It was on one bright mundane morning, at the break of dawn, that I witnessed an oft-forgotten miracle. As in all of my other regular workdays in which I found myself stuck in heavy traffic, it was on this unusual moment that I fell in love with the slow graceful ascent of the rising sun.
In a span of over five minutes, while waiting for the cars ahead of me to advance through the precious inches towards our final destinations, I was compelled to watch before my eyes what eventually would be for me, the most beautiful sight and perhaps one of the most effective and natural tranquilizers for our dreary lives.
Even now, it has not failed to evoke poignant reflections on the directions — or directionless actions — we have set for our modern history.
Any mental image I have had of dawn or dusk — or in fact, any aspect of nature’s grandeur — is a static, unmoving and frozen “postcard,” mostly commercially sanitized images of our asphyxiated environment, conveniently glossing over and obscuring its widespread destruction as well as concealing its furious retaliatory destructiveness.
Nature has become for me — and perhaps for so many urbanites like myself — a cold and unpredictable reality, whose manifestations are already alien to our daily way of life. It has ceased to be perceived as a dynamic, breathing reality, or as an exciting ambivalent companion in the search for life’s questions. It is rather a foe, a nuisance to our petty economic concerns, breeding in us a seemingly irreversible mindset that “nature has to adjust to human domination” and not the other way around.
Those unforgettable five minutes constantly reminded me of a “moving” cosmos, though the movements are of course, hardly perceptible from a vantage point when a few “seconds” of a cosmic event may be equivalent to a human lifetime.
Nature is a friend, waiting to be befriended and understood, a huge yet docile leviathan whose secrets may deepen much further our comprehension of the perplexing creation of the Spirit. Neither is it a hindrance to human progress, but a potentially powerful partner in future human ventures we have only begun barely to conceive.
Nature in fact, as in those five minutes of the coming dawn, soothes the exhaustion and the stress that comes with the efficient structuring of our own built environment. It is an irony to think that we are constantly tiring ourselves out, building our desired “natural” images, while retreating to be rejuvenated by images we cannot recreate ourselves.
It is an irony to think that seemingly we will never be happy with what we have created … and that we will only be happy with what the Spirit alone has created.
Nature is offering to us a portal to come out of ourselves, and see the artificialities we have so mindlessly accomplished. It is an opportunity to see who we really are, especially if blinded by our innate pride, we are having difficulty doing so. It is a chance to see the foolishness of our arrogance and avarice as well as the wisdom of awe and humility.
There has to be benevolently ordained limitations, constraints that we are happily incapable of exceeding; no technology of mine can duplicate the exquisite grace of that rising sun!
To our spiritual founder, Brother Francis of Assisi, nature is being offered as a portal to the Spirit, an ethereal venue for nurturing supernatural relationships and for nucleating divine love. To him, the surrounding environment is an animated creature, which can feel and speak for itself; an existential phenomenon that can heal or be hurt; a living organism that can fight back when provoked.
Thus, my modest Franciscan exhortation: We must dare not miss the signs and wonders of nature for they accurately mirror the attributes of its creator Spirit – like nature, God speaks and we should listen; God heals for which we should be grateful; God loves but can also be injured by our loveless responses, and thus can demand from us the infinite limits of heavenly justice.
Nature can therefore be truly called a “mother,” if we are conditioned by our social contexts to call the Spirit a “father.” Nature gives and sustains life, much like a human mother; while the Spirit orders the life between the children and their mother, much like a human father. Though the mother is begotten from the father, both are worthy of our veneration, for we are but puny though beloved little creatures, totally dependent on their providence.
However, in contemporary religious thought, we have rightfully reserved most of our praise for the father Spirit, while unrightfully reserving the rest of our admiration for our own capabilities (in fact, for so many of us in the post-modern era, this proportion has been unequivocally reversed). But where has the respect for mother nature gone?
The ancient peoples of our species seem to have intuitively sensed this need for respect. They have in their primeval sacralized intellect — which we in modern times, have often dismissed as “unsophisticated” — placed the proper hierarchy of blessing and veneration, first to the father Spirit, and next to mother nature.
Note that they have hardly left any space for raising themselves to the level of the gods — they knew very well their proper place in the cosmos, embracing and harmonizing, rather than forcing and dominating. Perhaps a more mature cosmology we can learn from the ancients?
It is this animistic element in long-forgotten religions — in perceiving the Spirit in nature — that has been quite irreversibly displaced by our “civilized” anthropocentrism.
The quirks in human history that caused us to surprisingly see ourselves much more attached to the “father” than to the detached “mother” and worse, to surprisingly see ourselves subjugating the “mother” in accordance with the “father’s instructions,” is very peculiar indeed.
Maybe, in order for us to much better appreciate the initiatives against violence towards the environment, we must rethink these current paradigms.
Thus, we have effectively eroded the more beautiful familial relationship between parents and children, divorced the bond between the masculine caretaker and the feminine caregiver, resulting in our almost exclusive relationship with the paternal provider.
We have deemed any intimate relationship with the maternal provider as “blasphemous,” as we have seen in the recent controversy surrounding the expressions of spiritual veneration for a divinized mother nature in the Amazonian synod.
Let us think again: do you think that in our zeal to show faithfulness to our father by rejecting his spouse and our mother, he will consequently be happy?
Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of UCA News.