The Mirror of Nature

FATHER ANTONINUS WALL, O.P.

When Jesus began his public ministry and gathered followers to begin with them the journey to the promised land, what did he do?



CHAPTER SIX
The Mirror of Nature

  • Christ teaches us to see ordinary things in an extraordinary way
  • God's work in nature exceeds the greatest human achievements
  • Mary's faith allowed her to say yes to God
  • The Word of God is the author of nature
  • Saint Francis' experience of nature


Did he transport them to some distant galaxy where they entered into God's presence? Or did he do something more modest? Did he merely take them to another exotic part of the earth such as the Ganges or Nepal to acquire enlightenment through contact with God's presence in those places?

Jesus did none of these things. He began with them in the Holy Land and ended there. To the best of our knowledge, the majority of his followers died in the same place where they first met him. Certainly there was no long journey in space.

Did Jesus provide his followers with a magic potion, or an exotic psychedelic drug that offered them an experience of the beatific vision? He did not.

Did he lead them in extraordinary ascetic practices that brought them to deeper levels of self- consciousness and awareness of the divine within? On the contrary, the accusations of his critics had to do with the singular lack of any form of asceticism either in him or in his disciples.

Did Jesus as a master of the soul lead his disciples on a psychological journey? Did he lead them through a tortuous descent into the depths of their psyches where they experienced their deeper, truer self with release and bliss? Once again the answer is no.

Did he introduce them to mysterious, ritualistic, mystical practices that effected magical changes within them? Did he induce in them exotic, ecstatic states of consciousness, filled with the Spirit, which brought them to the very threshold of paradise? Jesus did none of these things.

What, then, did he do to awaken his followers to the experience of God's presence? Jesus' first steps with his followers on the journey of salvation were unremarkably ordinary, almost trivial. He started out by inviting his disciples to look around them at the familiar objects they saw every day. He spoke of birds, flowers, little children, bread and water, and the sunrises and sunsets that opened and closed the disciplesí daily lives: nothing new, nothing unusual. Everything appears all too ordinary.

In the springtime, they probably did look with momentary wonder at the freshly blooming flowers. At times birds could exercise a brief fascination. Certainly, beautiful sunrises or sunsets would briefly attract their gaze. At times they would enjoy the beauty of little children before finding their behavior irritating. Beyond these momentary experiences, the whole scene lacked any special significance for them.

Jesus showed them nothing new. All of his teaching dwelt upon the ordinary, old, familiar, everyday things in daily living. He spoke of eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, laughing and crying, giving birth to babies, arguing with family members, planting seeds in the ground, catching fish, collecting taxes. These were the everyday things Jesus spoke of.

What Jesus did, was to change the inner perspective from which his followers looked out on these familiar objects. He taught them to see the world around them in a radically new way. He assisted them to experience this world as a work of divine art radiating the presence of his Father's love. In a sense he brought them down on their knees before the whole of creation. He taught them, not to worship nature as divine, but to recognize the reflections of the divine in nature.

The full genius of Beethoven is stamped on each note of his music. Similarly, Jesus shows his followers the divine touch in each nuance of nature. The full artistic power of Michelangelo is present in every stroke of his brush and cut of his chisel. Similarly, Jesus taught his followers that divine love, wisdom, and artistry are manifested in every aspect of the created universe. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Fatherís will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered." [1]

In this latter example, one suspects that Jesus was planting the seeds of insight in his disciples. They would need to think of the Fatherís loving plan when later they contemplated the seeming meaningless reality of his dead body hanging from the cross.

We see Jesus' teaching illustrated in the words "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?"[2] As his words penetrated ever deeper into their consciousness, there awakened in them a new awareness of the mirroring of divine providence in these workings of nature. Certainly, those who heard Our Lord speak these words could never again look at birds in the same way.

We read further in the Gospel of Matthew, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?"[3]
From that day forward, never again could his followers contemplate the wild flowers without being reminded of his words and seeing in them a mirror reflecting divine providence at work.

To appreciate the full import of Jesus' teaching about the flowers of the field, one has to remember that for the Jews of his time the richest, wisest, most powerful person who ever existed was Solomon.

As Jesus spoke, the great temple of Solomon still existed in all its glory. [4] For the Jewish people it was the wonder of the world. Every religious Jew living away from the Holy Land dreamed of one day going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and offering sacrifice within the temple of Solomon that housed the "holy of holies."

Two thousand years later we can go to old Jerusalem and contemplate the foundation stones still remaining of the great temple of Solomon. We know these stones as the "wailing wall" that every devout Jew yearns to touch and pray against. If we marvel today at these magnificent remains, imagine the experience of the Jew in Jesus' time who could witness the temple in the fullness of its perfection.

What does Jesus mean when he tells his followers that not even Solomon in all of his splendor could rival the glory of a wild flower that springs up today and is gone tomorrow? He is teaching them, among other things, that the lowly wild flower is more a mirror of the divine than the greatest achievements of human creativity.

His message is this: Think of what God the Father can do to you and for you if you allow him to be your God and invite him to fulfill his plan in your life. Think what will happen if you say yes to his plan instead of playing at being God and trying to live out your own dream for yourself.

When Jesus cried "Oh men of little faith," he would not have included his mother, Mary, who had said yes to Godís plan. Mary became his mother, when she was a young Jewish girl of thirteen or fourteen years, growing up in a tiny, insignificant village in the Holy Land. She did exactly what Jesus was encouraging his disciples to do through the example of the wild flowers. She said "yes" to God's plan for her. She allowed him to direct and control her life, to shape and form her.

Two thousand years later, this Jewish girl has become the best known, most loved and revered of women. She is the inspiration of the greatest architecture, music, paintings, and poetry. She is an example of the wonderful mystery of the nurturing love of God. When the explanation of the phenomenon of Mary is sought, the answer is quite simple. In an admirable embodiment of her son's teaching about the wild flowers, she said "yes" to God's loving plan for her.

Jesus pointed to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air as mirrors of the divine presence. He encouraged his followers to find in them an inspiration to allow the Fatherís infinite love to mold and form them. We should remind ourselves who it was that said these words. We should ask, whence comes Jesusí masterly insights into the deepest meanings of nature and his ability to set forth authoritatively their role in human life?

We find the answer in the opening words of the Gospel of Saint John. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made."[5] Therefore,it was through the Word of God that the lilies of the field and the birds of the air were formed and brought into existence.

Finally, we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."[6] Jesus is the Word of God through Whom the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, and all of nature was created.

The Journey to God
by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

When Jesus speaks so illuminatingly and authoritatively about nature, he is speaking about his own loving work. As his followers listen to his words, their experience could be compared to that of one listening to Michelangelo expound on the aesthetic wonders of his Sistine Chapel, or the intricacies of his Pieta. Listening to Michelangelo they would be seeing the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta as they had never seen them before, through the very eyes of their creator. Listening to Jesus they would gain more than an appreciation of the aesthetics of nature. They would discover a revelation of divine love and the divine plan.

His followers began to see through Jesusí eyes the flowers and birds, the sunrises and sunsets, the miracle of little children, and the beauties of nature as he himself saw them. It was as if they were truly seeing them for the first time. They began to experience them as mirrors of the divine, as wonderful revelations of Godís love, wisdom, beauty, and power. They were awakened to the whole of creation as a work of divine art, more awesome and inspiring than any work of man.

Those who assented to the vision of nature that Jesus shared with his followers experienced a stirring of Faith. The gift of faith embraces a participation in the divine consciousness. Through faith we begin to enter the mind of God, or more accurately, God begins to transform our consciousness. We begin to see as God himself sees. We begin to know as God himself knows. In the gift of Faith, we have the seed of the Beatific Vision.

Through this gift of Faith Jesusí followers had reached the first stage of their journey to the face-to- face encounter with God. He had begun to take possession of their minds.

The saint who most admirably illustrates the awakening to Godís presence reflected in nature as a mirror of the divine, is the much loved Saint Francis of Assisi. When ill and close to death, Francis opened the Gospel of Saint Matthew and read there the words of Jesus about the flowers and the birds. He was inspired to respond unconditionally to this message. He made the decision to live henceforth as a flower in the field or a bird in the air: in total, radical dependence on Godís providence.

From that moment until the end of his life, Francis daily found in nature an ongoing experience of the Fatherís love actively engaged in the continuing work of creation. Each morning he arose early to witness God bringing about another sunrise. He found it equally important to him to be present in the evening, to experience in the setting of the sun, God concluding another day.

At night Francis saw in the mysterious phases of the moon a living reflection of the unfolding mystery of divine love. He enjoyed preaching to the birds and the flowers, and to the fish as well. In the spirit of Jesusí teaching, Francis celebrated the wonders of the whole of nature.

Yet he celebrated nature, not as divine, but as the work of God. Francis spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He did not speak of the sun as a God, or the moon as divine. The sun and moon were wonderful fellow creatures. He rejoiced in experiencing in them reflections of the same divine love that he experienced at the source of his own being.

To find in the beauties and wonders of nature a mirror reflecting the active presence of divine love is, indeed, a precious grace and gift. The journey to God ends here for some. They find in nature their deepest and purest encounter with Godís presence. This experience suffices to answer their religious hunger. Catholic faith, however, finds in this precious awakening to the divine mirrored in nature, only the first stage in the journey to God.

 

Endnotes

[1]  Matt. 10:29-30.

[2]  Matt. 6: 26-27.

[3]  Matt. 6: 28-30.

[4]  At the time when Jesus spoke, Solomon's temple had been rebuilt and enlarged by Herod.

[5]  John 1: 1-3.

[6]  John 1:14.


The Journey to God

Chapter 1 - The Journey
Chapter 2 - The Presence
Chapter 3 - The Awakening
Chapter 4 - The Way of Love
Chapter 5 - The Three Stages of Awakening
Chapter 6 - The Mirror of Nature
Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Christ Outside
Chapter 8 - The Catholic Way
Chapter 9 - The Mirror of Christ Within
Chapter 10 - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 11 - The Door
Chapter 12 - The End of the Journey
Chapter 13 - The Face to Face Encounter

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Mirror of Nature." Chapter 6 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 43-52.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.

THE AUTHOR

Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.

Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at antwall@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press




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