BREAKING OPEN THE ORDINARY
By Sandy Prather
It is summer. I have sat
lakeside, sheltered in an enclosed cabin porch, watching summer storms
roll across the water. As jagged bolts of lightening arc from sky to
lake, thunder booms in bone-jarring reverberations, and rain pelts down,
the little grandchildren, safe on adult laps, squeal and jump with delighted
I have watched campfire flames
shoot up into inky darkness, marvelled at star-studded skies, revelled
in the hushed stillness of the night and been lulled to sleep by the
gentle sound of waves lapping the shore and wind rustling in trees.
I have thrilled to the sight
of the Blue Heron majestically winging its way along the shore, the
pelicans circling above as they fish. I have chased butterflies and
dragonflies with enthusiastic three-year-olds, discussed the diets of
spiders and the mechanics of web-making with a nine-year-old.
It is summer. I have hiked
along tree-lined paths, strolled riverbanks, clambered up mountain passes.
I have delighted in dappled sunlight greening forest floors, moonlight
shimmering across the river, shadow and shade delineating fissures in
I have smelled summer rain,
wet earth, the perfume of flowers. Freshly mown grass and the tang of
salt air have blessed me. I have dug my hands into warm earth, patted
delicate shoots into rich soil. I have been warmed by sun, scoured by
wind and washed in rain.
It is summer and my soul
has become full of God. I know the truth of which Thomas Berry, that
great prophet of ecology, speaks: “Even with all our technological
accomplishments and urban sophistication, we consider ourselves blessed,
healed in some manner, forgiven and for a moment transported into some
other world when we catch a passing glimpse of an animal in the wild:
a deer in some woodland, a fox crossing a field, a butterfly in its
dancing flight southward to its wintering region, . . . a hummingbird
come into our garden, fireflies signalling to each other in the evening”
(Evening Thoughts, 2006).
Blessed, healed, forgiven
and transported: it is the gift of summer. Stirred deep in our hearts,
overwhelmed with the grace of creation, an encounter with the Creator
cannot be far behind. “The world is charged with the glory of
God,” our sacramental tradition maintains, meaning, of course,
that it is legitimately a revelatory experience of God.
Yet we have at times been
suspicious of the blessings of nature. We have been warned against a
“pagan” pantheism that sees God collapsed into the world
and we derisively dismiss those who have environmental concerns as “tree-huggers.”
One sees Christians as being primarily “other-worldly,”
with their attention most properly on the things of heaven rather than
of earth. Nature is dismissed as being secondary to “spiritual”
things. The other takes a more utilitarian view. Citing Genesis 1, humankind
is given “dominion” over the earth, thereby allowing for
the exploitation of it. In both cases, we are effectively separated
from the sacredness of creation.
Sally McFague, in her book Super, Natural Christians, argues for a third
way of seeing nature. In a careful reading of Genesis 1, she identifies
what she calls the “appreciative approach.” The Scripture
writer, she notes, is at great pains to tell us not only that creation
is good, but that God sees it as so. Seven times in 31 verses, God looks
at what God has created and God sees “that it is good.”
All creation, light, earth, water, all birds, sea creatures, everything
is pronounced as good. Finally, after all else is made and human beings
are created, God looks at it all and declares everything “very
McFague wonders what it would
be like if we took that seriously: everything is good, in and of itself,
and that God appreciates it. It is for us a clear direction as to how
we should approach nature: not in a dominating way and perhaps not even
so much as in a stewardship role. Made in God’s image, perhaps
our starting point and guiding principle is this: to appreciate nature
in and of itself.
How do we do that? McFague
identifies a simple but difficult rule: pay attention to nature, detailed,
concentrated attention. Detailed seeing opens us to wonder and we find
ourselves marvelling and standing in awe, our souls blessed, healed,
forgiven and transported.
Such has been the gift of
summer to me. Lured outdoors by hot days and warm nights, relaxing into
the leisurely pace of vacation days, there has been a different kind
of seeing. In the seeing comes the encounter and in the encounter comes
Poet Emily Dickenson noted
that “Consider the lilies” is the only commandment she never
broke. I may not have been so faithful, but I am trying.
Prather, BEd, MTh, teaches and facilitates in the areas of faith and spirituality and is the director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta. She and her husband Bob are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.