What is your relationship with the natural world? How comfortable are you with the birds, insects, and animals that live in the wild places near your home? How much do you connect with the trees, plants, flowers, and grasses outside your window?
I must confess that I am not nearly as connected with nature as I would like. I still struggle with viewing the world beyond my well-curated home as part of my world—especially when I venture into the wilderness. My world is the world of technology, musical instruments, clean windows and swept floors. My world is protected from the world outside, even though it depends on the resources from that world to survive.
I like to think that I am learning to be more aware of Creation and that I am becoming more deeply connected with and integrated into the life of the Earth. But then one of those little bugs that I can’t identify, but that move in such a creepy way, comes flying at my face and all I want is to get it away from me. My only comfort is in knowing that I’m not alone.
Over the last few years, I have become increasingly aware of how disconnected we humans are from the Earth that is both our mother and our home. From the onset of the industrial revolution, we have become increasingly alienated from the natural world. More and more of us are moving into cities and suburbs, where the wildness of Nature is tamed or eradicated completed. And even among those who do remain connected with the Earth through their work, many are more concerned with controlling Nature and exploiting its resources than about preserving its wildness and chaos.
I understand our need to learn to farm well, maximise harvests, and extract needed resources from the Earth. I know that I could never feel fully alive by abandoning technology and disappearing into the wild with nothing but hunting and gathering to sustain me. But I am also deeply aware of how the extent of our disconnection from Nature has left us with a kind of homelessness.
Many of us live as if there are two worlds on our planet: the natural world that is mysterious, uncontrollable, and messy and the human world that is structured, understandable, and tidy. And few of us, as capable as we are of surviving in the concrete jungle, would be able to survive out in the untamed wilderness. We are born of the soil. We are dust, as the Ash Wednesday liturgy says. And yet we have convinced ourselves that Creation is our storehouse, not our home. It is ‘other’. It is apart from us. It is foreign. And yet something inside of us has died as a result of our disconnection with our natural origins.
It was Hildegarde of Bingen that taught us about our need to ‘green’—or re-green—our souls. She grieved humanity’s loss of connection with the life of the Earth.
Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples.
And she reminded humanity of the green nature within us and its life-giving power.
The soul is the greening life force of the flesh, for the body grows and prospers through her, just as the earth becomes fruitful when it is moistened. The soul humidifies the body so it does not dry out, just like the rain which soaks into the earth.
Both the Earth and our own souls are dying because of our disconnection with Creation. We desperately need to recognise that there is only one world—the natural world—and we are part of it, not separate from it. And for that to happen we need to make entering Nature’s world a constant spiritual practice in our lives.
ENTERING NATURE’S WORLD
All lovers know that one of the most profoundly loving things that one person can do for another is to enter into their world, to learn how it works and what makes it sacred and life-giving, and to share the wonder of another’s experience of being. The same is true of our relationship with the Earth. If we truly love Nature, we must enter into the world of Nature on its own terms and allow it to teach us its secrets.
There are many ways to enter Nature’s world: taking trips into the wilderness, hiking, mountaineering, birding, gardening, and much more. But one thing we need to work on is not to enter Creation as an alien visitor, but as one who belongs and who knows that they are inseparably connected with all things. We can learn, each in our own way, to make ourselves at home in Nature and find, within ourselves, the same life that sustains the Cosmos. Or, to quote Dylan Thomas:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age…
And in the end, if we are willing to embark on this spiritual quest, we will discover that Nature’s world is our world too. And in that revelation, we will find a deeper, more connected, and more meaningful life than ever before.
What do you think? How important is it to enter Nature’s world? And what practices do you employ to green your soul? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments and let’s encourage each other on this adventure.
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