158. It’s Summertime – Get Out Into Nature for a Theology Lesson!

Field_Hamois_Belgium_Luc_Viatour CROP

Saint John Paul II wrote that “to contemplate creation is to hear a message.” What message? As Pope Francis put it, “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.” For those with eyes to see, he continues, “there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop.”

Have you ever taken Jesus up on his invitation to “consider how the wild flowers grow” (Lk 12:27)? What mystery might he be inviting us into here? In my book Fill These Hearts I write about my priest friend who’s a bit of a mystical botanist. He absolutely loves flowers. I once asked him what the attraction was and he said dumbfoundedly, “Christopher, have you ever seen a flower?” “Of course I ha …” – “No, no, no!  I mean have you ever really seeeen a flower? Why are flowers so beautiful? What is a flower …?”

I hadn’t, really. He simply reminded me what I had learned years ago in high school science: a flower is one of nature’s most beautiful reproductive organs, opened before the loving heat of the sun, so that, to quote the Song of Songs, its fragrance might be “wafted abroad” (Song 4:16). And that luscious fragrance is “wafted abroad” for one purpose: to attract “lovers” (pollinators). Some plants rely on wind or gravity for pollination, but other plants require insects, hummingbirds, or even bats to carry the pollen – the equivalent of plant sperm – to the eggs of the female plants in order to produce fertile seeds. In turn, when those seeds fall into fertile soil, “the wild flowers grow.”

The goal in all of nature is life! The rhythm of time – day and night, months and seasons – serves the purpose of life. Soil and air, sea and sky, rocks and hills, sunshine and rain all serve the purpose of life. Every living thing in creation is designed to reproduce. Every plant, every tree, every shrub, every blade of grass tells the story of a seed that found purchase in fertile soil. Indeed nature’s reproductive process is happening all around us all the time. Take a breath. Chances are you just inhaled some pollen, some plant’s attempt to find a mate and reproduce. And in this context I can’t help but think of that schmaltzy 70s tune 

Love is in the air

Everywhere I look around …

Open your window and you might hear the mating cry of the crickets or the birds. Take a walk through the woods and you might hear the love serenade of a croaking tree frog. As Caryll Houselander marvels: “If you ever [saw] a little green tree frog and watched him puffing out with a pomposity worthy of a dragon before croaking, you must have guessed that there is a tender smile on our heavenly Father’s face, that he likes us to laugh and he laughs with us; the frog will teach your heart more [about God] than all the books of theology in the world.”

When we adjust our focus and open our hearts to it, all of nature becomes an astounding theology lesson. “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen” (Wis 13:5). And if God is speaking to us through the natural world, then it’s clear that one of his favorite subjects is mating and fertility, coupling and life-givingness. One has to be blind not to recognize this unending “song” of love and life everywhere.

If what I’m saying sounds crazy, “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you” (Job 12:7-8). Listen, and you will hear all of nature singing its own version of the Song of Songs, that biblical “ode to eros” that whispers the secrets of divine love. Yes, it’s true: “The hills are alive with the sound of music / With songs they have song for a thousand years.”

And nature’s song culminates in us – in the “theology” of our bodies. Our bodies tell the story of divine love. It’s written into the very design of our masculinity and femininity. When we fail to recognize this, it’s because we haven’t learned to read God’s sign language.

In my next blog, I’ll offer some practical tips for learning to recognize and “hear” God’s sign language all around us.

Question: Do you have an experience of hearing God’s love song in creation? Please share it!

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Image: Hamois, Belgium by Luc Viator, Wikipedia.