Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

The Great Nest of Being

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Creation: Week 1

The Great Nest of Being
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
(Ash Wednesday)

The “Catholic synthesis” of the early Middle Ages had its limitations, but at its best it held together one coherent world. It was a positive intellectual vision that was not defined by opposition or enemies, but by the clarity and beauty of form. Such coherence is visible architecturally in the European cathedrals in Salisbury, Cologne, Orvieto, and Vézelay. This synthesis was a cosmic egg of meaning, a vision of Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing.

The Great Chain of Being (or The Great Nest of Being, as I prefer to call it, to give an image that doesn’t depend on higher and lower but simply ever greater capacity to include) is a holistic metaphor for the new seeing offered us by the Incarnation: Jesus as the living icon of integration, “the coincidence of opposites” who “holds all things in unity” within himself (Colossians 1:15-20). God is One. God is whole, and everything in creation—from minerals, stones, plants, animals, people, planets, and angels—can be seen as a holon (a part that mimics, replicates, and somehow includes the whole).

Sadly, the Catholic synthesis seldom moved beyond philosophers’ books and mystics’ prayers and some architecture, art, and music. Most Christians remained in a fragmented and dualistic world, usually looking for the contaminating element to punish or the unworthy member to expel. While still daring to worship the cosmic Scapegoat—Jesus—we scapegoated the other links in the great chain We have been unwilling to see the Divine Image in those we judged to be inferior or unworthy: so-called sinners and heretics, women, LGBTQ individuals, people from other races and ethnicities, the poor, those with disabilities, animals, non-Christians, and the Earth itself.

Once the great chain (each level protected and held by its inherent connection to the previous link) was broken or disbelieved, we were soon unable to see the Divine Image in our own species either, except for those who look and think just like us. We were all on our own! The dominant view—“patriarchy” (usually white, educated, or land-owning men)—formed the mentality of most “developed” cultures. It becomes a contest, of sorts, and the patriarchs (in whatever form) decide who is worthy, who is holy, and who is not. Then the strangely named Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and modern secularism denied the heavenly and divine links altogether—an attitude unknown in human history until recently. The coherence fell utterly apart, and this is the disenchanted world you and I live in today. It is hard to trust our own holiness if we are cut off from the Source.

As the medieval teachers predicted, once the Great Chain of Being is broken or denied, and any one link is not honored and included, the whole cosmic vision collapses. It seems that either we acknowledge that God is in all things or we lose the basis for seeing God in anything, including ourselves.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001), 136.

Image credit: Winter Leaf I: CAC Gardens (detail), by Nicholas Kramer.
God always and forever comes as one who is totally hidden and yet perfectly revealed in the same moment or event. The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. Thus, nature is the first Bible, written approximately 14 billion years before the Bible of words. —Richard Rohr
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.