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The Soul of Nature
The Soul of Nature

The Stones Cry Out

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Marya Grathwohl, a Sister of St. Francis, describes an experience with a longtime friend driving up Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains:

Dorie, who had distanced herself from organized religion, nevertheless coins the phrase “rock rosary” to express the sequence of life mysteries locked in the rock layers: reptiles, forests, amphibians, fish, bodies of cooperating cells, photosynthesis.

As the mountain reveals the splendor of life’s evolution, I find myself asking, “Who are we human beings? Within this array of life-forms, what is our role, our gift to Earth?” These immense questions require a universe or religion….

Then near the summit, we abruptly round a cliff. Another sign: PRECAMBRIAN 2.9 BILLION YEARS AGO. GRANITE. And my soul slams into awe….

We find a pull-off. I race back to the cliff and near the sign pick up something small. A stone, heavy for its size, glistens with quartz. I hold it close to my lips.

“You,” I whisper, “you witnessed life’s genius in creating photosynthesis.”

I stand silent, listening. Time stops.

In my hands is a scripture, a stone crying out. I recall that it was a mere two thousand years ago that Jesus said, “If the people are silent, the stones will cry out” [Luke 19:40].

Earth, a rocky planet, cries out. Earth cries out against global mass extinction of species, the destruction of human-caused climate change, and the prowess of militarized and industrialized humanity to poison and destroy Earth’s support systems: soil, air, and water. Earth cries out against the suffering we humans cause each other.

Here is my question for the mountain. How do we learn to become contributing members of the pageant of life, of this ongoing story of a communion of species, subjects in their own right? [1]

Grathwohl describes soulful beauty in nature as the Divine Presence:

After almost fifty years of being a Franciscan Sister, I learned that beauty for Franciscan theologians and philosophers is the ultimate and most intimate knowing of God, another name for God, the name for God. Saint Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus teach that the beauty and diversity of creation nourish us through suffering and loss. When we’ve run out of purpose, when memories of war sicken us, when Earth is attacked with unparalleled savagery for coal, gas, oil, timber, and profit, when poverty runs rampant and extreme wealth for very few soars, when friends betray us, and everyone we love lives far away … then, still beauty endures, and helps us make it through. Like God…. [2]

I sense now that soul knows itself and its life within the great compassionate Mystery we strive to name. Soul stirs, rises, grows toward and within the unnameable silence and beauty of God, a mothering watery God, a rain beyond Catholic, beyond any specific religion or creed, a rain that soothes us in suffering and challenges complacency. Soul flowers in this rain of the worlds, of meteor showers, of the cosmos. [3]


[1] Marya Grathwohl, This Wheel of Rocks: An Unexpected Spiritual Journey (New York: Riverhead Books, 2023), 1–2, 2–3.

[2] Grathwohl, This Wheel of Rocks, 14.

[3] Grathwohl, This Wheel of Rocks, 24.

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:  

During the pandemic, a grove of giant trees was empty. I realized they had been there long before me and that they would outlast us all. Older and wiser for their experience, the trees have much to teach us about survival, resilience, and thriving. Survivors with branches twisted and gnarled, piercing the blue sky with green and red — thriving.
—Steve S.

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