Updated: Apr 11, 2022
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 some 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 are drunk with power in our human intellect, this does not remove our obligation to respect and learn from our fellow creatures. I believe that this starts with a simple willingness to listen.
In the same way that different individuals, spiritual practices, and cultures reflect and reveal aspects of the universe, the multitude of species and abiotic forms of nonhuman matter also reveal aspects of the universe in ways that human beings 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 reveals (and celebrates!) the universe; much the opposite! Through the beauty and mystery of the physical world 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, if we're feeling crazy, the Divine.
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 the physical world is playing, we may then join in. We may even be able to take the cleaver and plow and take the lead. But first we must listen.
October 2, 2018 | Denver, Colorado