The Soul of All Things

The Natural World: Week 1

The Soul of All Things
Monday, March 5, 2018

As we saw yesterday, the modern and postmodern self largely lives in a world of its own construction, and it reacts for or against its own human-made ideas. While calling ourselves intelligent, we’ve lost touch with the natural world and, as a result, lost touch with our own souls. I believe we can’t access our full intelligence and wisdom without some real connection to nature!

My father, Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226), spent many days, weeks, and even months walking the roads of Umbria and letting nature teach him. Francis knew and respected creation, calling animals, sun and moon, and even the weather and the elements his brothers and sisters. Through extended time in nature, Francis became intimately connected with non-human living things and came to recognize that the natural world was also imbued with soul. Almost all male initiation rites—including those of Jesus and John the Baptist (see Matthew 3:13-17)—took place in nature, surely for that reason.

Without such recognition and mirroring, we are alienated and separated from ourselves and all of nature. Frankly, we will not know how to love or respect our own soul. Instead, we try various means to get God and people to like or accept us because we never experience radical belonging. We’re trying to say to ourselves and others, “I belong here. I matter.” Of course, you do! But contrived and artificial means will never achieve that divine purpose. We are naturally healed in this world when we know things center to center, subject to subject, and soul to soul.

I think of soul as anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.

Many human beings simply haven’t found their own blueprint or soul, so they cannot see it anywhere else. (Like knows like!) Instead, most religious people are largely conformists. There’s nothing wrong with conformity as such, but when it is only meeting reality at the external level, and we do not meet our own soul, we have no ability to meet the soul of anything else either. We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.

They do have a soul, but it seems to be dormant, disconnected, lacking grounding. They are not aware of the inherent truth, goodness, and beauty shining through everything. If God is as great, glorious, and wonderful as all the religions claim, then wouldn’t you think that such a God would make that wonderfulness available? Such connection and presence is as freely available as the air we breathe and the water we drink. This is surely why John the Baptist moved his initiation rite out of the temple, away from the priestly purity codes (of which he was well aware), and down by the riverside in the wilderness. Jesus “submitted” to this off-beat ritual, which we now call baptism. Yet now baptismal ceremonies are most often held in church buildings, usually disconnected from anything natural except the water itself.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Soul, the Natural World, and What Is (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), MP3 download.

Image credit: Two Crabs (detail), by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Faggionato Fine Arts, London, England.
Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence. —Richard Rohr

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