Everything Ablaze: Reflections on Ecological Spirituality

Arlene Flaherty OP

To see a world in a grain of sand 
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour—

Art:  Barbara Paleczny, SSND
Art:  Barbara Paleczny, SSND

Many are familiar, no doubt, with these famous opening lines from William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence.”  As we reflect on the call within Laudato Si’ to cultivate an ecological spirituality, these words can function as a revelatory text.  The 19th-century poet offers us in the 21st century, something of what we would call today, an evolutionary and creation centered spirituality.  As such, perhaps the two most important words in this poem are the words, “to see.” Most of us who are born with sight take this capacity for granted, don’t we?  Yet, there is nothing more significant, regardless of the health of our eyes than the ongoing and ever evolving capacity we have been given “to see.” To see has much more to do with making meaning of the world, our experiences, and our place in what others have called, “the grand scheme of things.”  

“Everything Ablaze” are two meaning-making words, emerging today in our consciousness and in contemporary spirituality as we contemplate and make meaning of the origin and evolving story of the universe.  The story of the universe’s origins and continued evolution is fascinating and evocative. It is a fascinating story depicted in the elegance, color and magnitude captured by modern scientific technology.  It is an evocative story in that the story of life’s origins holds revelatory significance for us.  The story of the universe is not only a text but also a doorway into mysticism.  

Almost 14 billion years ago, the force of Divine love exploded forth from eternity, casting love’s fire and energy across an unfathomable vastness.  Over the course of billions of years, the heat of this force began to cool, taking the form of gases, minerals, and matter.  Stars, galaxies, and planets evolved. It all emerged and continues to emerge from the life force who is the Creator. Eventually Earth, a planet possessing the precise conditions for life emerged from this heat and wild energy.  From this planet, and the fire of her energy-sending-Sun, and from the fire that continues to burn in the planet’s molten core, all life, as we know it, has come to birth. Evidence of the great flaring forth has only become available to us during the course of our lifetimes.  Only within the last fifty years, have astronomers actually detected the evidence of magnetic fields that have long been only theorized about in the inelegantly called “Big Bang Cosmology.” The remnant radiation of the great flaring forth from the first moments of creation is now observable through high powered telescopes; the remnant radiation permeates many of the observable galaxies.  Within the last 50 years, the largest magnetic field yet, 10 million light years in size, has been found.  More recently, another magnetic field has been spotted elsewhere in the cosmos. What has spiritual and theological significance for us tis that throughout these magnetic fields, the presence of that primal, great flaring forth of God’s love and creative power continues to abide in our universe.  One author wrote, “Like the scribes of old, these remnant fields of fire are inscribing across the universe, a testament to the Creator’s presence then, now, and forever.”  

Throughout his life and writings, the mystic-scientist and Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, spoke of the Divine generative force of live as that which is driving the expansion and evolution of the universe.  His work was seminal for many reasons, His contemplative lens, his capacity “to see,” challenged the longstanding suspicion and mutual repudiation that long existed between science and faith.  Teilhard, the scientist, saw not only the presence of evolutionary processes in all matter such as the rocks, soil, and minerals he studied, but Teilhard the person of faith saw them ABLAZE with the Divine presence.  Similarly, the poet Mary Oliver eloquently describes this experience of encounter with the Divine in nature throughout her poetry.  In her poem PRAYING she reflects on moments when her “seeing creation” has been a prayer, an encounter in which another voice- the voice of creation- and the voice of the Creator can speak.  

She writes,
  It doesn’t have to be
  the blue iris, it could be
  weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
  small stones; just
  pay attention, then patch
  a few words together and don’t try
  to make them elaborate, this isn’t
  a contest but a doorway
  into thanks, and a silence in which
  another voice may speak.

Instead of seeing vacant inertness in matter, Teilhard the scientist and Mary Oliver the poet, testify to us of the immanence, presence, power, and generativity of the Divine ablaze in all created things.  In creation, Teilhard discovered that the elements of sacraments, through which Divine life is dispensed to us, are everywhere.

Reflection:  Take some time and “take-in” some aspect or gift of creation that draws your attention. What do you “see,” as you contemplate this creation?