By Kathy Keary
In our last article in the series, An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life, I described a personal theophany, a profound experience when the presence of God unmistakably sang a divine love song to me at the ocean shore. As described in, Spirit of Love: Celebrating the Sacred, I was deeply moved by God’s personal message written in the ever changing sand at the water’s edge. Years later it stands tall among the momentous occasions scattered throughout my life.
As explained by Christine Valters Paintner in The Souls Slow Ripening:
Ninth-century Irish theologian John Scotus Eriugena taught that there are indeed two books of revelation – one book of the scriptures and the book of creation. The first is physically small, the second is vast. Both are required to know the fullness of the divine presence. Just as God can speak through the words of the scriptures, so can we hear the voice of the divine in the elements, the creatures, and the land. Therefore the landscape can become a place of theophany, or divine manifestation.
As we discussed in our article, The Fruits of Contemplation, the practice of contemplative prayer leads to a greater awareness of being one with all of creation as well as a heightened propensity to truly be present in the moment. This combination naturally leads to experiencing the stars in the sky, the flowers in the field, and the trees in the forest as prayer itself. The lyrics to Canticle of the Sun assure me that I am not alone in encountering the Holy One in the created world that surrounds us:
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
And all creation is shouting for joy!
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!
I enjoy strolling in nature for the specific intention of spying the Grand Artist in the masterpiece that surrounds us. As I peered through the foliage pictured above, I was awed by the sun brightening the intensity of the green leaves and sparkling in the flowing stream. Thomas Merton’s encourages this pursuit by his words in Seeds of Contemplation: “If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.”
Sunsets are beautiful indeed! God commemorates each day with a grand ovation marked by the sun ever so gently sliding into the landscape. What a gift! The beauty of creation connects people of different faiths and cultures all over the world united in praise of our Maker. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the creator.”
I distinctly recall sitting on a rock on the coast of Maine with a forest behind me in total astonishment of the vastness and grandeur of the ocean before me. I was overwhelmed with emotion and admiration for the One who created such splendor and thankful for the blessed opportunity to witness such magnificence. Paintner, in her eloquence, captures that which was stirring within me in The Artist’s Rule:
Nature is… a window to the Divine Presence at work in the world … Gazing is an act of loving reverence … I become aware of a holy presence, the Great Artist, at work in the world around me, and I begin to connect deeply to the divine at work within me, crafting and shaping my life, inviting me here this day to sit in stillness and witness to the beauty of the world.
You do not have to go far to witness the divine in our midst. Sometimes it is waiting for us in our own yard as was this delightful rabbit camouflaged in the pebbles one summer day that spoke of the tenderness of our God, the Lord of variety and creativity. In the words of J. Philip Newell in Listening for the Heartbeat of God: “To know the Creator, we need only look at the things he has created.”
Be on the lookout for divine splendor in the vast “book of creation.” As stated in our article, Eyes and Heart Wide Open: The Practice of Contemplative Photography, don’t just explore with your eyes but behold the world with your heart. Embrace the divine presence being revealed to you in the here and now.
Explore what is stirring within you:
What is God’s message for you?
What emotions are evoked?
Does a memory surface?
Is there an invitation?
Is there a call?
Ponder the significance of the experience and how God may be speaking to you through the wonders of nature.
I refer you to our article on Visio Divina, sacred seeing. It becomes quite natural for practitioners of Visio Divina to pray in this manner when touched by the beauty of creation.
You may want to document your experience in a journal. As mentioned in our article, Writing from the Heart: The Contemplative Practice of Journaling, you may find that describing your experience in words propels you to go deeper to uncover the precise content of what is stirring in depths of your soul. Words that spring forth from that place where the Spirit dwells will surely be telling.
Note: New articles in this series are posted to the website every Monday. The full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles.
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[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]