Earth is the original spiritual director.
That was one of the particularly intriguing discussions found in the book, “Earth, Our Original Monastery” by Christine Valters Paintner.
In this delightful book with the subtitle “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature,” 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 I 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 not all spiritual directors are human. The Earth – plants, animals, rocks, the seasons and so on – 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. … 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 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 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?
“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,” Paintner says. “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 Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky.