivity, respect, and mutuality. In his Canticle of the Creatures, Francis the mystic describes a participatory universe in which God loves and cares for us through Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, and “through our sister, Mother Earth.” [2] At the same time, God receives praise, honor, glory, and blessing through each of God’s creations. On the mystical level, Francis could see the transformational power of Love’s presence within all creation.

I often wonder if the one thing we all share in common—our planet—could ultimately bring us all together. We stand on this same “sister, Mother Earth” and we look up at this same Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Could it be that the Mystery of God is already hidden and revealed here? I believe so. Naming the universal Christ helps us to recognize the inherent sacrality, holiness, goodness, and value of the whole material world. For those who see deeply, there is only One Reality; there is no distinction between sacred and profane. [3] Humanity is becoming capable of a truly global spirituality which is desperately needed for the common good to be realized.

God has come to save us all by grace. No exceptions. The mystics have no trouble surrendering to such fullness. For Bonaventure, God is a “fountain fullness” of outflowing love, only flowing in one positive direction, always and forever. There is no wrath in God. There is only outpouring love.

[1] This is related to one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Seven Themes of an Alternative Orthodoxy: “Divine union, not private perfection is the goal of all religion.” Join the CONSPIRE 2020 webcast to explore this and other themes:

[2] Francis wrote this song praising God through all creation during the last year of his life; the full text of the Canticle can be found at

[3] This is another of the Center’s Seven Themes of an Alternative Orthodoxy.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Tim Scorer, Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis, sessions 2 and 5 (Morehouse Education Resources: 2014), Participants’ Workbook and DVD.

Image credit: St. Francis of Assisi (detail), Jusepe de Ribera, 1642, El Escorial.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Francis loved God above all and wanted to imitate Jesus in very practical ways. Action and lifestyle mattered much more to him than mentally believing dogmatic or moral positions to be true or false. Francis directly said to the first friars, “You only know as much as you do!” —Richard Rohr
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