Lectio Divina with the Earth: Time to Listen
My heart reels with sadness for Mother Earth. Last week, Hurricane Laura (Level 4) slammed into the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Fire fighters battled walls of fire in northern California that have consumed over 100,000 acres of land, as well as many homes and businesses. And here in Ohio, I continue quarantining in place with the rest of our nation in the fifth month of a pandemic, one of our first major illnesses brought on, like these other situations because of climate change. If ever there were a time that we need to listen to the Earth, it is now.
In our post-modern world, we are surrounded with technology and equipment, gadgets and machines. Brian Swimme in his book, The Hidden Heart of Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story (New York: Orbis Books, 1996), suggests that much of the reason we have so much depression in our materialistic culture is that we focus too much on “dead things.” We separate ourselves from a close connection with the earth. For this reason, perhaps, we allow our society to destroy much of the environment on which we depend. Regular walks in nature can begin to remedy this alienation and help lead to a path of personal and planetary healing.
Just open the door and take a walk out into nature. Make your goal mindfulness and awareness. Slow down and use the senses to see, hear, feel, smell and taste the infinite varieties of diversity in this amazing world.
Lectio Divina, a practice for reading scripture developed by a monk in the Middle Ages, can also be used to read the holy Word of God found in all of creation. Beginning with Lectio (reading), look at or “read” the landscape and listen for what “shimmers” or jumps out at you on this particular day. Allow the Spirit to call your attention to something. It could be the big picture, or a small decaying leaf; a flying bird or a stream of industrious ants. Then move into Meditatio (meditating) on that aspect of the Divine Word, considering the message for your life today. What are you hearing? Why did you happen to focus on that particular aspect of nature? After a time of meditation, move into Oratio (praying), for whatever you’ve discovered about a message for your life. Pray for that thought to take root in your every day. And finally, sit or walk with Contemplativo (contemplating), silencing your thoughts and just be present to God.
A walk in nature may not only heighten your awareness of God, but also your physical interaction with creation provides life-giving oxygen for you, and necessary carbon dioxide for the plants. This stimulates a harmony of mind, body and spirit. When it’s not possible to go on a walk outdoors, meditating on an indoor plant or even a photo of the natural world can provide contemplative joy.
One day, practicing Lectio Divina, I sat with a bouquet and the leaves shimmered for me. I considered how a leaf grows from the center of the plant, branches out and receives sustenance from roots in the soil, always connected to its source. I thought about how it fulfills its purpose of absorbing sunlight and CO2 to feed the plant; a form of symbiosis (Lectio). I realized that I am like the leaf. I have grown from a seed, branching out, receiving all of my nourishment from gifts of the natural world. I am of the Earth, and also part of this greater ecosystem (Meditatio). I then prayed, “Help me God to stay connected to You in each breath. May I realize my place in this ecosystem. May I live from my heart Center and feel this symbiosis of interdependence” (Oratio). And then I sat into silence with the leaves (Contemplativo).
Another day a sunflower shimmered for me. I observed this dazzling beauty with its sturdy stem, a circle of centered seeds, its border of brilliant gold petals and underneath, a green lotus-like green support that undergirds the large flower (Lectio). It taught me to look underneath the surface to find the gems of the person, the moment the day. It said, “Listen, be curious, interview, learn about people. Look for supportive practices that will help you act from the center. Cultivate strength (Meditatio). And then I prayed, “Help me God to take time to cultivate the strength I need for my life. And help to always look beneath the surface and be curious to listen and learn from others” (Oratio). And this led into my time of silent meditation, as I marveled at the underside of the sunflower that I had never really seen before (Contemplativo).
Still another day, I walked down to the waterfront of Lake Erie, a day when the pier and beach were closed due to algal blooms. I sat on a chair focusing on this sadness at one of my favorite places and considered the pollution, brought on by agricultural runoff and warmer waters due to climate change. I considered what can happen when our ecosystem suffers from the release of too much carbon into the atmosphere. I felt within me alarm. I heard the earth crying out and begging me to listen to the damage of our industrial society (Lectio). Within the cry, I heard a call to action. The Earth needs me to continue to organize and build bipartisan political will to address climate change (Meditatio). And then I prayed, “I’m sorry, God, for the damage we humans are causing to your beautiful gift of the incredible ecosystem of Earth. Help me to do what I can. May I work with others. May I try harder as a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby” (Oratio). And then I sat in silence with the sick lake, seeking God in the midst of this suffering of our ecosystem (Contemplativo).
I encourage you to take time to listen to the Earth in these days. God will speak to you. Use the practice of Lectio Divina and let me know what you hear! You can contact me at email@example.com. Check out my website at spiritualseedlings.com for more information about my book Awakening: A Contemplative Primer on Learning to Sit (Higher Ground Books and Media, 2020) which includes a chapter on the practice of Lectio Divina with Nature, and ten other contemplative practices.