Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Listening to God through Creation

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The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)

Psalm 19 reminds us that God’s Creation is continuously speaking of God’s glory, displaying God’s “craftsmanship,” making God known. The Bible often points us to God through God’s Creation, telling us to discover more about God by paying attention to God’s Creation.

But are we listening?

I had a lovely conversation a few week ago with a friend of our family who asked me if the Bible says anything about caring for the earth, caring for the universe. “Oh yes,” I enthusiastically affirmed. We talked for an hour and a half about the care of creation and the challenges we as humans have had doing so. I shared with him how the Bible is full of invitations for us to care for the earth, care for soil, land, water, sky, air, other creatures, care for our own bodies. Adam and Eve were called to steward the garden of Eden, to be care-takers of God’s beautiful Creation. We are still called by God to wisely steward all God has made, including our own bodies. We care for what God has made because God calls us to do so. We care for our own bodies because we are made in the image of God. We listen to Creation because God is speaking through what God made, telling us about God’s glory, beauty, artistry, and brilliant creative power.

But are we listening?

Paul declares in Romans 1:20, “Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

Through everything God made, we get to know God, through our senses: by what we see, what we taste, what we smell, what we touch, and what we hear. Listening to Creation is one way to listen to God.

Over and over in the Bible, we hear Creation crying out with praises to the Creator. All Creation is speaking to us of God’s wonders, inviting us to pay attention and learn to listen. Here are a few examples of such beautiful writing from God’s Word.

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
    Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
. (Psalm 96:11-12)

Ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.
(Job 12:7-10)

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?
(Job 38:4-7)

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.
(Psalm 65:8-13)

In each of these passages from the Bible, Creation speaks forth praises, sings for joy, teaches about God, or declares God’s wonders.

But are we listening?

St. Francis’s and his Canticle of Creation

One of the heroes from Church History who most paid attention to God’s Creation was St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226). He loved calling aspects of God’s Creation his brother or his sister. This is expressed beautifully in his classic poem, “Canticle of Creation.”

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially, my Lord, through Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

St. Francis teaches us from 8 centuries ago, how to listen to God’s Creation, by considering every element in Creation, Sun, Moon, Stars, Wind, Water, Fire, Earth, as part of my family, my brothers and sisters.

How do I listen to God through God’s Creation? Here are three practical ways.

Listening to God through Creation

  1. Go outside. Go out into nature, into what God has made, and sit still, surrounded by God’s Creation. We spend most of our time indoors, surrounded by what humans have made, disconnected from nature. Even when we do get outside, too often, we are only seeing nature in forms that are highly maintained or managed by humans, such as lawns. Our children too often grow up alienated from God’s Creation, separated from wildness in nature. This develops what Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder.” Louv is author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder ( Algonquin, 2005). We need to spend more time outside, watching the clouds, listening to nature.
  2. Listen to nature. Once outside, pay attention to the sounds of the natural world. This may simply be the sound of the wind in the leaves of a tree in your yard. We live near the ocean, so we hear the sound of the surf daily. That song is so constant, that I often neglect to pay attention to the waves. “All your waves and breakers have swept over me,” writes one of the sons of Korah in Psalm 42. The sounds of God’s waves and breakers are sweeping over me as I write. I hear the quiet, white song of the surf. Yesterday, while sitting on our back deck, my wife and I heard a frog singing very near our deck. I had not heard a frog from that part of the forest for years. That single song of a frog delighted me. That part of the forest near my home is healthy enough to welcome a frog and its song. I also love listening to birdsong, especially at dawn and dusk. Birds sing all day, but they especially love to sing at Lauds and Vespers. Martin Luther called birds “God’s little theologians.” I like to think of birds as members of God’s creation chorus. I can stand among Hemlock and Alder trees, in the forest next to my home, and hear the birdsongs of 10-15 different species of birds simultaneously. I love learning what bird is singing what song. The hauntingly high, dual-toned song of the Varied Thrush coming from high in the conifers makes my spine tingle with delight. The articulate, bold song of the Winter Wren, singing with mouth wide open, thrills my heart to hear it every time. Go outside and listen to the sounds of nature.
  3. Study God’s creation: Take time to focus upon one little portion of God’s Creation, and use your mind, your senses, your reason, your powers of observation, to learn all you can about that part of nature. I love Ravens. I’ve bought as many books about ravens as I can find to learn all I can about this most amazing bird. One such book, is Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich, a writer/naturalist who raised ravens in captivity and then set them free to more closely study their behavior, their life cycles, their social structures, and their language. Ravens have one of the largest brains in the entire bird world. In Luke 12:24, Jesus commands us: Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! The verb Jesus uses for “consider” is KATA-NOEO, to intensely study, to use our minds with careful focused attention to learn all we can about something. Jesus tells us to carefully study ravens! Why? We learn more about God’s care for these amazing birds, giving them remarkable abilities to find food, habitat, and survive. And “how much more valuable you are than ravens!”

The contemplative spiritual discipline of Listening to God through Creation, by going outside, listening to nature, and studying God’s creation will lead us deeper into life with God, deepen our life of praise, adoration and gratitude to God who cares for us to greatly, loves us so deeply, and provides for us so completely. We may also find that our stress levels are being reduced, our joy for life has increased, and our appreciation for other people has been richly enhanced.

Books for Further Study:

  • The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature, by John O’Donohue;
  • The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature, by Gerald G. May;
  • Nature Spirituality: Praying with Wind, Water, Earth, Fire, by Mark G. Boyer;
  • The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, by Tristan Gooley;
  • Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements, Christine Valters Painter.

2 thoughts on “Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Listening to God through Creation”

  1. What a delight to read this David. I have just, in the past hour, come off the river from kayaking. It is one of the most healing activities in my life.
    I marvel at Gods creation on the river.

    1. Thanks Donna, and happy birthday to you this week! Congrats on the weddings of your kids. We are well, and celebrate our 39th anniversary this Sunday. Blessings to you and Jamie and family

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