Day 4 A Window into God
The Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, saw the wonder of creation as a mirror of God’s beauty reflected in this world. During his final years, Merton lived in a hermitage in the woods of his monastery, and the natural world became more and more important to his spiritual life. His role, he said, was to look reverently and recognise the unspeakable holiness of creation. He wrote:
“There is no question for me that my one job as a monk is to live life in simple and direct contact with nature…bearing witness to its value and goodness ….and loving God in all of it.”
The wonder of our natural world is a window into God; a mirror reflecting God’s wonder, love, presence and beauty. As St Columbanus said: “If you want to contemplate the Creator, first contemplate creation.”
How different our world becomes when we begin to see it as a window into, or a reflection of, the Presence of God in this world. We begin to look at it differently, with greater reverence and awe. Flowers, trees, hills, streams, bushes, shrubs, birds, animals, insects, become so much more than they seem at first glance. Each is a sacrament of God’s Presence in, and God’s love of, this world. It changes our whole relationship with nature, creation becomes a means of connecting with God’s Holy Presence.
The Franciscan writer, Richard Rohr, calls nature ‘God’s first incarnation’. We make much of God coming to us, and dwelling with us, in the person of Jesus; but Richard Rohr tells us that God first and foremost came to dwell on earth in trees, plants, birds, creatures, sun, water, air etc. It was a natural progression to then come to us as a human being. If we cannot recognise God’s Presence in the awesomeness of creation, we will struggle to recognise it in humanity, in ourselves.
Thomas Merton came to understand this, and became absorbed in creation in order to become fully absorbed in God. This beautiful world, that we have the pleasure and honour of being part of, calls us to do the same.
How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs for Thee
And faints for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh sing for joy
To the living God.
Even a sparrow finds a home
And the swallow a nest to lay her young
At thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
My God and my King.
Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house
Ever singing Thy praise.
Blessed are they whose strength is in Thee,
In whose hearts are the highways of heaven.
For a day in Thy courts
Is better than a thousand elsewhere.
For the Lord God is a sun and a shield,
He bestows favour and honour.
No good things does the Lord behold
From those who walk His paths.
O Lord of hosts
Blessed are they who place their trust in you.
I have always loved this particular Psalm, but for many years did not really associate the Courts of God with this beautiful world of ours. How foolish! When you really look at the Psalm it is obvious that it is not speaking about a place beyond this world or a kingdom that is yet to come; it is speaking about what we have here, right now. Our God is incarnate, embedded, and flowing through every living thing around us. When we go into our gardens, parks, woods, beaches, fields, moors, dales, or rocky cliff tops, we are entering the Courts of our God and we will find in our hearts “the highways of heaven.”
From the Journals of Thomas Merton
The sun is rising.
All the green trees are full of birds,
and their song comes up
out of the bowers of the orchard.
Crows swear pleasantly in the distance,
and in the depths of my soul sits God.