WISDOM: Nature by Joan Chittister

Nature by Joan Chittister

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light

A philosopher asked Saint Anthony: “Father, how can you be enthusiastic when the comfort of books has been taken away from you?”  And Anthony replied: “My book, O Philosopher, is the nature of created things, and whenever I want to read the word of God, it is right in front of me.”



here is God?” the catechism asked.  “God is everywhere,” the catechism answered.  The answer is often ignored, but the answer, if God is really God, is certainly true.  God is the stuff of the universe.  In everything created resides the energy, the life, the image, the nature of the creator.

To know the creator, it is only necessary to study creation.  The source of life is Life.  The obvious is almost too simple to be believed: All life contains the secrets of Life.  “In this acorn,” the mystic Julian of Norwich said, “is everything there is.”  Nature, all of it, is the mirror of the Ultimate, the resting place of the God of life, the presence of the power of God.

Western religious tradition, unfortunately, in its intent to present God as a personal God, has inadvertently reduced God to a figure isolated and separate from creation, so other than ourselves, that there is nothing of God in us.  Our notion of God is God the great Engineer of the universe, who created spirit and matter, spun them into space, and left one to vie with the other.  Spirit, this tradition teaches, is the apotheosis of holiness; matter, on the other hand, is corruptible and corrupting.  On the basis of this kind of thinking, nature is the illegitimate child of creation.

Nature, in a world that separates matter and spirit, exists only to be a kind of stage for human activity, a cornucopia of creature comforts, a wild world over which humanity was given “dominion” and through which God could finally be achieved only when matter was sloughed off.  On such a strange scientific as well as spiritual foundation rests the justification for slavery, the rape of the Earth, the wanton destruction of animals for “research,” the validation for plundering the rain forests, burning holes in the ozone layer, and turning oceans into cesspools.  But the contemplative knows a sin against nature is a sin against life.

It’s a pitiable, and extremely limited, posture, this notion that matter is evil and spirit is good and the two are definitively separated.  It reduces the Godhead itself to a thing, a creator separate from the creation that emanates from the very life energy that is God.  It ignores the unlimited promise of life.  It ignores the message of God who calls to us everywhere.  It fails to understand that all of nature can exist without humanity but that humanity, with all its “dominion,” cannot exist without the rest of nature.  It ignores the oneness of life, the Oneness of God.

The contemplative knows better.  The contemplative sees everywhere the One from whose life all life comes.  All of life, the contemplative knows, reflects the face of God.  To live with nature as an enemy is to fail life.  To walk through nature as its dictator is to wrench the balance of life.  To fail to see the voice of God in the balance of nature, the beauty of nature, the struggles of nature is to go through life blind of heart and deaf of soul.

To be a contemplative it is necessary to walk through nature softly, to be in tune with the rhythm of life, to learn from the cycles of time, to listen to the heartbeat of the universe, to love nature, to protect nature, and to discover in nature the presence and the power of God.  To be a contemplative it is necessary to grow a plant, love an animal, walk in the rain, and profess our consciousness of God into a lifetime of pulsating seasons.

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