As noted a few weeks ago, recently I have been rereading a number of Thomas Merton books. Earlier this week I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation once again. I soon came across a fascinating section where Merton talks at length about how created things give glory to God simply by doing what they were created to do. Merton says, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.” Later he adds, “…each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art. The forms of individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.”
In what follows Merton gives several examples of things in nature that give glory to God simply by being what they were created to be. He writes, “The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this widow are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God. This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.”
Later in this chapter Merton goes on to talk about how humans are different from the rest of Creation. He says, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons of God.” He goes on to indicate that the secret of our identity is “hidden in the love and mercy of God.”
The uniqueness of humans makes for an interesting topic but that is not what I want to focus on here. Merton’s words about the rest of Creation proclaiming God’s glory, something David also said in Psalm 19:1, caused me to ponder why we don’t pay more attention to the “saints” all around us. If the trees and their leaves bear witness to God why do we not sit and contemplate them more? The lakes and sea, along with the fish that swim within, also offer God praise and reflect or imitates God’s glory. If that be so, why do we not pause long enough to join in the chorus and soak in the glory of God? I know we are supposed to seek God in others but as Merton wisely points out, humans offer an imperfect reflection of God’s glory. Nature, however, lacking free will, offers that glory perfectly. Realizing that makes me think I need to be paying even more attention to the glorious revelation found in Creation than I already do. The witness of the “saints” is just waiting to be discovered by those willing to slow down and pay attention.
(I took the pictures shown above on a trip a few years ago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)