Nature and Spirituality

This is an article reprinted from: St Lucia Spirituality Group

Ecology is a huge subject. Many writers have written books on the subject, including Pope Francis, so it is somewhat daunting to prepare a brief discussion paper on the subject and relate it effectively to spirituality. Much local news about climate change, international efforts to counteract global warming and prophecies of doom for mankind approach the subject from the global perspective. We are slowly discovering what indigenous peoples have known for millennia – we humans are not the centre of the universe. However, that is a topic for another day. In this paper, I want to focus on the relationship between the individual and nature.

When was the last time you sat in a park and did nothing but observe what was going on around you?

I credit Richard Rohr with shifting my perspective on nature and spirituality. He was the first person I read who described nature as God’s first Bible. He encouraged me to reflect on creation and evolution. He and the authors he quoted helped me to understand the inherent value in every animal, plant and, yes, even every inanimate object.

And so, I sat in my local park recently. I was astounded at the speed of a butcher bird as it raced from tree to tree. I marvelled at the musical calls of different birds. I observed the industriousness of ants. I watched wispy clouds pass overhead and contemplated the amazing journey that water takes from ocean to cloud to rain to earth to river to ocean. I pondered the uniqueness of each tree. I noticed that trees of the same species have different heights, widths, colouring, branch structure etc. And then, in a moment of insight, I thought that humans were just like trees. We have different gender, sexual identity, DNA maker coma personality, and life experience. We are all unique and we all contribute to the rich tapestry of life.

During April 2024, Richard Rohr’s meditations included a series on nature. I would like to share with you three extracts from these that help with reflection on nature and spirituality.

Ecological theologian Thomas Berry (1914-2009) suggests that the Western world has lost its connection with nature:

“Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. This other world was guardian, teacher, healer—the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned….


We have lost our connection to this other deeper reality of things. Consequently, we now find ourselves on a devastated continent where nothing is holy, nothing is sacred. We no longer have a world of inherent value, no world of wonder, no untouched, unspoiled, unused world. We think we have understood everything. But we have not. We have used everything. By “developing” the planet, we have been reducing Earth to a new type of barrenness. Scientists are telling us that we are in the midst of the sixth extinction period in Earth’s history. No such extinction of living forms has occurred since the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago.


To preserve this sacred world of our origins from destruction, our great need is for renewal of the entire Western religious-spiritual tradition…. We need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with it, … to a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the visible world about us, from a spirituality concerned with justice simply to humans to a justice that includes the larger Earth community….


We cannot save ourselves without saving the world in which we live…. We will live or die as this world lives or dies. We can say this both physically and spiritually. We will be spiritually nourished by this world or we will be starved for spiritual nourishment. No other revelatory experience can do for the human what the experience of the natural world does.” 1

Former US Environmental Protection Agency scientist Theresa Martella speaks about the influence Berry had on her life and the importance of contemplation in appreciating our deep connection to nature:

“As a spiritual ecologist, I have been profoundly influenced by Eco theologian and Passionist priest Thomas Berry, also known as the father of ecological spirituality. Thomas taught me what I had always intuited; that spirit and matter are one.


He once said, “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The Old Story—the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it—is not functioning properly, and we have not learned the New Story.” His call for a new story—one of nurturing a mutually enhancing relationship with the Earth—resonated deeply with me, naming our ecological crisis as a spiritual crisis.


Contemplative wisdom soon became my compass, guiding me toward sustainability and simplicity in my own life. When I practice regularly, I can detach from my wants and desires and recognize my interconnectedness with all of life. The need for constant comparison and material accumulation passes as I recognize my desires as passing thoughts, not needs. My worries for the state of the planet recede, if only for a minute. My mind and soul rest.


When we fully attend to Nature, we experience a spacious emptiness where we merge with something larger than ourselves. Nature becomes the healer, supporting radical resilience as we face an uncertain future with climate change. We realize we are of nature, not separate from it.” 2

Ecological theologian Tony Jones writes of his encounter with God in wild places and how venturing into wilderness puts him in touch with his true self:

“The God of wild places offers peace. In a modern world that’s frenetic and busy—always connected, always on—finding peace is getting more difficult… To receive the peace offered by the God of wild places, we’ll have to retrograde to old technologies: canoe and paddle; hiking boots and walking stick; bow and arrow and fishing pole. We also have to remember that the peace we long for is within, a spark of the divine that resides within each of us. To bring that spark to a flame can be done indoors, but I have a lot more luck when I’m outdoors— and the wilder the place the better.


The God of wild places honors place. When we visit and revisit the wild places that are special to us, experiences of transcendence are waiting for us there… I’ve sung a hymn to my most special place, a few acres of northern forest sitting on the edge of a lake. Caretaking that land is a joy and a privilege, and it’s become clear to me that doing so is part of my vocation, my calling from God. These trees and this creek are my congregation to pastor, as a shepherd, cares for sheep—they were torn asunder by a tornado, as was I; they have regrown in scarred beauty, as have I…. These days I’m zealous in maintaining these woods, guarding and protecting them, doing what I can to keep them healthy and safe, safeguarding their peace.


The God of wild places has given us companions. We may be hurtling through space … but we’re not alone. We are interdependent on a whole fabric of creation, woven together with beings, sentient and non-sentient, animate and inanimate…. I’ve stopped looking up to the sky for help and instead lowered my eyes to the companions around me. My dogs have been my most sacred non-human companions. [My friend] Seth talks to plants. No matter the species with which we commune, the key is keeping the whole web in view—seeing the forest and the trees, for God’s love pulses through the web.


The God of wild places requires risk. We’ve done everything we can to mitigate risk to ourselves, an admirable trait that has ensured the propagation of our species…. On a neurological level, adventure facilitates deep learning. On a spiritual level, high-risk situations strip us bare and make us vulnerable. When my ego recedes, there’s more room for God. Attaining the next level of success requires taking a chance: climbing a bigger mountain, hiking a more challenging trail, riding a bigger wave…. Modern life tends to inoculate us against these risks, but the God of wild places peels away that safety and brings us back in touch with who we’re meant to be.” 3

Questions for reflection:

  • How often do you pause, commune in nature and simply observe the wonder of creation?
  • What role does nature play in your spiritual journey?
  • What can you do to develop a greater appreciation of the role of nature in your life?

1 CAC Meditations 6 March 2024

2 CAC “We Conspire” series, 25 April 2024 conspire-series/

3 CAC Meditations 22 April 2024

Nature and Spirituality John Scoble Butterfly Series #30 June 2024