Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

The Holy Dwelling of God in Scripture and in Nature by Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ


Elizabeth Johnson, in the third part of her lecture on the Holy Spirit, spoke on the "cosmic presence of the Holy Spirit." She called nature the place where God dwells and reminded us that there are two books of revelation, Scripture and Nature. However, Elizabeth added, when Christian theology separated natural and supernatural, we lost a focus on the natural, on the "beloved creation filled with the Spirit."

Three of my favorite books describe nature filled with the Holy Spirit. Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I read many years ago, has stayed with me as containing vivid images of God's profligate and varied natural world. Dillard spent a year at Tinker Creek in Virginia, simply seeing and perhaps reading the creek's biological life. That in this instance she called herself a "pilgrim" has always delighted me; her journey with creation was a spiritual journey, a journey filled with the Holy Spirit.

Kathleen Norris subtitled her account of 20 years in the Dakotas A Spiritual Geography. Is my backyard at Cathedral where I have lived for many years a place where I am reading a "spiritual geography"? Norris tells me that her reading of nature is connected intrinsically to her spirituality.

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, was, for so many of us who connected to his retreat, a revelation of truth and wisdom. The Spirit comes from every page of this classic of American literature.

Mystics all, did they know as we know that all of us are kin, that we have a common genetic ancestry, that we form one mutually interdependent community of life, that all creation is held together by the oneness of love, from the stars to the depths of the sea?

A "bookaholic," I was tempted to check out these classics from the library and reread them. However, instead, I will do as these writers did: spend time in my own backyard and elsewhere, practicing what Ilia Delio (our speaker for Community Day this coming fall) calls "Eco-Christology: Living in Creation as the Body of Christ." (Human Development, Spring 2012)

Since making this decision, I have had two amazing instances of "revelation" from nature (though not in my backyard). Outside my office window while I was sitting quietly one day, I watched as on a somewhat barren tree, a single leaf grew from tiny, green emergence to full-blown green life. In my former frame of mind, I would not have seen this growth as I busily worked at my computer. Also, one day our staff at Sacred Heart took a lunch-time field trip to a rocky cliff overhanging Schodack Creek. Across the water and up in a tree whose limbs were still leafless, I saw, aided by binoculars, a mother eagle sitting with her two babies, visible only by a little black fuzz on their heads. Together, we five staff members sat, ate lunch, felt the sunshine and saw. I felt as if we were at prayer, practicing "Eco-Christianity" and "Living in Creation as the Body of Christ."

I'll stop writing now and go out and see what is going on in my backyard.