We are celebrating creation during September and until October 4, feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the great lover of creation. My book Voices, God Speaking in Creation has a prologue that is quite appropriate for this month, so I’m reprinting it here this week:
I said to the almond tree, “Sister, speak to me of God.”
And the almond tree blossomed.
~ Nikos Kazantzakis
Creations mirror their creators. A song reflects the composer; a painting, the artist; a book, the author. In the same way, the universe, the masterpiece of the supreme Creator, reveals God. Its variety, its intricacy, and its magnitude attest to God’s wisdom and power. Pope Francis notes in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that St. Francis “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” (par. 12). Every created thing is an epiphany, echoing some aspect of the divine Being.
To behold a snow-topped mountain, its massive rocky slopes jutting boldly into the sky, is to know God’s majesty. To sit at the foot of a waterfall and watch its refreshing rush of water cascade into a deep, limpid pool is to see God’s purity. To stroll through woods of lovely ferns, mosses, and lofty trees is to be enveloped with the peace and serenity of God. The fragile daisy with its velvety white petals and bright yellow center tells of the Creator’s gentleness, while the shimmering, iridescent rainbow arched across purple-gray clouds bespeaks his beauty. A newborn baby is evidence of God’s tenderness. Fire is a reminder of the energy of God’s love. A monkey shows God’s sense of humor, and a giraffe, his unpredictability.
The psalmist, who is thought to be King David, an ancestor of Jesus, is attuned to the speechless voices of the universe. He sings of the sun, moon, and stars in this manner:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, a fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople and a Doctor of the Church, echoes this concept in a hymn:
All things proclaim you—
things that can speak, and those that can not . . . .
All things breathe you a prayer,
a silent hymn of your own composing.
In the same tradition, St. Francis of Assisi, that lover of nature, expresses the following prayer in his joyous paean “Canticle of the Sun”:
Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures
especially to my Brother Sun,
Who brings us the day and through him Thou dost
And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great.
Of Thee Most High, he speaks.
More recently, in the writings of French theologian and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., the notion that all creation manifests the Creator appears like a mighty refrain, especially in his beautiful book The Divine Milieu: “[T]he great mystery of Christianity is not exactly the appearance, but the transparence, of God in the universe.”
Physical things are important to us. Partly spiritual, partly material beings, we live and work out our destiny in the realm of matter. How we use it and how we abuse it determine our eternity. We are free to expend and ravage the material universe for our own power and pleasure, or we can share it. We can let it go to ruin, or we can show concern for it. We can regard the world as just the lucky result of a coincidental combination of chemicals eons ago, or we can cherish it as the love-gift of a personal God who cares about us. The latter point of view opens for us the possibility of finding material objects a source of prayer.
The Word took on flesh and lived with us among color, hardness, roughness, scent, wetness, and warmth. The Son of God reveled in the things of Earth, the handiwork of his Father. Jesus saw that they were good—so good that he redeemed them along with us at the price of his life. Furthermore, he assigned them prominent roles in the act of redemption. During his public life, Jesus often incorporated concrete objects in his teaching. His audiovisuals were the birds of the air, the bread women baked, the Temple in Jerusalem, a Roman coin, and the roadside fig tree. Today, from the dimension where he dwells, Jesus reaches out in the sacraments and touches us with things: water, bread, wine, and oil. Matter has been christened by his presence.
In particular, objects associated with Christ in the Gospels hold much potential for stimulating meditation. Each chapter of this book is a patchwork quilt of reflections on one of these things. Some topics, like the manger and the crown of thorns, are familiar. Others, like the turtledoves and the water jar of the Samaritan woman, are obscure, not notable. All become meaningful when considered with faith and love; all convey messages about relevant themes today, such as hospitality, co-creation, peace and justice, reconciliation, and respect for life.
May these pages and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit draw the reader to Scripture, to prayer, and to Jesus so that he or she too may proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the workings of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves.”
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (par. 233)
1. On beholding the starry night sky, the composer of Psalm 8 was awestruck. The sight lifted his mind and heart to the Creator. What feature in God’s creation prompts you to think of him and pray? You might compose your own psalm using that feature as a springboard.
Where is your favorite place to pray—where you can ponder God and listen to him
speak to your heart? Where on Earth did Jesus pray?