Being in harmony with creation
This issue of Episcopal Life, with a focus on the environment, invites us to reflect upon the mystery of God’s Trinitarian life in relationship to the wonder of creation.
A much-loved saint associated with the natural world around us is Francis of Assisi. Francis is the author of a text known as the Canticle of the Sun, which expresses an enthusiastic thanksgiving for the world around us and is also a profound theological statement about creation and our place in it.
“Praised be you most high good Lord with all your creatures especially Sir Brother Sun… Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon… through Brother Wind…through Sister Water, through Brother Fire… through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”
Clearly Francis’ inspiration came in part from the psalms, which he would have recited in the course of the daily office. He also would have been familiar with the canticle found in our own prayer book that begins, “Glorify the Lord, all your works of the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him forever.” What is unprecedented in Francis’ canticle is that he refers to sun and moon, wind and water, fire and earth as brother and sister, thereby establishing an intimate, and affectionate, relationship between humankind and all created things.
The canticle situates humankind within creation as sister or brother to all created things and never in a position of domination. This radical reordering of humankind’s relationship to creation flowed from a profound sense that sun and moon, earth and all creatures, colored flowers and herbs are all revelatory of God and God’s goodness. Everything speaks of God and praises God in fulfilling its own nature and function in the vast web of relationships and interdependencies that constitute creation – us included. This relationship of mutuality and respect and affection reflects God’s own love of the world God created.
This sense of being in harmony with creation is very much part of how native peoples understand themselves and is reflected in the Navajo Blessing Way Prayer:
In beauty may I walk. All day long may I walk. Through the returning seasons may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk. With dew about my feet may I walk. With beauty may I walk. With beauty before me, may I walk. With beauty behind me, may I walk. With beauty above me, may I walk. With beauty below me, may I walk. With beauty all around me, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk. It is finished in beauty. It is finished in beauty.
I wonder what would happen if we said this prayer as we walked through life. What would we see differently or perhaps for the first time? How might a new consciousness – a new sense of relationship – brotherhood or sisterhood with creation – move us to a stance of respect and even affection for “this fragile earth our island home” and call us to deeds of healing and reordered relationship? Would we then be mindful that a break in that relationship opens the way for our misuse and violation of creation?
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul comes at the reciprocal relationship between humankind and creation from a different perspective. He speaks not of mutual blessing leading to a song of praise but of bondage leading to inward groaning and cries of pain.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God … creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
These words make clear the indissoluble link between the children of God, which is all of us, and creation. The future and well being – redemption – of one is bound up with the future and well being of the other. The bondage of the one is reflected in the bondage of the other.
Put another way, the spirit of ingratitude that occludes one’s ability to see God’s “hand at work in the world around us” leads to a relationship with creation that is characterized by domination, disrespect and misuse. Our blind ingratitude throws us off balance, creates disharmony and makes us unable to walk any longer on a trail of beauty. Our relationship to creation reveals the disposition of our souls and says a tremendous amount about whether we are children of light or children of darkness.
Our focus on the environment moves us not simply to admire and rejoice in the beauty that surrounds us, but also to recover and renew our gratitude and reverence for the wonder of creation of which we ourselves are a part. In so doing, may we indeed be faithful stewards of the world God has given into our care.