This blog post was written by Rachel Field, a student in the Master of Divinity Program at Berkeley Divinity School, Yale University.
“How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures.”
Psalm 104 vv. 24
The scientific and political attention to the current climate crisis has brought a great deal of attention to the earth and specifically to our human relationship with the earth. For Christians this opens up a variety of questions and challenges. The central challenge that this issue has raised is in how we as Christians, with our Scriptures, Sacraments, and understanding of a world Created by a Triune God understand ourselves and this magnificent world?
I can remember the first time that I held a bird. It was the summer of 2009 and I visited a bird research station on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with a college class. The scientists showed us around the station, and commented on how birds were captured, handled, and released gently and with extreme care for them as wild creatures. Song sparrows are fairly drab and common birds, but when I opened my hand and the scientists placed such a little being there I felt the life pulsing underneath the miraculous feathers and I knew that I was holding both a tiny common brown bird and encountering the eternal mystery that sustains and creates all things. How could such a thing exist much less take to the skies?
I imagine this feeling is behind the moving text by naturalist Aldo Leopold who describes hunting and killing a wolf in his essay Thinking Like a Mountain. He watches her die and sees her eyes dim and the “green fire” of her essence, the mystery of the universe, recede as she died. From that encounter Leopold turned his life from hunting and exploiting the creatures and landscapes around him to serving and protecting those creatures and ecosystems.
As Christians, I believe that these encounters with wild things can inform our spiritual practice and intensify our connection to the Divine. Meditating on the beauty and complexity of the creatures of the world, the changing of the seasons, the slow ebbing of the tides, point us to the source of all that is, which is the Source of life and being. In scriptures God is praised as the force that shaped the waters, the earth, the stars, the creatures, and human beings. Wild creatures, landscapes, and even our domestic animals, have a unique way of bringing us into relation with that which is both intimate and infinite. Often times we believe that we need to search outside the Christian tradition to find ways of connecting with the Divine through contemplation of nature; however, Scriptures consistently point to the Creation as showing the glory of God. The Psalmist sings praises to the Divine, God answers Job in a whirlwind and shows him the marvels of the Created world, and Jesus himself promises to be present to us in humble grains and grapes.
In our ongoing commitment to follow Christ and deepen our relationship with the Divine, we have a wonderful resource and companion in the other members of Creation and in the land itself. Contemplation of nature as a second source of revelation (the other being Scripture) is an old and core practice in the Church. From Saint Francis to Saint Julian of Norwich, we have wrestled with God as reflected in the created world, and we each are invited to do the same today. Whether it’s writing songs of praise to God as “Brother Sun” or contemplating the infinity of existence in something as small as a hazelnut, if we open our eyes to the unfolding and constantly changing beauty of Creation we can behold the hem of the Divine garment and, with God’s grace, turn ourselves fully to God’s creating Presence.