Nature Is Ensouled

The Natural World: Week 2

Nature Is Ensouled
Sunday, March 11, 2018

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6). This tells us that the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wisdom 11:24). —Pope Francis [1]

Acknowledging the intrinsic value and beauty 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 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, meaning “in front of,” and fanum, meaning “temple.” We thought we lived “outside the temple.” Without a nature-based spirituality, it was a profane universe, bereft of Spirit, so we had to keep building shrines and churches to capture and hold our now domesticated and tamed God. Soon we did not know where to look for the divine, as we made God’s presence so limited. We became like fish looking for water, and often arguing about who owned the water!

Note that I’m not saying God is all things (pantheism), but that each living thing reveals some aspect of God. God is both greater than the whole of our universe, and as Creator inter-penetrates all created things (panentheism). No exceptions.

When you can enjoy this, “the world becomes a communion of subjects more than a collection of objects” as the “geologian” Fr. Thomas Berry (1914-2009) said so wisely. [2]

When you love something, you grant it soul, you see its soul, and you let its soul touch yours. You must love something deeply to know its soul. Before the resonance of love, you are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” you—to help you live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until you can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, I doubt if you have discovered your own soul either. Soul knows soul.

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 77,
[2] Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe (New York: Columbia University Press), 86.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CDMP3 download; and
“Is ‘Green’ a Christian Position?” Radical Grace, vol. 22, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), 3, 22.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, September 1888 (Arles), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first splitting and spinning of the stars. —Joanna Macy

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