In last week’s entry I used two different images with the hand of God coming out of Heaven to bless or to impart wisdom. That image has stayed with me especially since this past Friday was Earth Day. God has blessed us with the gift of our planet, our resources, the beauty and diversity of different creatures, (including humans!) and an incredible rhythm of how it all was meant to work together. Therefore, it is important to pray with the image of God’s hand coming forth not only to reflect upon the abundance of grace, but also to dwell upon His gift of the beauty in all that exists. With this in mind a verse in Psalm 145, (the Psalm of Sunday’s liturgy), stands out: “Let them make known your might to the children of Adam, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” Could the psalmist be implying that the might of God is best seen in creation? There is no doubt that His kingdom, which of course includes the earth, is filled with glorious splendor. All one has to do is look around at the beauty of nature and this becomes apparent. But however beautiful it all is, this is not the height of creation, nor is it our final destination. There is much more to come in the next world in which, as we cross into it, God will delight to say: “Behold, I make all things new!”
One thing which is sure is that nothing is static; everything is constantly changing and every moment is a lifetime unto itself. This is the way it was meant to be. All things, from the expansiveness of evolution to our own very short lives, were meant to ebb and flow in a cosmic dance put into motion by God. Over much of it we have little control, if any. But we do have control over how we handle the time and resources which have been entrusted to us. This was made clear by God at the beginning of Genesis when He told the man and woman to have dominion over the earth. Their very names in Hebrew, Adamah and He-vah, connote a connection with the earth. (Adamah means ‘of the earth’ or ‘of the dust,’ and He-vah, from the word for ‘living,’ implies her role as mother.) But the process involves first noticing that we are part of creation and that we participate in it. Sadly, we have become so busy that we often miss the beauty which walks, flies, or swims past us daily. We miss the music of the wind, the splendor of the sky, the grandeur of the stars, and the glory of a songbird when get so preoccupied that we have no time for noticing, or worse, when we lose a sense of the value of doing this at all.
The leaders in the newly formed church of the first century (which we read about during this season) were filled with joy in serving Jesus. They had changed after their interaction with Him. They were the same people, yet they were not. They had come alive as to who they were always meant to be; but what changed in them the most was that their eyes were completely opened. Just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had their eyes opened to who Jesus was in the breaking of the bread, what had changed the most for them was the ability to see what had not been apparent before. Their physical eyes now saw everything with a new wonder and awe, one of the major gifts of the Holy Spirit, and their souls were illuminated with the glory of seeing God within as well. They saw the presence of God in everyone and everything. With their eyes seeing as never before, their hearts were also opened more deeply than ever: with new vision came a new depth of mercy and love.
The author of the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos, wrote that in his vision he saw a new heaven and a new earth. He described it as being filled with light, bedecked in jewels, and with living water running through its midst. Though symbolic, the reality he was describing was a place which is perfect. It is where God is and where we will one day be. He said, “God Himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) This is the reality to which our eyes, and consequently our hearts, will be opened.
The apostles in the early church knew that there was more to come than that which was in this world; they came to see that the way to live the Christian life was to keep one eye on what is here, so as to be fully grounded in the gift of life and the building of the Kingdom, and to keep the other eye on what is to come so as to be living with Heaven as their goal. Again, the key to this is vision. To this end it would be good to ask ourselves: what is it that fills our eyes and therefore our hearts? Do we allow ourselves the time to stop and savor that which is around us? This life is a preparation for the next; if we do not value what is here, there is no way we can truly hope in what is to come. Heaven is a wonderful ‘notion,’ but if it remains as an abstract idea rather than the reality we glimpse from time to time in this life, then we truly have no idea of what it is that God has promised.
The Scriptures are filled with references to the beauty of creation. A cursory browsing of the Psalms will attest to the many praises given to God glorifying Him for all He has made. Though we like to think of the Old Testament as mostly historical and full of laws, it surely is not. There are numerous references and descriptions throughout these Scriptures about the blessing of created things. When the phrase ‘flowing with milk and honey’ was used to describe the Promised Land, for example, the writer was referring to the loveliness and bounty of the land which God had given them. The references are there, but we have to stop and ponder them to truly appreciate the love and reverence for the earth that the writers possessed and therefore desired to impart.
The New Testament is no different. Jesus’ references to agriculture and nature were more than just practical, commonsense metaphors. He could see with eyes that were deeply attuned to creation, so we can rightly suppose that beauty stirred His heart in ways that are beyond words. It may be that Jesus used nature metaphors and similes in His preaching because He wanted to remind us that while there is better to come, our home is not too shabby a place to be! Often Jesus spoke of something as small as a mustard seed or as large as a mountain. He spoke of grain and various crops, animals, fruit trees, rock, water, salt, light, fish, the birds of the sky and the flowers of the fields. He taught near the sea, (even walked upon it), in a garden, on a mountainside, and on the edges of the desert. Of course, He also spent much time in cities where there is a certain kind of beauty as well. But the point is that we are meant to open our eyes to see creation. If we do, we will see the hand of God.
Through the Easter season we are continually reminded that the work of Jesus was and is redemption. He offers us mercy, new life in the Spirit and hope for our future, a promise which has neither changed nor faded over the centuries and which is offered to us again this year and beyond. Therefore we need to allow the Easter graces we have received to open our eyes and our hearts to appreciate what we have always had, transformed through His death and resurrection. It would be good to reflect upon what we see, whether it is a bird in flight or a single cloud floating on air. The hand of God is reaching down from Heaven always, inviting us to receive grace and knowledge of Him. Though the world is filled with suffering and brokenness, beauty offers us hope. If we can see beauty in even the simplest way, we can remember that God’s promise is there for us until the end of time. We do more than simply persevere: we are meant to enter into life, savoring all that is around us in the created world, to value the people who are given to us, indeed to respect everyone, and be good stewards so that we will have something equally beautiful to pass on until the time in which Jesus returns. On that day we will personally hear Him say: “Behold, I make all things new.”
May we be filled with appreciation for nature and the beauty of all God has created! May we be filled with gratitude for the goodness of the earth and may we take care of all that has been entrusted to us! May we share the bounty that we have received with those who are struggling to survive as well as those who are suffering any hardship! May we learn to savor every moment and every opportunity to see the hand of God reflected in the life around us! May we learn to see beauty with our eyes so that our hearts may be transformed! And may we rejoice with hope in the promise of Jesus that He will make all things new! Let us continue to meet in the heart of the Risen Lord! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is The Holy Spirit The Lord and Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you peruse Fr. Bill's website you will see many icons with God's hand coming from above. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this one, it can be purchased as a card, plaque, or other format, at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next is an image of the Earth as taken from space. I love every image of the earth from space; it is home sweet home, but there will be better in the next life! If you want to see some fabulous photos, check out this wonderful article and photos: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150721-pictures-earth-nasa-dscovr-spacex-space-science/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20150722news-earthpicsnasa&utm_campaign=Content&sf11219650=1
Next is a painting called St. Paul and St. Barnabas in Listri by Simone Peterzano (1572-73). It shows Paul and Barnabas in Lystra struggling with the crowds who mistakenly thought they were the gods Mercury and Zeus after a particularly powerful speech by Paul. Chaos ensued when some angry folks from Antioch and Iconium showed up. (See Acts 14:8-19)
The next three photos are my own, taken in Rockport, TX. Overall, I had in mind the Canticle of Daniel (Dan 3:52-90). The first photo of a chicken represents the bounty of the land. "Everything growing on the earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:76)
The next photo is of three dolphins. Part of this trio was a mother and her baby. "You sea monsters and all water creatures, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:79)
The last photo is a lone seagull seeming to float over the water. "All birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dan 3:80)
Last is an image, the Viriditas Triptych, part of a larger work called Viriditas - Finding God in All Things by Fr. William Hart McNichols. These are his words: "This is the center panel of the full image, Viriditas at Loyola Chicago University. If you look at nature closely in the early spring, all green things begin with red (wounds) buds, shoots, and branches. Then they flower into green and abundant colors of infinite life. The leaves, vibrant rocks and stones are living examples of how nature praises the Creator. Earth's atmosphere, usually a thin line of blue is, in this version green, with the life of the Holy Spirit. Twelve tongues of the Spirit's flames hover round the World as in a New Pentecost which St John the XXIII and St John Paul II prophesied for the 21st Century." It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-triptych-william-hart-mcnichols.html. As noted above, you can go to the link and purchase the triptych or the entire work, Viriditas, as a plaque, card, or in another format.
Heart Speaks to Heart