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Creation as the Body of God

Our relationship with God is connected to our recognition of Earth’s sacredness, what Richard here describes as “the body of God”:

Christians must realize what a muddle we have got ourselves into by not taking incarnation and creation seriously. Theologian Sallie McFague (1933–2019) powerfully described creation as “the body of God” and the place of salvation. She wrote, “Creation as the place of salvation means that the health and well-being of all creatures and parts of creation is what salvation is all about—it is God’s place and our place, the one and only place.” [1]

In the late fourth century, St. Augustine, recognized by both East and West as a Doctor of the Church, said that “the church consists in the state of communion of the whole world.” [2] When we are in right relationship—we might say “in love”—there is the Christ, the Body of God, and there is the church. But Christians sadly whittled that Great Mystery down into something small, exclusive, and manageable. The church became a Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant private club, one not necessarily formed by people who were “in communion” with anything else, and only rarely with the natural world, with non-Christians, or even with other Christians outside their own denomination.

Our very suffering now, our condensed presence on this common nest that we have largely fouled, will soon be the one thing that we finally share in common. It might well be the one thing that will bring us together politically and religiously. The earth and its life systems, on which we all entirely depend might soon become the very things that will convert us to a simple lifestyle, to necessary community, and to an inherent and universal sense of reverence for the Holy. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. There are no Jewish, Christian, or Muslim versions of these universal elements. All water is “holy water” even before the benefit of a priest’s waved hand. It is always and everywhere two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, and voilà—we have the absolute miracle of liquid water, absolutely necessary for all that lives.

This earth indeed is the very Body of God, and it is from this body that we are born, live, suffer, and resurrect to eternal life. Either all is God’s Great Project, or we may rightly wonder whether anything is.

As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes:

The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong. The world is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. . . .

It is this wholeness that is calling to us now, that needs our response. It needs us to return to our own root and rootedness: our relationship to the sacred within creation. Only from the place of sacred wholeness and reverence can we begin the work of healing, of bringing the world back into balance. [3]

References:

[1] Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 182.

[2] Augustine, De Unitate Ecclesiae (On the Unity of the Church), 20.56.

[3] Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, “Introduction,” in Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, 2nd ed. (Point Reyes, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 2013, 2016), v, vi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Creation as the Body of God,” Radical Grace 23, no. 2 (April–June 2010): 3, 22.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

It is easy in these times to see the world as evil, angry, selfish, and violent—so much hate. But those are the loud voices. The quiet voices go softly about the world doing good whenever and where ever they can. They are the Christ light in the world. Many small candles can light up the darkness.
—Kathleen B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Part of Nature

Writer Sophfronia Scott has journeyed and “conversed” with the writings of Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968) for many years. Here she contemplates what we can learn from Merton’s deep connection to God, particularly through nature:

Merton found somehow beneath the branches, on the sides of the hills, in all of nature a sense of transcendence. . . . To me, this is . . . about an awareness, perhaps even a fine tuning. I’m not sure there are even proper words for what I’m trying to describe. It looks like a complete oneness with all of creation. Since my baptism in 2011 in the Episcopal Church, I’ve often thought about that oneness and about what belonging to Christ means. . . .

How can we use nature to cultivate an awareness of God? How do we enter a space of reverence, where there are no walls and no ceilings and yet where we find a room we share with Creator Spirit? Merton had pondered this as well that first day walking in the forest: “And I thought: if we only knew how to use this space and this area of sky and these free woods.” [1] [2]

Considering his reflections on that pivotal day and then how he lived and wrote afterward, I think the answer to this cultivation question comes in three pieces. He began by going out every day and walking the earth in a sacred manner—meaning reverently, with his whole being open to the feel of the earth underneath him and of the air around him. Merton often walked barefoot so that he could better appreciate connecting with the ground. The second piece involved an ongoing acknowledgment of the weather. The third seemed to be about learning all he could about the “rooms” of his outdoor home, including the names of the flowers and trees that furnished it and the birds and animals who resided there. The assembled wisdom of these pieces brought Merton to the unity of creation and his place in it: “How absolutely central is the truth that we are first of all part of nature, though we are a very special part, that which is conscious of God. In solitude, one is entirely surrounded by beings which perfectly obey God.” [3] [4]

Another 20th-century contemplative who experienced the unity of God’s presence through nature was Howard Thurman. He reflected:

The earth beneath my feet is the great womb out of which the life upon which my body depends comes in utter abundance. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousandfold in newness of life. The magic of wind, sun and rain creates a climate that nourishes every living thing. It is law, and more than law; it is order, and more than order—there is a brooding tenderness out of which it all comes. In the contemplation of the earth, I know that I am surrounded by the love of God. [5]

References:

[1] Sophfronia Scott, The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 52, 53. As a cloistered monk, Merton had been limited to the monastery and its enclosed outdoor spaces. However, he was given permission in 1949 to go out beyond the monastery walls. Scott writes, “On that day, his writing and his spirituality changed forever.”

[2] Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and Writer, ed. Jonathan Montaldo (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), 329.

[3] Scott, The Seeker and the Monk, 53–54.

[4] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1966), 268–269.

[5] Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), 210–211.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

It is easy in these times to see the world as evil, angry, selfish, and violent—so much hate. But those are the loud voices. The quiet voices go softly about the world doing good whenever and where ever they can. They are the Christ light in the world. Many small candles can light up the darkness.
—Kathleen B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Everything Is Connected

Richard recalls a nature documentary [1] that he watched which revealed the perils and promises of our connected universe:

The world of ecology is so exciting because we’re recognizing from all of the scientific disciplines that the entire nature of the biological and physical universe is absolutely relational. We’ve discovered that when we change one factor, everything changes. I was watching a show on birds recently, and I learned about red knots that migrate annually all the way from Tierra del Fuego to certain Arctic islands north of Hudson Bay. Thousands of miles! I said to myself, “Wouldn’t they be happier if they did not do that every year?” But no, this is their destiny, to fly north some 9,000 miles each season. They stop in the middle of their journey on particular beaches along the Delaware Bay. There they always ate the recently-laid, protein-rich eggs of horseshoe crabs. Those eggs would give them enough energy to get all the way to the Arctic.

Well, we good Americans decided that horseshoe crabs were sort of ugly and not very useful for many things, but they do make excellent bait and attract eels and conch in great numbers. So we started using them for fish bait and killing these crabs indiscriminately. It took about ten years to recognize that the beautiful red knot might soon be extinct! So researchers observed and studied, and they found multiple possible answers, such as climate change, along with coastal development. But you have probably guessed one of the main reasons: we were killing the shorebirds’ life source. As soon as horseshoe crabs were more protected against use as bait, we saw a return of the lovely little red knot. The birds again had available protein they could eat on the shores of New Jersey and make it all the way to the Arctic. But it’s going to take, apparently, several decades for them to be fully restored.

Now this example might seem like such a simple, unimportant thing. And yet a spiritual seer, one we would call a mystic, would recognize that God did not create horseshoe crabs or red knots for no reason. They are a part of the entire ecology or spiritual plan. I just offer this as one little example of the ecologically-interconnected and interpenetrating world that we’re all a part of. But we have to be curious to see it!

This is a differently-shaped universe than many of us thought—and leads to a very differently-shaped spirituality. As Bill Plotkin says, spirituality becomes a “sinking back into the source of everything.” [2] We’re already there, but we haven’t been trained to see ourselves there. This is in fact the “new cosmology” through which we have to be retrained to see the world. Suddenly we realize, of course, that God is not “out there,” but God is in all, through all, and with all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

References:

[1] Allison Argo, “Crash: A Tale of Two Species,” Nature, season 26, episode 7 (New York: Thirteen/WNET, 2008).

[2] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), 45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

I have had trouble coping with my anger. I let little things that come into my life irritate me. My Daily Meditations practice has given me new ways to improve negativity. Experiencing the peace and love of God and the oneness of everything, I am able to cope with this anger. I come away with a new perspective on my life through meditation.
—Phillip P.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

We Are the Earth

Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes our inherent connection to the Earth and how that understanding can shift our behavior:

At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet. But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth. We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.

Realizing this, we can see that the Earth is truly alive. We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet. Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth. We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently. We will fall completely in love with the Earth. When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love. We do whatever we can for them and this brings us great joy and nourishment. That is the relationship each of us can have with the Earth. That is the relationship each of us must have with the Earth if the Earth is to survive, and if we are to survive as well.

If we think about the Earth as just the environment around us, we experience ourselves and the Earth as separate entities. We may see the planet only in terms of what it can do for us. We need to recognize that the planet and the people on it are ultimately one and the same. . . .

Hanh recognizes that our false notion of separateness from the Earth not only creates physical harm but emotional harm as well:

A lot of our fear, hatred, anger, and feelings of separation and alienation come from the idea that we are separate from the planet. We see ourselves as the center of the universe and are concerned primarily with our own personal survival. If we care about the health and well-being of the planet, we do so for our own sake. We want the air to be clean enough for us to breathe. We want the water to be clear enough so that we have something to drink. But we need to do more than use recycled products or donate money to environmental groups. We have to change our whole relationship with the Earth.

Reference:

Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2013), 8–9, 10.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

I have had trouble coping with my anger. I let little things that come into my life irritate me. My Daily Meditations practice has given me new ways to improve negativity. Experiencing the peace and love of God and the oneness of everything, I am able to cope with this anger. I come away with a new perspective on my life through meditation.
—Phillip P.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Restoring Relationships

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In his 1967 Christmas sermon on peace and nonviolence, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stressed the interrelatedness of Earth, nations, and all life:

Now, let me suggest first that, if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. . . . We must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. . . .

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. [1]

Writer Victoria Loorz, co-founder of the “Wild Church Network,” believes religion’s true purpose is to restore our relationships with each other and the earth:

The word religion, at its roots, means re, “again,” and ligios, “connection,” like ligaments. Religion is meant to offer us support to connect again what has been separated. Apparently we need constant reminders to continually reconnect with the fullness of life, the whole, the holy. What we’ve created is more like disligion: disconnection from people and species unlike us. When religion loses its purpose and colludes with the forces of separation instead, it becomes irrelevant and even irreverent. . . .

Loorz seeks to encourage people towards deeper love by encountering the Holy outdoors:

The new story is emerging, and I cannot pretend to know all the layers. Yet one aspect that seems essential relates to the worldview of belonging—a way of being human that acts as if we belong to a community larger than our own family, race, class, and culture, and larger even than our own species. The apocalyptic unveiling happening in our world right now makes it difficult even for those who have been sheltered in privilege to look away from the reality, both tragic and beautiful, that we are all deeply interconnected. Humans, trees, oceans, deer, viruses, bees. God.

Many people, whether they go to church regularly or avoid it, feel closest to God while they are in nature. Even a simple gaze at a full moon can be a spiritual experience if you are mindful enough. And a glorious sunset can summon hallelujahs from deep in your soul. Humans are made to engage in life-affirming conversation with the whole, holy web of life. . . .

Mystical experience in nature—those moments when you sense your interconnection with all things—are more than just interesting encounters. They are invitations into relationship. Beyond caring for creation or stewarding Earth’s “resources,” it is entering into an actual relationship with particular places and beings of the living world that can provide an embodied, rooted foundation for transformation. The global shift necessary to actually survive the crises we’ve created depends on a deep inner change. [2]

References:

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” in The Trumpet of Conscience (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 70, 71.

[2] Adapted from Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 19–20, 21.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

The necessity of relationship and connection resonates with me as truth. I’ve been struck in times of crisis by the power of one person to lift up. I was brought to tears in a busy store by the checkout person’s kindness and empathy as I struggled to unload heavy items. She gently did it herself, even though it wasn’t her job. She was Christ in that moment.
—Jo S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Dynamic Unity

For Father Richard Rohr, the Universal Christ reveals a united and connected universe full of God’s presence:

Please do not think me a heretic, but it is formally incorrect to say “Jesus is God,” as most Christians glibly do. For Christians, the Trinity is God, and Jesus is a third something—the union of “very God” with “very human.” This dynamic unity makes Jesus the Exemplar, pledge, and guarantee, the “pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Recognizing this means there is much less need to “prove” that Jesus is God (which of itself asks nothing of us). Our true and deep need is to experience the same unitive mystery in ourselves and in all of creation—“through him, and with him, and in him” as we pray in the Great Amen of the Eucharist. This is how Jesus “saves” us and what salvation finally means. The spiritual and the material are one.

There were clear statements in the New Testament about the cosmic meaning to Christ [1], and the communities taught by Paul and John were initially overwhelmed by this message. In the early Christian era, only some few Eastern Fathers (such as Origen of Alexandria and Maximus the Confessor) cared to notice that the Christ was clearly something older, larger, and different than Jesus himself. They mystically saw that Jesus is the union of human and divine in space and time, and the Christ is the eternal union of matter and Spirit beyond time. But the later centuries tended to lose this mystical element in favor of dualistic Christianity. We lost our foundational paradigm for connecting all opposites.

Since we could not overcome the split between the spiritual and the material within ourselves, how could we then possibly overcome it for the rest of creation? The polluted earth, extinct and endangered species, tortured animals, nonstop wars, and constant religious conflicts have been the result. Yet Jesus the Christ has still planted within creation a cosmic hope, and we cannot help but see it in so many unexplainable and wonderful events and people.

For some Christians, the split is overcome in the person of Jesus. But for more and more people, union with the divine is first experienced through “the Universal Christ”—in nature, in moments of pure love, silence, inner or outer music, with animals, or a primal sense of awe. Why? Because creation itself is the first incarnation of Christ, the primary and foundational “Bible” that reveals the path to God.

Our encounter with the eternal Christ mystery started about 13.8 billion years ago in an event we now call the “Big Bang.” God has overflowed into visible Reality and revealed God’s self in trilobites, giant flightless birds, jellyfish, pterodactyls, and thousands of species that humans have never once seen. But God did.  And that was already more than enough meaning and glory.

References:

[1] See Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, John 1, 1 John 1, and Hebrews 1:1–4; note all are in the first chapters!

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 220–224.

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 7-9 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: We often look up to appreciate the universe, but this massive universe is not only above us. It’s also under us, around us, and in us. It connects us all—stars, palm plants, grasses, humans and turtles alike.

Story from Our Community:

The necessity of relationship and connection resonates with me as truth. I’ve been struck in times of crisis by the power of one person to lift up. I was brought to tears in a busy store by the checkout person’s kindness and empathy as I struggled to unload heavy items. She gently did it herself, even though it wasn’t her job. She was Christ in that moment.
—Jo S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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