The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 81: Contemplative Summer Week Three – Contemplating Nature
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating nature.
Summer is a wonderful time to contemplate God through nature because we can find God, his patterns, his creativity, his extravagance, and his brilliance pretty much everywhere we look in the summertime in the things that God has made. Careful contemplation or intentional focus on the details of just one small aspect of nature at a time has been a really fruitful road for me in my own understanding of the nature of God. For years, noticing details in the sky, in plants, animals, weather, even fruits and vegetables has been huge part of my prayer life so in one way, it’s hard for me to model this form of contemplation for you because there are so many subjects from which to choose. But on the other hand, it’s a form of contemplation that is so readily available to literally everyone, everywhere because there’s no element of nature that is not born of God.
So, friend, as you decide on an aspect of nature to contemplate this week, let’s remember a few contemplation guidelines:
- Let’s let God lead us toward our object of contemplation by asking the Holy Spirit for help. Remember, this can be as simple as praying, ‘Come Holy Spirit’
- Let’s give God a block of uninterrupted attention and time as we contemplate.
- Let’s ask God to guide our contemplation and any insights that might flow from the experience. Again, a quick prayer here will suffice.
- Let’s remember that time spent in contemplation is itself a prayer. If you’d like to journal or talk with God during or after that time, that’s great but I’d love for us to normalize the time itself as a prayer, especially for those of us who were raised Catholic and who just may have been taught that a prayer must include words that are printed in a book or on a prayer card.
Okay, so today I’ll describe three aspects of nature which I recently contemplated, and I’ll share with you some insights I received from this time of contemplation, but just a reminder here that your contemplation will and should look totally different from mine. As we spend time in contemplation, we’re strengthening our relationship, the communication and communion between one unique soul and God who made that soul, so we shouldn’t expect our contemplation to look or sound like anyone else’s encounter. Okay, with all that said, friend, here’s a bit of my experience in contemplating a blade of grass, a patch of sky, and a perfect peach.
I laid on a blanket in my yard one summer afternoon and asked God to direct my gaze and my thoughts. I turned my head to the side, and there found a blade of grass that had grown to seed, that is that it had created seed pods at the top, and as I took it in and examined it for a while, I reflected on how grass can mirror the pattern of our lives, too – that like that grass, we sprout in the quiet and the dark, we grow in up community with others with the help of the sun and water (sun and water always represent Jesus and the Holy Spirit for me in my own contemplation). Anyway, after a time of growing, our energy and purpose shifts away from our own growth to the production of seeds. At a certain point, the main function of the grass becomes helping other grasses to grow. And of course, the same is true of us. This pattern of how God helps us to grow and then gives us ability to pour into others is articulated beautifully by Fr. Richard Rohr in his philosophy about the two halves of life. And I’ll link to his writing in the show notes for you, but for me, this time of contemplation helped me to cultivate an understanding of God as a good planner who makes a way in the short span of our lives to provide for the growth of the ones who will come after us.
That same day, as I lay on the blanket and looked up, I disciplined my gaze to remain on the patch of sky just above me. I don’t know about you, friend, but normally, I’m a scanner – always looking to see what’s blowing in next, in the sky, sure, but also in life. But on this day, I felt a prompting to look only directly up, kind of like a horse with blinders on, I guess. As I did, I saw clouds and birds and even airplanes entering that patch of sky, and I had a little epiphany about my tendency to scan. Whether it’s the sky or my life or the lives of those I love, scanning as a practice is mostly unhelpful to bring or prevent anything from coming in. After all, I’m not steering the planes or the birds or the clouds. I’m only human. There’s an element of trust in letting the winds blow where they will and watching to see what will happen. Truthfully, I’m still working on this and probably always will be, to be honest, but in looking up that day to one little patch of sky and not scanning the entirety of it helped me to understand that it’s not all mine to harness and control, and this helped me to cultivate an understanding of God as not only much bigger than me, but also as trustworthy.
The last element of nature I contemplated this week is a perfect peach, actually lots of perfect peaches. I’m a foodie who kind of obsesses over good produce and for the second year in a row, I got a 25-pound box of peaches from a place called The Peach Truck which grows and ships the very best peaches you’ve ever had. The way it works is that you pick up your box from a peach tour stop near you, lay them out on a table in a single layer, wait 1-3 days, and then they’re ready. Friend, twenty-five pounds of peaches is a lot of peaches and there’s a limited window to enjoy them. I’ve cooked with them, shared them, eaten a ton of them, even taken their gorgeous picture, and each time I encounter one of these peaches, I marvel at God’s kindness to create such a beautiful and delicious thing with which to feed us, and with a seed inside as well. These beauties are ambassadors not only of God’s goodness and creativity, but of my care to the people I’ve shared them with, too. And this reflects the overarching principle of God’s intention in how he made all of nature, including us: God gives, we receive, and we pass it on.
And one more insight about the many recipes I’ve created with peaches this week, which is that everything I’ve made, from peach salsa, to sauces, to ice cream toppings and more help me to understand the diversity of our gifts, too – how the good things that God puts in us are even better when combined with the good things that God puts in others. The brilliant design of God is that the whole really is bigger than the sum of its parts. And whether that’s a peach paired with a red onion in a salsa, a peach paired with a jalapeno in sauce for chicken, a peach paired with brown sugar and vanilla ice cream, or any child of God walking alongside another person with a different background or experience – the truth is that we’re better when we combine with other people with distinct gifts because together, we make something that nourishes the world in some new way. All of this, a beautiful and delicious plan of God.
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating nature this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever element of nature you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to the elements of nature that I contemplated this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. I pray that as we contemplate nature this week, that we’ll uncover some attribute of you that we might not have known before, and that we’ll experience you anew in something beautiful that you’ve made in love just for us.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week three is all about contemplating nature. As you choose an element of nature to contemplate as you draw near to God this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Fr. Richard Rohr
2. The Peach Truck – delivering joy since 2012 – perfect peaches and more
3. The Deep Contemplation of Nature, by Catholic Strength Blog
4. Song: Garden Song, by John Denver