Photo of tree by Jan’s Archive on Unsplash

In the mission statement of the Dominican Center: Spirituality for Mission, we proclaim that we want to be a strong voice in the world for God’s justice.  Our strategy is to focus on the issues of today through the lens of spirituality.  Therefore, we regularly ask the question “what spirituality is needed to bring about a change, a transformation, a conversion.”

Recently, we celebrated the fourth anniversary of Laudato Si in which Pope Francis calls us to an ecological conversion.  Severe storms continue and are worsening, the sea is rising, biosystems are being obliterated, and all life is endangered.  So, we ask, what spirituality is needed to bring about our ecological conversion?

One possibility is the gift of presence – as I learn what it means to be present to creation, to nature, I am in awe.

We know that God and creation are more closely related than we are often aware. God is the life-breath uniting and blessing all creation.  The words of the Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart remind us: “A (hu)man may go out into the fields and say his(her) prayers and know God…for God is equally in all things and all places.”

So, what does it mean to be present to creation?  Here are a few brief examples …

Last summer Krista Tippett interviewed the botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer (On Being: Robin Wall Kimmerer).  Dr. Kimmerer beautifully describes the intelligence of plant life. She listens to nature.  She notes that “there is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, a poetry” that we cannot hear.  She reminds us that our relationship with nature is reciprocal because we receive from nature as well as give to nature.  For example, plants and trees gift us with shade, clean air, fruit, rich-tasting foods, medicines, and beauty.  Dr. Kimmerer names this as Earth loving us with her gifts.  Dr. Kimmerer’s presence to nature is astounding and I am grateful for her knowledge and wisdom.

There is also another deeper level of presence.   In the lovely book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben notes that trees relate to other trees and provide services to one another.  There is a shared life, a consciousness that exists between trees.  Trees form networks of communication with each other and act to protect and heal other trees. Trees create and sustain vast ecosystems. See the book review on our website:( The Hidden Life of Trees).  This book teaches us about the richness of trees’ hidden lives. And so, we discover that being present to trees can lead us to admiration and kinship.  How can we not be filled with wonder?

Outside the Dominican Center office there are Canadian geese.  This spring six goslings were hatched.  They were small and very active.  I had the opportunity to watch the parent geese tirelessly protect and teach them.  They are now adolescents but still under the watchful eyes of the untiring parents.  I enjoy watching the growing goslings and untiring adult geese and I am learning more about them; for example, they mate for life, goslings remain with and are taught by their parents their entire first year, they live on average 10-25 years.  Learning and being present to them leads me to care about them.  I am grateful that we share this land together.

A number of days ago I saw the most delightful photo by Gregory Colbert.  I am providing the link below and I encourage you to take a look.  The photo is of a young Muslim boy reading a book to a very attentive and engaged elephant.  After spending time reflecting on the photo, I could not help but ask myself – are both of them listening to, enjoying, learning from the story?  Or perhaps that is the Koran that the boy is reading and so are both of them praying?  What are your thoughts?

It seems that in becoming more aware, in being more attentive and present to nature we discover hidden marvels and wonder-filled possibilities.  The advice of Pedro Arrupe, SJ, promises “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.” I am discovering that sharing life and sharing consciousness with other created beings is engaging and sanctifying.  Creation is God’s self-expression; therefore, all creation is sacred. Creation alive in God is a breathtaking mystery.

As my presence to nature deepens and my consciousness expands, as I learn more, and see the mystery of creation as complex, rich, and awe-inspiring, I am moved to care. I will no longer overuse or pollute it, rather, I will take time to appreciate, be grateful, and care for it.

Karen Rossman, OPKaren Rossman, OP