The Christian Naturalist
Section 6 Episcopalian Liturgy (Soon)
The first great Christian naturalist was St. Frances. This excerpt is from Nikos Kazantzakis novel, Saint Francis:
Brother Leo speaks:
... We seated ourselves in the garden of a ruined church. There were cypresses on all sides; the hedge was covered with sweet smelling red flowers; in the center was a plain tree with tender, dark green foliage that had but just unfolded. An open, flowering spring was at its roots.
Francis looked around him and sighed deeply. "Paradise must be just like this," he said. "do not seek anything more. This is enough for the soul of man, enough and more than enough."
Hearing much chirping above him, he looked up. A flock of sparrows was flying toward the plane tree: there they had their nests, and they were going home to spend the night. They perched on the branches, then scattered throughout the garden and began to peep happily before burrowing into their tiny houses to lay their heads upon their downy breasts and give themselves up to sleep.
Francis advanced slowly to the flowing water, which was where the birds had gathered now. He held out his hand to greet them.
Stay where you are, Brother Leo," he said to me. "Don't move, you might frighten them. Since I haven't any grain to throw them, I shall feed them with the word of God so that they may hear it and be able, like men to go to heaven."
Turning to the birds, he leaned over them and began to preach,his arms spread wide.
"Sister birds, God the Father of birds and men, loves you greatly, and you are aware of this. This is why when you drink water you lift your tiny heads to heaven after each sip and give thanks to Him; why in the morning when the sun strikes your little breasts you fill yourselves with song and fly from branch to branch glorifying His name, the name of the Lord, who sends the sun, and green trees, and song. And you fly high up into the sky so that you can come close to Him and He can hear you. And when your nests are filled with eggs and you are mothers sitting on them to hatch them, God becomes a male bird, sits Himself down on the branch opposite, and sings to ease your labors."
A flock of doves passed overhead as Francis was speaking. They heard his sweet voice, descended, seated themselves round about his feet, and one small dove flew up and squatted on his right shoulder, cooing. Francis leaned further and further forward. He kept shaking his robe as though it were a pair of wings, and his voice chirped, sweet as a nightingale. It seemed he wanted to join the birds around him, and that he was struggling to become a bird, a large bird, in order to do so.
"Sister Sparrows, Sister Doves, consider what gifts God has bestowed upon you; He gave you wings so that you might travel through the air, and down to keep you warm in the wintertime; He scattered many kinds of nourishment over the ground and in the trees so that you would not go hungry; He filled your throats and breasts with song."
Swallows now arrived and perched in rows along the edge of the church roof. Folding their wings, they stretched their heads forward and listened intently....
"Welcome to our sisters the swallows, who carry spring to us each year on slender wings.... On the day of judgment you, my dear swallows, you before all other winged things, before even the angels with their trumpets will fly to the cemeteries and begin to chirp above the tombstones, singing out the news of resurrection....
The swallows beat their wings happily, the doves cooed and the sparrows came close to Francis and began to peck tenderly at his robe. Holding his hand out over their heads, he made the sigh of the cross and blessed the birds. Then he waved in all directions, bidding them farewell.
"Evening has come, Sister Sparrows, Doves, and Swallows; evening has come, go now to sleep. And if God has graced you with the ability to have dreams, may He grant that tonight in your sleep you will see Our Lady of the Swallows flying over your nests like a large swallow."
-- excerpt from SAINT FRANCIS by Nikos Kazantzakis, A Touchstone book by Simon and Schuster.
Words of Christ
Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather in into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.... Think of the flowers growing in the fields, they never have to work or spin, yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these.
- Matthew, Ch. 6
God loves all creatures equally and fills them with His being, and we should lovingly meet all creatures the same way....
Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God.
If I spent enough time with the tiniest of creatures, even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon, so full of God is every creature....
Hildegard of Bingen:
There is no creature that does not have a radiance.
Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly....
I welcome every creature of the world with grace....
Julian of Norwich:
God's goodness fills all his creatures....
All creatures of God's creation that can suffer pain suffered with him. The sky and the earth failed at the time of Christ's dying because he, too, was a part of nature....
Those who have universal love for all their fellow Christians in God have love towards everything that exists....
Mechtild of Magdelburg
The truly wise person kneels at the feet of creatures, And is not afraid to endure the mockery of others....
In Out of My Life and Thought, Schweitzer told how his idea of reverence for life came to him while on an errand of mercy in Africa. He was on a boat, creeping slowly upstream and following channels between the sandbanks. His mind was deep in thought, searching for some conception of the universal ground of ethics. He scribbled disconnected sentences on sheet after sheet of paper, refusing to abandon his mental quest:
Click here for more on Albert Schweitzer.
Matthew Fox has advocated a position he calls panentheism.
While pantheism says nature IS God, Fox's panentheism says all of nature is IN God.
Fox's theology speaks of the goodness of creation, the motherhood of God, and compassion "understood as interdependence and justice making."
Fox honors a creation-centered tradition in Western theology, which "considers the environment itself to be a divine womb, holy, worthy of reverence and respect...."
The theology of Matthew Fox is not anthropocentric.
[See "Creation-centered Spirituality from Hildegard to Julian" in Wrestling with the Prophets .]