Updated: Sep 15, 2020
On a crisp October evening in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, my then boyfriend and I found ourselves skirting along an ever-darkening hiking path that, God-willing, would lead us back to my car. We had set out, as all respectable couples ought, to hike through bright orange autumnal aspen groves and to do some early evening star gazing. Confidence was high throughout the journey as we trod along in graceful obedience to the traditions of the harvest season. After spending the time due to marvel at the twilight sky, we set out back down the trail. While the idea seemed romantic in the sturdy sunlight of 3:00 PM, now, in the mountain-shaded blackness of a Colorado early evening, I was starting to question our thinking. As I became acutely aware of my ignorance as to the nature of crepuscular canyon-dwelling animals, Daniel, tripping over one of many jagged stones in our path, voiced his frustration, “I hate these rocks!” It was then I realized we were being dreadful house guests.
We human beings seem to have a difficult time understanding our relationship to nature. It is odd that we even use the word “nature,” because this seems to imply that we are somehow separate from it. Throw Judeo-Christian theology into the mix, and we’ve got a mess on our hands.
In the book of Genesis, God entrusts dominion of the created world to the human species. Provided with one another, a vegetarian diet, beauty to enjoy, and work to do, the woman and man set out as the image of God to lovingly govern the planet allotted them. While this is an incredible honor and gift, it is also cause for confusion. This was precisely the confusion present on Daniel’s and my fall season walk. We went into the canyon on our own terms, decided to walk the trail at night, and expected the rocks in the path to change their essential nature to cater to our pumpkin-spiced whims.
While Daniel and I share in the blessed task of ruling over the created order, this does not remove our obligation to respect and learn from our fellow creatures. After all, a governor who does not listen to the governed is not fit to govern at all. We have the responsibility to lead all of Creation in the worship of God, but we must also allow ourselves to be led by all of Creation in the worship of God. I believe that this starts with a simple willingness to listen.
In the same way that different individuals, spiritual practices, and cultures reflect, reveal, and glorify God, the multitude of species and abiotic forms of nonhuman matter also reveal and glorify God in ways that human beings cannot. In God’s creative dream for the Universe, it delighted him to create each particle to live with and love with the Trinity. Therefore, in order to fully glorify God, each particle simply needed to exist. As a human cannot be a rabbit anymore than a rabbit can be a human, there are ways in which a rabbit glorifies God by existing that a human cannot. There are some things that humans can only observe.
This does not mean, however, that we are unable to engage with the ways in which nonhuman matter sings glory to God; much the opposite! Through the beauty and mystery of Creation we have an infinite invitation to learn from and interact with both nonhuman species and abiotic material in order to participate ever more fully in the activity of the Universe and therein the activity of the Trinity.
I would never walk into a ballet studio and immediately start telling the ballerinas how to dance. In the same way we must assume a humble, teachable posture towards nonhuman material. We must reason with the wind as it navigates through varying levels of pressure, examine its harmonious interaction with the tall grasses, study the social graces of the geese, and listen attentively to the songs of both birds and riverbeds. This may sound poetic, but I mean it quite literally.
Once we learn the game the rest of Creation has been created to play, we may then join in. We may even be able to take the cleaver and plow and take the lead. We must be stewards, yes, but we first must listen.
Care to have a listen with us? Check out outdoor spiritual direction with Fratres Dei.
October 2, 2018 | Denver, Colorado