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Nature as a Mirror of God

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Nature: Week 1

Nature as a Mirror of God
Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What some now call creation spirituality, deep salvation, or the holistic Gospel, was voiced long ago by some Eastern fathers, in the spirituality of the ancient Celts, by many of the Rhineland mystics, and surely by Francis of Assisi. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) communicated creation spirituality through music, art, poetry, medicine, gardening, and reflections on nature. She wrote in her famous book, Scivias:

You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you. [1]

This is key to understanding Hildegard and is very similar to Teresa of Ávila’s understanding of the soul. Without using the word, she recognized that the human person is a microcosm with a natural affinity for or resonance with its macrocosm, which many call God. Our little world reflects the big world. The key word here is resonance. Contemplative prayer allows your mind to resonate with what is visible and right in front of you. Contemplation is the end of all loneliness because it erases the separateness between the seer and the seen.

Hildegard spoke often of viriditas, the greening of things from within, similar to what we now call photosynthesis. She already saw that there was a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She recognized that there is also an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into inner energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to “Become who you are; become all that you are.” This is our “life wish” or “whole-making instinct.”

Hildegard is a wonderful example of someone who lives safely inside an entire cosmology, a universe where the inner shows itself in the outer, and the outer reflects the inner, where the individual reflects the cosmos, and the cosmos reflects the individual. Hildegard says, “O Holy Spirit, you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” [2] It is truly a Trinitarian universe, with all things whirling toward one another from orbits, to gravity, to ecosystems, to sexuality.

In another place, Hildegard has God saying:

I have created mirrors in which I consider all the wonders of my originality which will never cease. [3]

Indeed, for Hildegard nature was a mirror for the soul and a mirror for God. This mirroring affects a complete change in consciousness in how most of us see and experience reality. Later, Bonaventure (1217-1274) wrote: “In the soul’s journey to God we must present to ourselves the whole material world as the first mirror through which we may pass over to the Supreme [Artisan].” [4] The Dominican Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) said the same: “If humankind could have known God without the world, God would never have created the world.” [5]

Creation is not a mere scenic backdrop so humans can take over the stage. Creation is in fact a full participant in human transformation, since the outer world is absolutely needed to mirror the true inner world. There are not just two sacraments, or even seven; the whole world is a sacrament!

Gateway to Silence:
Brother Sun, Sister Moon, help me see God in all things.

References:
[1] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias 1.2.29. Translation supplied by Avis Clendenen, “Hildegard: ‘Trumpet of God’ and ‘Living Light’” in Chicago Theological Seminary Register 89 (2), Spring 1999, 25.
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, by Gabriele Uhlein (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1982), 41.
[3] Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, with Letters and Songs, ed. Matthew Fox (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1987), 128.
[4] Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey to God, I, 9, trans. Ewert Cousins (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 63. Emphasis added.
[5] Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, ed. by Maurice O’Connell Walshe, revised by Bernard McGinn (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009), 275. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001), 135; and unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

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