May 26 2020

Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors

One of the benefits of being retired is having more time to read the books I want to read.  One I recently completed is called Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner.  The subtitle of the book is “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude Through Intimacy With Nature.”  In this delightful book Paintner speaks of Earth as the original cathedral, the original Scriptures, the original saints, the original spiritual directors, the original icon, the original sacrament, and the original liturgy.  I learned something from her chapters on each of these, but was particularly intrigued by her discussion of Earth as the original spiritual directors.

I have never had what most would technically consider a “spiritual director.”  Needless to say I have had many influence my spiritual journey but I never pursued a personal spiritual director to help me out.  I suspect I would have benefited had I done so.  But Paintner argues that not all spiritual directors are human.  The Earth—plants, animals, rocks, the seasons, etc.—has always been there to offer us spiritual guidance.  She quotes the Irish monk St. Columbanus, “If you want to know the Creator, understand created things.”  The more contemporary monk, Thomas Merton said “How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters.”  Paintner says “Merton knew that the true mentor of the soul was nature itself.  The fields, sun, mud, clay, wind, forests, sky, earth, and water are all companions for our own inner journeys.  The elements of water, wind, earth, and fire offer us wisdom and guidance.  They are the original soul friends.  Air is the gift of breath we receive each moment, the rhythm of life that sustains us.  Fire is the gift of life force and energy, and we might call to mind St. John of the Cross’s image of God as the living flame of love that burns in each of our hearts.  Water is the gift of renewal and replenishment, and we might call to mind the ritual of baptism as a call to claim our full gifts, or the blood that flows through our veins.  Earth is the gift of groundedness and nourishment.”

Reflecting on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin Paintner says, “Through every rock, every bird, every flower, and every creature, God enters into intimacy and communion with us.  This is how God’s wisdom is revealed, and we would do well to listen for their spiritual direction.”  I am convinced that Paintner is on to something here.  All of us have been graciously given a variety of spiritual directors in nature.  The question is, are we paying attention to these directors?  If this whole concept sounds strange to you, perhaps it will help to remember that Solomon encouraged us to pay attention to the ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Jesus said we should consider the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28).  The Bible itself points us to nature as a spiritual director.

If we can accept the truth that God is speaking to us through nature, hopefully it will cause us to begin paying more attention to the world around us.  I have no doubt that I have missed many lessons over the years because I was not paying attention.  At this point in my life I am trying to be more attentive.  What does this entail?  Paintner says “Cultivating contemplative presence to the natural world means growing in intimacy with creation so that the intimacy becomes a way of mutuality, in which we recognize that nature is not just there for our benefit but has intrinsic value apart from us and our needs.  Mutuality means that we listen to what nature has to say to us.  We allow our hearts to be opened by encounters there.”

I encourage you, and myself, to listen more carefully to what the Creator has to say to us through the Creation.  In doing so, may our hearts be more fully opened to the wonder and mystery of God.  Let us all take advantage of the spiritual directors God has given us.  What fools we will be if we don’t.

–Chuck


Jul 19 2017

A Different Look at Seeing Creation

Sometimes just writing text with some photos doesn’t do the job. I wanted more of a story, a visual story of how our home is treated. So here it is (a short video):

– Rob


Oct 15 2014

Getting Our House in Order

Cumberland Falls fall river view hI have mentioned a time or two lately that my wife and I recently purchased a home in Henderson, Kentucky.  We’ve been in it a few weeks now but are still very much in the process of getting the house in order.  There are lots of boxes waiting to be unpacked and each day we struggle to remember where certain things are.  We are constantly being reminded that getting settled in a new home is both exciting and stressful.

Raven Rock fallGetting our house in order has involved more than just unpacking. There are also a number of repairs that have to be made and various “home improvement” projects to pursue.  I’m not sure what year our house was built but I have no doubt it was something very special when the first owners moved in.  It is still a wonderful home but with the passing of time and various owners things have been damaged or do not work like they once did.  Furthermore, some earlier home improvement projects did not work out quite as planned.  We have already had a plumber come fix some things and now need the services of an electrician and painter.  It will take a lot of time (not to mention money) before we will have our house in order and looking like we want it.  This is something we both recognize and accept because it is our home now and we want to make it the best house we can.

JWSP 098As I’ve thought in recent days about the many things we need to do to get our house in order it occurred to me that there are a number of parallels with the house we all share called earth.  Few would deny that there is lots that needs to be done to get this house in order too.  The earth God created was and is something very special.  But like my own house here in Henderson, it has suffered a good bit of damage over the years and not everything works quite like it once did.  Some of the things we came up with for “home improvements” of the earth have also not gone as planned and generated new problems that now have to be addressed.

red maple treeI would like to think that we still recognize the value of our home—the earth—and are willing to do everything we can to get our house in order.  Doing so, like with my house, will take time and not be cheap.   Obviously, we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to but we are only kidding ourselves if we think there will not be serious consequences for choosing that path.  I would be quite foolish if I didn’t go ahead and get the plumbing and electrical issues resolved in our new home.   By doing nothing I would only incur greater expense down the road but even more importantly, I would put my wife and myself in danger.  The same is true when it comes to dealing with many of the environmental problems our planet currently faces.  The longer we wait to address these problems the more costly it will be to deal with them later and by failing to deal with them we literally put our lives and that of others in jeopardy.

I hope more people will come to look at the earth as their home and recognize that it is just as important to get this house in order as it is the one we might happen to own.  Surely it would go a long way in helping to make this a better world and help us all to be better stewards of God’s Creation.

–Chuck

(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s post with a series of autumn images I’ve taken in my “home” state of Kentucky.)


Nov 18 2012

Giving Truly Is Divine!

Today I want to give thanks for those who recognize the importance of giving and who actually make a practice of it.  I have just come home from a meeting where members of my church made a decision to give away a significant amount of money for church and mission causes.   I am thrilled by what they did and am also very proud of them.  I believe with all my heart that we are all supposed to be givers.  As individuals who were created in the image of God, and who receive countless blessings from Him every single day, we are meant to give.

There can be no denying that God is a giving God.  As Christians we affirm that God is “the Giver of all good gifts.”  (James 1:17) We also acknowledge that God is responsible for all that exists and that everything we have should be viewed as a gift from His generous hands.  The Bible not only speaks of God’s generosity, it also explains why He is so giving.  God is love.  It is as simple and as profound as that.  In one of the New Testament’s most familiar verses we are told “For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son…” (John 3:16)  God is such a wonderful giver because God’s very nature is love.

We see evidence of God’s love and propensity to give throughout His Creation.  In fact, the world itself should be viewed as a gift.  And what a priceless gift it is!  In a universe that contains countless galaxies God prepared a planet in our own that had just the right conditions so that life might exist in a magnificent manner.  He gave us a planet that has just the right temperatures and atmospheric conditions for life to thrive.  God created a world with the water, soil and air needed so that humans and a vast host of other creatures and species might be able to live together.  But not only did God create an inhabitable planet, He also made one that is absolutely beautiful.  I doubt that many people regularly stop to give thanks for this awesome planet we live on but we all should.   This planet, like the Son of God who would show up on it later, was presented to us as a gift of God’s love.

The testimony of Scripture and God’s “Other Book” make it clear that God is a giving God.  We can also learn from these that we, too, are meant to be givers.  Humans have the distinction of being the only living things on earth that were created in God’s image.  This is certainly an exalted status but God has made it clear that with such blessing comes responsibility.  Adam and Eve learned this right away.  God had work for them to do.  They were to tend to and care for the world God had made.  In other words, they were to be caregivers. (Genesis 2:15)  God would later reveal that we are also called to share His love, as well as our own love, with one another.  He likewise made it clear that those who were blessed with material wealth are supposed to give to those who are less fortunate.  Interestingly enough, when the Son of God did come to earth he talked more about giving and the proper use of our possessions than anything else.  He wanted to make sure we all understood just how important giving is, wanted us to recognize that giving is divine.

My life has been so richly blessed by people who understood the importance of giving.  I suspect yours has as well.  We should all remember to give thanks for and to those who give, but also bear in mind that we, too, must give.  It is through giving we show ourselves to be the sons and daughters of God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Cheyenne River in South Dakota.  I photographed the whitetail deer and ferns were photographed in Tennessee.)