By Christian Williams
“…If nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.” -C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Before we reflect on how we find God in nature, we must first think about what we are aspiring toward here on earth, and that is contemplative prayer. A wise book of words once noted, “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. ‘I look at him and he looks at me’” (CCC 2715) Here, I will be talking about how nature can draw us to see Jesus in a deeper and more intimate way. I’ve come to view our creation as a letter, written to me and to you, in which God can say to us, “Come—my son, my daughter, my beloved, and see what I have created for you—delight in it, and in Me.”
Pope Francis speaks of creation in this way in his encyclical Laudato Si’, which references St. Francis calling upon all of creation to sing praise to God. I will quote him at length below, because he is eloquent and holy and I’m an inarticulate schlep by comparison.
“Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20).
The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.
God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe”. The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine”. The bishops of Japan, for their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. We can say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”. Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”.” (LS, 12, 84-85)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, (Peb for short), quoted Plato (old wise dude for you engineers) as saying, “The beautiful wounds, which is exactly how it summons man to his final destiny.” When we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature and be attentive to what is going on in our soul, we find that we have a longing for even greater beauty. No one ever said, “That sunset was all I ever wanted to see.” We always want one that’s a little brighter, a little longer, a little more picturesque. The beauty in nature awakens in us the desire for Infinite Beauty, Jesus Christ Himself. That longing for Him, the desire for His love and presence, wounds us, because we do not know Him and accept His love as He wants and because we cannot yet see Him face-to-face.
Finally, a word on the practicalities of finding God in nature. First, we must leave technology behind. Yes, our beloved phones, and usually even our cameras if we want to be fully present. Second, we must embrace the mindset of a child, that each thing is beautiful, significant, and something worthy of beholding. Finally, we must be at peace. Rushing, stressing over schoolwork, trying to use time in nature to check boxes off of our to-do lists like the rabid, foaming-espresso-at-the-mouth college students that we can be (e.g. this counts for my exercise box, my social box, & my relaxation box [if that even exists]), will leave us aware of ourselves but not of God.
I hope that this reflection bears fruit in our pursuit of our Father’s heart. If anything here strikes you, I’d encourage you to write it on paper, take it outdoors, and mull over it.
As I sit on a coarse, cold ledge, my soul sits still within me. Peace pervades, for I see in His creation His beauty, and I know I am loved.
Christian is senior studying Psychology and will be serving as a FOCUS missionary after graduation. He loves the outdoors and is always up for a hike.
LS: Laudato Si’ http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
CCC: Catetchism of the Catholic Church: Expressions of Prayer: Contemplative Prayer http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s1c3a1.htm
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: MESSAGE OF HIS EMINENCE CARD. JOSEPH RATZINGER
TO THE COMMUNION AND LIBERATION (CL) MEETING AT RIMINI (24-30 AUGUST 2002) “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty” http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020824_ratzinger-cl-rimini_en.html