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Theme:
The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Contemplative Call to Nature

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Week Sixteen Summary and Practice

Sunday, April 18—Friday, April 23, 2021

Sunday
The core message of the incarnation of God in Jesus is that the Divine Presence is here, in us and in all of creation, and not only “over there” in some far-off realm.

Monday
Everything in creation is the infinite self-emptying of God, and as such has inherent dignity and deserves respect and appreciation.

Tuesday
Our prayer may be noisy and expressive, or it may be very quiet. It may be the kind of prayer that depends on listening in stillness and silence with complete attention: listening to the crickets as they pulse at night, listening to the rain as it falls, listening to our breath as we breathe God in and breathe God out, listening to the inner voice of love that is always sounding in our heart. —Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

Wednesday
One of the fruits of contemplative practice is the remembrance of our wholeness; we are able to see past the divisions we create with our egos and minds and to rediscover the truth that we are all one creation. —Christine Valters Paintner

Thursday
The Indigenous view recognizes the land as kin, as part of the lineage of life that we are all connected to. Thus, we have an obligation to care for the land in the same way we would care for our human relatives. —Sherri Mitchell

Friday
Through her Work That Reconnects, teacher Joanna Macy invites us to find a wider sense of identity as unique and integral parts of the living body of Earth and to join with others in service to life.

 

Contemplative Walking

Christine Valters Paintner describes the ancient and accessible contemplative practice of walking or moving slowly through the natural world as a way of connecting with God. This is clearly the “road not taken” by too many of us in the modern world, even though it shaped and sustained the faith of our ancestors for millennia. If you find it difficult to sustain a practice of seated meditation, I encourage you to begin by moving outdoors.

In [the contemplative] path we cultivate intimacy with Earth and her creatures, and we allow ourselves to fall in love with nature. It is one of my deepest beliefs that we will not be able to address the environmental crisis we currently face without this intimacy, without learning how to cherish nature, without love.

I encourage you to make time each day to be outside. One of the ways to do this is to go on a contemplative walk with an intentional and reverential heart.

There is something about getting our bodies out into the world, in close contact with trees, bushes, flowers, squirrels, pigeons, and crows, that can invigorate us and offer us new perspective on life. In the book of Jeremiah, God asks, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). These walks are times to really experience that truth.

Contemplative walking does not necessarily mean walking slowly, although at its heart it is not a rushed activity. When we walk contemplatively, we give ourselves over to the experience. This is not walking for fitness. It is walking to immerse ourselves in an encounter with whatever is calling us in the moment.

As you begin a contemplative walk, allow a few moments simply to breathe and connect to your heart. Set an intention for this time to be as present as you can to what is happening both within and without. Begin walking, but see if you can release any expectations or destination. As you walk, imagine that with each step your feet are both blessing the ground and being blessed by it. Let your breath be long and slow. Bring your awareness to the earth monastery all around you.

Notice what draws your attention. Look for what shimmers or what the Japanese poet Basho called “a glimpse of the underglimmer.” Listen for the sounds of life around you. Even if you are walking through a city, pay attention to the rustle of the breeze, the caw of crows, or any subtle elements of creation singing their song.

Pause regularly simply to receive this gift. Breathe it in. Let it have some space in your heart. Then continue on until something else causes you to stop.

This is the whole of the practice: simply [moving], listening, and pausing. We practice presence so that we might cultivate our ability to really hear the voice of nature speaking to us. This sounds simple, and yet we so rarely make the time to develop this skill.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Christine Valters Paintner, Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature (Sorin Books: 2020), xvii, xiv–xv.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Work That Reconnects
Friday, April 23, 2021

A few years ago, some members of our CAC community and I were blessed to be able to spend a week at Ghost Ranch with Joanna Macy. Joanna is a brilliant Buddhist teacher, a systems thinker, deep ecologist, and activist for peace, justice, and a healthy environment, and she led us in what she calls the Work That Reconnects. Joanna (now in her 90s) is a true elder, a woman who has dedicated her life to what she and others call The Great Turning from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society. She sees us in the middle of The Great Unraveling, what I might call an “unveiling,” which “draws attention to the disasters that Business As Usual has caused and continues to create.” [1] Ecologist Stephan Harding writes:

The Work That Reconnects is conceptualized as a spiral that maps the journey to Gaian consciousness [or deep connection with the living Earth] in four stages. The first is gratitude, in which we experience our love for life. Next is honoring our pain, in which we learn how to suffer the pain of the world with others and with the world itself. Then, in seeing with new eyes, we experience our connection with life in all its forms through all the ages. Finally, in the last stage we go forth into action in the world as open human beings, aware of our mutual belonging in the web of life, learning through feedback in our social and ecological domains. [2]

Richard here: In their book Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown describe powerful experiential practices that take groups through each stage. I can vouch for their effectiveness! By the end of the week at Ghost Ranch many of us had made discoveries similar to those described here:

What then can we expect to take with us, as we go forth into the world and our individual lives?

  • A heightened awareness of the suffering and dangers besetting our world with a greater respect for our capacity to face them without dodging, denying or numbing out
  • An upsurge of energy as we unblock feedback loops by accepting our pain for the world, reframing it as compassion
  • A wider sense of identity as a unique and integral part of the living body of Earth
  • A growing appreciation for community—with each other, with our brother-sister species, with our ancestors and future generations. We feel supported by them as well as accountable to them
  • A stronger motivation to join with others in service to life; confidence in the power of our solidarity
  • A fresh sense of the diversity of our gifts and of the many interdependent roles to be played in the Great Turning
  • Hence, gratitude for who we are as individuals, with all our personal strengths and limitations—even our wounds—and for our desire to be of use
  • Commitment to goals extending beyond our individual lifetime; liberation from dependence on immediate, measurable results
  • Gladness in being alive now, in this epochal moment on Earth; a sense of the privilege of taking part in the Great Turning [3]

References:
[1] Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work That Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014), 5.

[2] Stephan Harding, “Gaia Consciousness in the Great Turning,” in A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, ed. Stephanie Kaza (Shambhala: 2020), 15–16.

[3] Macy and Brown, Coming Back to Life, 192.

Story from Our Community:
I love how Fr. Richard’s musings link with what is unfolding now. His appreciation of nature and her heart-opening divinity is so nurturing. There is surely evidence of the interwoven cosmos in us and all around us now. Richard coaxes us toward an awareness of how we might mirror that in our daily acts, first in awareness, then perhaps in kindness—making the invisible visible together. —Allie M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

One Life, One Breath
Thursday, April 22, 2021

On this Earth Day, Sherri Mitchell, a Native American attorney and sacred activist for environmental protection and human rights shares two particular terms which offer us some much-needed Indigenous wisdom and compassion.

N’dilnabamuk—“all my relations.” Many people have heard Native people say “all my relations” after speaking or offering prayers. But what does it really mean? All societies organize around some sort of core principle. The core principle for Wabanaki societies is relationship. Our story begins with an understanding that we are related to all beings within creation. The two legged, the four legged, the winged, the beings that crawl and slide along the ground, the plants, the trees, and the living Earth are all our relatives. Everything is interconnected and interdependent; the well-being of the whole determines the well-being of any individual part. We recognize that connection in our prayers, and the understanding that the whole is shifted by every action of each individual. There is one life, one breath that we all breathe. Therefore, when we take any action out in the world, even when we pray for ourselves, we impact all life. This belief forms the foundational understanding [that] weaves through all of our other values. It’s the thread that ties them all together. . . .

Kciye—“Harmony with the natural world”—this teaches us that it is not enough to know that we are part of one living system. We must also take active steps to live in harmony with the rest of creation. This means that we cannot adopt attitudes or beliefs that place us above the natural world. We cannot see ourselves as having dominion over the land, the water, or the animals. We can’t even see ourselves as being stewards of the Earth. We are only keepers of a way of life that is in harmony with the Earth. Every day, we must act in ways that acknowledge that we are part of one living system, a unified whole.

This understanding is very different than the belief that human beings are chosen above all others. That view creates countless distortions that not only elevate [humanity] inappropriately, but also diminish the rest of creation. The world is one unified system. It cannot be separated into fragmented, saleable parts. The Eurocentric view of property ownership requires us to see the land as being disconnected from us. This view separates us from the source of life. The Indigenous view recognizes the land as kin [as did my spiritual father, St. Francis], as part of the lineage of life that we are all connected to. Thus, we have an obligation to care for the land in the same way that we would care for our human relatives. . . .

The only way for us to regain our balance within creation is to once again find our balance with the natural world. Kciye is just a word, but it’s a word that reminds us of our deeper connections and our deeper obligations to life.

Reference:
Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change (North Atlantic Books: 2018), 188, 191–192.

Story from Our Community:
I love how Fr. Richard’s musings link with what is unfolding now. His appreciation of nature and her heart-opening divinity is so nurturing. There is surely evidence of the interwoven cosmos in us and all around us now. Richard coaxes us toward an awareness of how we might mirror that in our daily acts, first in awareness, then perhaps in kindness—making the invisible visible together. —Allie M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Contemplative’s Call to Nature
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The monk here and now is supposed to be living the life of the new creation in which the right relation to all the rest of God’s creatures is fully restored. Hence, Desert Father stories about tame lions and all that jazz. —Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

Poet and author Christine Valters Paintner is an oblate of the Benedictine order, living on the west coast of Ireland. She explains how the contemplative path draws us closer to the truths revealed by nature.

Contemplative practices help to offer an antidote to ways of living that have contributed to the destruction of Earth.

Monastic tradition has its roots in a call to be in intimate connection with nature. The monk’s path was birthed in the forests and deserts, the places of wilderness and other wild edges that reflect an inner reality as well. This call to the edges, which is the monk’s call, is a call to wildness—to that which lies beyond our domesticated, neat, safe, and secure lives. Nature reminds us of the messiness and beauty of things. . . .

Our work as spiritual seekers and contemplatives is to see all of creation as woven together in holiness and to live this truth. In this loving act we begin to knit together that which has been torn; we gather all that has been scattered. Contemplative practice is a way to bring healing presence to the world. . . .

We emerge from the Earth matrix. The structures and rhythms of Earth are not external to our own thriving; rather, we arise from this holy sanctuary. It is vital to our own thriving. Creation as sacred space is the very foundation of our own existence. . . .

Merton’s quote [above] . . . is a keen reminder to everyone longing to experience a contemplative life to live the new creation now, not later or at another time. When we are committed to paying attention to this moment, we nurture our capacity to see the Holy active right here and now. We discover that the “kin-dom” is among us now, and we live as if this were true. Thomas Merton believed that his one job as a monk was to maintain this kind of connection to the natural world, to allow it to be his teacher and guide.

We live in what we might call an age of forgetting. We have forgotten who we are in relation to everything else: the creatures, the plants, the mountains, the forests, the oceans, one another, and even ourselves. With every plastic we discard, with every poison we release on land and in water, with every fossil fuel extracted, we are living in the fog of amnesia. One of the fruits of contemplative practice is the remembrance of our wholeness; we are able to see past the divisions we create with our egos and minds and to rediscover the truth that we are all of one creation. [RR: We might even say the truth is “unveiled” and the world is the better for it!]

Reference:
Christine Valters Paintner, Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature (Sorin Books: 2020), ix, x, xi.

Story from Our Community:
My home is just a mile from a mountain wilderness and since the pandemic began I’ve hiked solo 2-3 times per week. Walking in silence as a hawk circles, slowing down to observe sparkling dew on the grass, feeling the simple joy of my legs carrying me along a path of dirt and rock—these often bring me a deeper connection to the mystery we call God. I come home from these forays into nature feeling more whole, hopeful and human. —Peter L.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

Grieving the Trees
Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Love and grief go hand in hand. Sometimes it is the deep grief we feel during loss that awakens us to the depth and sincerity of our love. As we witness the many ways the earth has been exploited and damaged beyond repair (particularly in our lifetimes), we must grieve and commit to show our love through conscious action. The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas expresses her grief through prayer:

In times like these, our prayer may need to be expressive and embodied, visceral and vocal. How else can we pray with our immense anger and grief? How else can we pray about ecocide, about the death that humanity is unleashing upon Mother Earth and upon ourselves? How else can we break through our inertia and despair, so that we don’t shut down and go numb? . . . .

I’ve taken to praying outdoors. I go outside, feel the good earth beneath my feet and the wind on my face, and I sing to the trees—to oak and beech, hemlock and pines. Making up the words and music as I go along, I sing my grief to the trees that are going down, and my grief for so much more—for what we have lost and are losing, and for what we are likely to lose. I sing my outrage about these beautiful old trees being cut to the roots, their bodies chipped to bits and hauled away to sell. I sing my fury about the predicament we’re in as a species. I sing my protest of the political and corporate powers-that-be that drive forward relentlessly with business as usual, razing forests, drilling for more oil and fracked gas, digging for more coal, expanding pipeline construction, and opening up public lands and waters to endless exploitation, as if Earth were their private business and they were conducting a liquidation sale. I sing out my shame to the trees, my repentance and apology for the part I have played in Earth’s destruction and for the part my ancestors played when they stole land and chopped down the original forests of the Native peoples who lived here. I sing my praise for the beauty of trees and my resolve not to let a day go by that I don’t celebrate the precious living world of which we are so blessedly a part. I’m not finished until I sing my determination to renew action for trees and for all of God’s Creation. . . .

So our prayer may be noisy and expressive, or it may be very quiet. It may be the kind of prayer that depends on listening in stillness and silence with complete attention: listening to the crickets as they pulse at night, listening to the rain as it falls, listening to our breath as we breathe God in and breathe God out, listening to the inner voice of love that is always sounding in our heart. A discipline of contemplative prayer or meditation can set us free from the frantic churn of thoughts and feelings and enable our spirit to rest and roam in a vaster, wilder space.

Reference:
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Love Every Leaf,” in Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, eds. Leah D. Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, (Rowman & Littlefield: 2019), 175, 176–177.

Story from Our Community:
My home is just a mile from a mountain wilderness and since the pandemic began I’ve hiked solo 2-3 times per week. Walking in silence as a hawk circles, slowing down to observe sparkling dew on the grass, feeling the simple joy of my legs carrying me along a path of dirt and rock—these often bring me a deeper connection to the mystery we call God. I come home from these forays into nature feeling more whole, hopeful and human. —Peter L.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Whole Is in the Parts
Monday, April 19, 2021

St. Augustine (354–430) proclaimed in one of his great sermons, “The end will be the one Christ, loving himself.” [1] Paul preceded St. Augustine when he wrote that, in the end, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). They saw creation as coming full circle.

Both Augustine and Paul are pointing out that the Eternal One has come forth and has taken on form and manifestation in the whole of creation: humans, animals, plants, elements, the galaxies, and all the endless forms and faces that have come forth from God. Everything in creation is the infinite self-emptying of God, and as such has inherent dignity and deserves respect and appreciation.

As Christ told Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) when he showed her a small thing the size of a hazelnut nestled in her hand, “It is all that is created.” Julian understood that “Everything that is has its being through the love of God.” [2] Contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber puts it this way: everything is a holon—a part that replicates the whole.

St. Bonaventure (1221–1274) taught that to work up to loving God, start with the easier lesson of loving the very humblest and simplest things, and then move up from there. “Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror, through which we may pass over to God, the Supreme Craftsman,” he wrote. And further, “The Creator’s supreme power, wisdom and benevolence shine forth in created things.” [3]

I encourage you to apply this spiritual insight quite literally. Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people. Love rocks and elements first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. It works. In fact, it might be the only way to love, because how you do anything is how you do everything.

Our job as conscious humans is to awaken early to this innate beauty and goodness in all of creation. Why wait until heaven when we can enjoy the Divine Flow in all of nature now?

Being fully present to the soul of all things allows us to say, “This is good. This is enough. In fact, this is all I need.” We are now situated in the One Loving Gaze that unites all things in universal attraction and appreciation. This is enlightenment and we do not have to sit on a cushion for forty years to recognize and enjoy it. In fact, I can almost guarantee that we will recognize and enjoy it more as we spend more time in the natural world with slow and quiet realization. And then a leap of deep contentment!

References:
[1] Augustine, homily on 1 John 5:1–3, in Augustine: Later Works, ed. and trans. John Burnaby (Westminster Press: 1955), 341.

[2] Julian, Showings, chapter 5, in The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation, Mirabai Starr (Hampton Roads: 2013), 13.

[3] Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, 1.9–10, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 63.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 36–37; and

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2021, 2019), 57.

Story from Our Community:
Raised a Western Christian, I believed in a distant God, keeping track of my behavior. If I was good, I would be with God in heaven. If bad, I would be sent to hell or punished until worthy. As I got older, I believed God was much closer, even closer to me than my breath. Eventually, through the study of Eastern wisdom, I came to see that God incarnate is us and all creation. Western Christianity stays dualistic, but I haven’t. The story of my life has been moving from dualism to unitive, and I am happy and grateful for that movement. — David D.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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The Contemplative Call to Nature

God Is Not Only “Over There”
Sunday, April 18, 2021

The core message of the incarnation of God in Jesus is that the Divine Presence is here, in us and in all of creation, and not only “over there” in some far-off realm.

Indigenous religions largely understand this, as do some scriptures (see Daniel 3:57–82 [1], or Psalms 98, 104, and 148). In Job 12:7–10 and most of Job 38–39, YHWH praises many strange animals and elements for their inherently available wisdom—the “pent-up sea,” the “wild ass,” the “ostrich’s wing”—reminding us humans that we are part of a much greater ecosystem. Creation offers lessons in all directions. “Is it by your wisdom,” God asks Job, and us by extension, “that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings to the south?” (Job 39:26) The obvious answer is no.

God is not bound by our commonly held presumption that humans are the center of everything. Creation did not actually demand or need Jesus (or us, for that matter) to confer additional sacredness upon it. From the first moment of the Big Bang, nature was revealing the glory and goodness of the Divine Presence; it must be seen as a gratuitous gift. Jesus came to live in its midst, and enjoy life in all its natural variations, and thus be our model and exemplar. Jesus is the gift that honored the gift, we might say.

Strangely, many Christians today limit God’s providential care to humans, and very few of them at that. How different we are from Jesus, who extended divine generosity to sparrows, lilies, ravens, donkeys, the grasses of the fields (Luke 12:24, 27–28), and even “the hairs of the head” (Matthew 10:30). No stingy God here! (Although God did neglect the hairs of my head.) But what stinginess on our side made us limit God’s concern—even eternal concern—to just ourselves and our group? And how can we imagine God as caring about us if God does not care about everything else too? If God chooses and doles out care, we are always insecure and unsure whether we are among the lucky recipients. Yet once we become aware of the generous, creative Presence that exists in all things by their very nature, we can honor the Indwelling Spirit as the Inner Source of all dignity and worthiness. Dignity is not doled out to the supposedly worthy. It grounds the inherent worthiness of things in their very nature and existence.

The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in everything. It is to mirror things correctly, deeply, and fully until all things know who they are. A mirror by its nature reflects impartially, equally, effortlessly, spontaneously, and endlessly. It does not produce the image, nor does it filter the image according to its perceptions or preferences. Authentic mirroring can only call forth what is already there.

Reference:
[1] This apocryphal passage is included in Catholic but not in Protestant Bibles.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2021, 2019), 29, 56–57, 59.

Story from Our Community:
Raised a Western Christian, I believed in a distant God, keeping track of my behavior. If I was good, I would be with God in heaven. If bad, I would be sent to hell or punished until worthy. As I got older, I believed God was much closer, even closer to me than my breath. Eventually, through the study of Eastern wisdom, I came to see that God incarnate is us and all creation. Western Christianity stays dualistic, but I haven’t. The story of my life has been moving from dualism to unitive, and I am happy and grateful for that movement. —David D.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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