Falling in Love With Nature

Living Laudato Si' in the Year of Ignatius


By Gary Gardner

The great Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote that to save our endangered environment, we must forge an emotional bond between ourselves and nature, as “we will not fight to save what we do not love.” We will not fight to save what we do not love.


Much of the vast damage we have inflicted on our planet has occurred, arguably, because we have fallen out of love with nature. Industrial development of the past two centuries has taught us to view nature as a warehouse of resources. Forests are so many board-feet of lumber, for example, rather than an ecosystem whose fruits can be shared among all species, including humans. Our utilitarian view of nature does not generate the emotional bond that Stephen Jay Gould spoke of — the love we need to engender if we are to live in harmony with our planet.


So how can we learn to love nature if, as for many of us, this love has not been internalized in our formation? Our Judeo-Christian tradition has much to offer in this regard. Despite seeming to appear out of nowhere, Laudato Si’ and other teachings about the sacredness of nature are as old as our tradition.


We hear those teachings in our Scriptures as far back as Genesis, where the very setting for God’s creation of man and woman is a garden of overflowing abundance. We hear them in Psalm 65 and in the Canticle of Daniel, which calls out the waters, the sun and moon, and the stars of heaven to bless the Lord.


In our Scriptures, nature is a sacred gift and a bridge to God. Listen for that posture the next time you contemplate a Scriptural passage. And beyond Scripture, we have rich resources from the Franciscan family that can deepen in us a love of God’s Creation. Consider St. Francis himself, who uses poetry to articulate the beauty of Creation. Francis loves nature so deeply that he considers the elements of nature to be family. And he sees nature as a bridge to God. Are we able to regard nature with the same reverence?


If you prefer an appeal to the mind, consider the teachings of another Franciscan, St.Bonaventure, who builds on Francis’ poetry with theological insights that can deepen our love of Creation. Bonaventure begins with the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in ongoing relationship, a God of communication whose idiom is love. But their love dialogue is not a private affair, a conversation confined to themselves. No, they share their love generously, speaking out to the universe. In this way, the universe — Creation — can be understood as the speech of God, an outward expression of God’s love.


Take that in. Creation is the speech of God. Chirping songbirds, gurgling streams, wind whistling through trees—God speaks to us! Even the quiet miracles of emerging leaves and germinating seeds speak to us deeply, if we pause and take them in.


And if Creation is the speech of God, doesn’t nature become another way of understanding the Word of God? Bonaventure thought so. The Franciscan-authored book Care for Creation explains that for Bonaventure, the natural world is a companion to Scripture in expressing the Word of God. Indeed, every creature can be thought of as a “little Word” of God. Think about that on your next outing: squirrels, finches, wind, water — each is a little Word of God.


In short, loving nature becomes organic once we see nature as God’s communication to us. We receive God’s generous outpouring to us, and we respond in kind, through our love of the natural world.


Once we understand that nature is God’s self-communication to us we can adopt new practices that reinforce our love of nature. For example, daily walks become not just exercise, but a chance to exult in the natural world that surrounds us. Or consider our consumption habits. When we appreciate nature as a gift, consumption is not just about sustenance or pleasure, but a mindful appreciation of the gifts God has given us. We might extend our habit of grace before meals to broader patterns of consumption, similar to the practice of the Tlingit people of Alaska: before harvesting forest resources, they give thanks for them and promise to use only as much as they really need.


Imagine such resource consciousness in our daily life. If we expressed gratitude and promised sobriety every time we flip a light switch, grab a piece of paper, or reach for the car keys — wouldn’t this engender in us a greater reverence for Creation?


Whether our struggle to love and protect the Earth is expressed as a greening of our prayer life, a mindfulness of lifestyle, or greater commitment to Earth advocacy, our energy for the struggle comes from a warm and consoling truth: That God loves us through Creation itself, in a never-ending generosity that sustains us each moment. How could our response be anything but love in return?



Implementing the Laudato Si’ Action Platform: Ignatian Style!


This Spring, the Vatican launched the Laudato Si’ Action Platform (LSAP), embarking the global Church on a journey towards integral ecology and total sustainability over the next seven years. In honor of this launch and the Ignatian Year, the Ignatian Solidarity Network invites you to join Renewing the Earth: Living Laudato Si’ in the Year of Ignatius. Find companions on the journey as we begin to implement the action platform in the spirit of St. Ignatius. Each month, you’ll receive an email with opportunities to learn, pray, act, and connect with others around one of the LSAP goals through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality as we celebrate the Ignatian Year. Learn more and sign up.