Look reflectively at this picture of the heavens. Marvel at the technology that makes such a photo possible and even more at the universe itself. Recent developments in all branches of science can leave us breathless as we realize the ever-expanding magnitude of creation. Let your imagination marvel in wonder at God’s creation and at our human ingenuity.
“O gracious God, open our hearts and our eyes to the wonder of your presence among us. May we see the signs of your beauty within and around us. Help us to reach beyond ourselves and to give thanks for all of your creation: peoples of every nation, animals of every species, all forms of vegetation, the planets, stars, and galaxies. We pray this in union with the Incarnate Word of God.”
As far back as the fifth century St. Augustine wondered at the immensity and beauty of the natural wonders. He observed: “I asked the earth, the sea and the deeps, heaven, the sun, the moon and the stars….My questioning of them was my contemplation, and their answer was their beauty” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, X, vi).
Sixteen centuries after Augustine the Earth Charter (approved in 2000 by UNESCO) challenges us to respect and care for the community of life. In the second paragraph of the Preamble we are reminded: “Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the condition essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.”
Perhaps you don’t know all the intricacies of modern science or contemplate beauty as deeply as Augustine did. But you can find God in nature. You know that God is everywhere. You can find God when you are surrounded by the beauty of nature–whether looking at a glacier in Alaska, standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or when you stand by a lake shore or in a woods or in your own backyard.
Reflect on how these places give you an incentive to pray, experiencing God’s presence:
God frequently speaks to us through nature. Growing in appreciation of the wonder of the natural environment can help you to deepen your spirituality.
For the people of the Bible God was in the mountains and the desert, in the cool breeze and in the storms. The age-old prayers that are the psalms show how the Israelites were constantly aware of God’s creation. They wondered at God’s works and gave praise. The nature imagery used in the psalms describes the world as they knew it.
The poetic prayers of the psalms can help you to be more contemplative as you grow in knowing, loving, and experiencing God in creation. Take time to look up and pray some of these psalms. For instance, Psalm 8 begins with these lines: “O, Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name over all the earth! You have exalted your majesty above the heavens….”
Psalm 84 opens with these words: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!”
In Psalm 148 the psalmist asks all of creation to join in praising God: “Praise the Lord from the heavens….”
Now it is your turn to praise. In the next few days try to find God in all that you see. Spirituality today calls for a new relationship with the whole of creation, not dominating or ruling over the earth but recognizing the dignity and rights of all species. In treating all creation with reverence and respect you can acknowledge your connection with everything in the universe.
This ecological consciousness can help you to appreciate the wonders of the natural environment and to recognize the interrelatedness of all things. Ecological spirituality teaches that the goods of the earth exist for all people. Learning to become increasingly aware of its sacredness is a matter for prayer and action.
Gerard Manley Hopkins in his beautiful and challenging poem, “God’s Grandeur,” captures a sense of ecological urgency. He begins with this line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and then shows how human beings have “bleared,” “smeared,” and smudged their world. But the final verse shines with a hopeful spirituality:
“And for all this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
When you consider God’s creation with eyes of faith, you can see signs of grace everywhere. Sacramentality isn’t limited to the traditional seven sacraments but to anything that raises our hearts and minds to God.
How do you see a concern for the environment as part of your spirituality? What do you do to keep your part of the universe healthy for future generations?
Now turn to the next part of this retreat. Part 3: Finding God in Daily Life at Home.