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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Well I recently saw Taylor Sheridan’s freshman directorial effort, Wind River.  I miss doing film commentaries (I’m pretty sure it’s been well over a year since my last one), so how about we begin anew with this one?

A snapshot (no spoilers)

The setting of Wind River is the Wyoming Indian Reservation of the same name, located within one of the most remote and desolate regions of the United States.

As is pointed out in the film, this is an area in which Native American women disappear at alarming rates and with disturbing regularity. (more…)

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Letchworth_WaterfallWell, the medievals used to say that God wrote two books: The Book of Scripture (a.k.a. the Bible), and the Book of Nature.  One finds His explicit self-revelation in the former, but hints of both God and His plan are discernible in the latter as well.

Of course, reflective soul that I am, I could not help but think of this during my outing to Letchworth State Park with my family over the weekend.  (By the way: If you’re ever in New York State, do yourself a favor and go there.  It has some gorgeous waterfalls, beautiful foliage, nice walking trails, buildings of historical significance, and a gorge that has earned the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East.”)

Last year I spent a weekend on retreat at a monastery in the country, and I remember looking out one morning at a fine mist hanging over a pond outside.  This got me thinking of that famous passage from St. Luke’s Gospel in which the angel Gabriel announces the birth of Christ to the Blesséd Virgin Mary:

The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

(Luke 1:35)

The hovering mist reminds one of the Holy Spirit — ethereal, invisible, otherworldly, and coming from above — and the body of water, an image of feminine receptivity and fecundity, of the Virgin Mary.

Letchworth_Waterfall 1If a pond can remind one of Mary, how much more a great waterfall, with its majestic beauty and humble greatness?

Letchworth_Waterfall 2Now back to the mist.  Here, as you can see, it ascends from the water, as opposed to hovering over it.  Yet here also can we find an analogy pointing to the divine partnership with Mother Mary.  Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, issued forth from the womb of Mary in His Incarnation, as the God-Man, “as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2, italics mine).

As I’ve said before: Who ever said nature isn’t “evangelical”?

Thanks for reading.  Here are some more pics, if you’re interested:

Rainbow over the waterfall

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A “trickle”

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A couple pictures taken around the gorge

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Letchworth_Gorge2Stone picnic table where we ate lunch 🙂

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On a weekend getaway in the Garden State.  Couldn’t help snapping a shot of this beautiful (if a little faint) bow shining over the hills behind a train station in Dover, NJ last night, after a day of on-and-off rain.

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Just some pictures from my daily travels:

SkyAn interesting cloud formation (center)…

Water…and the surface of a small lake.

The generative powers of both air and water (not to mention their respective beauties) have been known to mankind for ages.  And in John 3:5, Jesus describes Baptism in terms of being “born of water and Spirit” (air, or breath, has often been used as a symbol for the Spirit).

Who ever said nature wasn’t “evangelical”?

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Dwyer_SunsetAh, nature’s art … the best things in life really are free.

Photo taken at a Batavia Muckdogs game, at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, NY

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Another video from Brett Fawcett, one of my favorite Youtubers.  Not agreeing or disagreeing, just thought this would be some interesting post-Earth-Day “food for thought.”

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Yeah, it’s a little late in the day.  Earth Day will be over by the time many readers get to this.  Sorry to be so late…but life does tend to get busy, as you undoubtedly know.

I want to start with a quick reflection on biodegradable urns, which seem to have become popular of late.  My understanding is that these allow the ashes of the deceased to be mixed with seeds and planted in the ground so that, basically, our loved ones’ graves are marked with trees instead of headstones.

The rationale goes something like this: “If you become a tree, at least you’re giving back to the earth.  What good is your body if it’s just rotting in a casket?”

Can we say this perspective is understandable?  Sure.  But I would like to present another perspective for consideration.

We have all dealt with the death of loved ones at some time or other.  As we mourn their passing, we remember them as unique individuals, of the times we enjoyed with them, etc.  When you think about it, don’t your loved ones mean more to you, even in death, than material to be used as fertilizer?

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It is good for us to bury our dead.  It fulfills an emotional need that humans have to know that they can always come to a certain spot and say, “George (hypothetical name) is here.”  Whether we visit George’s tombstone every year on his birthday, bring flowers to lay on his grave, etc., we bear witness to a vitally important element of the human experience: When our fellow human beings die, our relationship with them goes on.  It changes, but it somehow abides.

Okay…I know this all probably sounds very anti-environmental, catering to human neediness rather than promoting good stewardship of our planet.  But this is not the case at all…and that’s precisely where I intend to bring my faith into this discussion.

We human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  So we can ask, “What is it our connection with the material world?”

The answer: Our bodies.

Resurrection

Christian belief in the Resurrection could hardly be any more affirmative of the body’s dignity and importance.  Jesus Christ, as true God and true man, rose bodily (see my post “Jesus’ Resurrected Body — What’s the Difference?” for more on this: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/jesus-resurrected-body-whats-the-difference/) after having undergone death and burial.

As Christians, we bury our dead in the earth in coffins because this is our way of following Christ, Who endured bodily death before rising again.  This is a witness to the expectancy of our own resurrection, which will come at the end of time.

It is true that we will be raised to a whole new life — in fact, a whole new kind of life.  We are born into the natural world, but we are destined for the supernatural.

But does this mean that the material world doesn’t matter, or that we should neglect it?  Emphatically not.  Anyone who knows, for example, of our recent Pope Benedict XVI’s many addresses on the Christian responsibility to exercise good stewardship over creation will see this for the falsehood that it is.

Here is what the Catechism has to say about it:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (CCC 2415) (italics mine)

But the way to do this is not by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the earth, thus in some sense forfeiting our humanity.  Rather, we must exercise the stewardship that God entrusted to Adam in Eden with a view to the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

That said, I should return to my comment about humanity being made for something higher than this world.  This does not mean that we are destined to forever leave the earth behind.  Rather, the world we currently know becomes — to borrow an analogy that Peter Kreeft uses in his great book “Love is Stronger Than Death” — as the womb becomes for us after we are born.  It is still a part of our world, but it is just that — a part of something much, much bigger.

Kreeft cites an interesting passage from C.S. Lewis’ book “Miracles” in the fourth chapter of his book.  I’d like to close with that:

… Come out, look back, and then you will see … this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. … Offer her neither worship nor contempt.  Meet her and know her.  If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch.  But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.  The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.  She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized.  We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself.  And that will be a merry meeting.

All images from Wikipedia

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I’ve noticed that a number of people who have visited “Into the Dance” are nature and travel lovers.  If you folks are reading, I thought you’d appreciate these ph0tos of Letchworth State Park in Letchworth, NY, which I took while on an outing with my family a couple months ago.

Enjoy these images of nature’s “dance”!

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What could possibly bring a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore), the executive of an oil company (Ted Danson), American politicians of the Reagan era, Soviets, the National Guard, media from around the world, de-icing machine business owners from Minnesota, and a tribe of traditional Inupiat whale hunters in the frozen wilds of Alaska together, in addition to reuniting a broken-up couple (Barrymore and John Krasinski)?

Eskimos

If you saw “Big Miracle” or read my previous post about the film, you know that what united them in the 1980s was a mission to free a family of gray whales trapped in the Alaskan ice.

But what was it about this event that inspired such a variety of groups, some of whom were notoriously unfriendly toward one another, to collaborate?  And were they all drawn to this collaboration by the same thing?  No doubt, ambition, publicity, and other personal interests could have been behind some people’s involvement — at least initially.

Big Miracle 2

But whether they knew it or not, what brought them together in the end was the fulfillment of their vocation, our vocation, as human beings — what it means to have “dominion” over the earth and all its creatures.

Mankind is the priest of God’s creation, as Sacred Scripture attests:

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it (Genesis 2:15)

“Cultivation” and “care” are priestly functions. We are God’s “caretakers,” called to exercise good stewardship over the earth and all its creatures.

Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator … requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation (CCC 2415).

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness (CCC 2416).

When the Old Testament was written, the creation account of Genesis and the gift of the Land to Israel were both understood liturgically.  It was not just that mankind and Israel were given “real estate” purely for their own use and enjoyment; rather, the point was that with the land, they had something to offer God in praise and Thanksgiving — not because He needed it, but because He rested on the seventh day.

Sounds funny, doesn’t it?  Let me explain: When Scripture talks about God “resting” on the seventh day, this is an expression of worship as the ultimate purpose of creation.  As creatures made in God’s image and likeness, human beings are called to order all things to the glory of God, Who is love itself (1 John 4:8).

God, Who is perfectly happy from all eternity and needs nothing outside of Himself, created the world from nothing in a sheer act of generosity.  His goodness can be seen in the mere existence of creation and in His providential care for all that exists.

The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created (CCC 294).

So in exercising benevolence toward our fellow creatures, we can always see something of what we were made for.  And how could this not melt our hearts a little and bring us closer together, for however brief a time?

Images obtained through a Google image search.

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I apologize for doing this again, but I think “Big Miracle” is going to need two posts rather than one.  Part five of this overall “project” will be ready by Monday evening.

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Catholics love nature.  St. Francis of Assisi is the most famous example, but right from the beginning the Church has celebrated and defended the goodness of creation, as does Sacred Scripture.

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good (Genesis 1:31)

Why am I mentioning this?  Because it’s important to realize that death and judgment are not all nature tells us about.

Big Miracle

On that note, I turn to Ken Kwapis’ “Big Miracle,” which is based on the true story of an international effort to free a family of gray whales trapped in ice in the Arctic.

The first thing I think we can get from “Big Miracle” is that nature can teach us humility through big things as well as small.

One of the film’s main protagonists is a zealous environmental activist named Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore).  At one point in the film, she says something very striking.  I don’t remember her exact words, but she makes a case for helping the whales by drawing attention to two seemingly disparate qualities: 1) strength; and 2) vulnerability.

Whales are the largest creatures on earth.  Their size and strength are terrifying, and their haunting voices are enough to humble even the most intrepid hearts.  Yet as the plight of the gray whale family shows, they too can be hurt.

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Kramer attributes to the pain and fear that these powerful creatures can feel a special power to inspire compassion.  For my part, I would agree.  Whether they are human or animal, large or intimidating creatures’ vulnerability can break down the walls of defense that come from our fear of their power, inviting us to desire some sort of connection with them.

I would even suggest that this is, at heart, a Christian notion.  It points to Jesus Christ…

…Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

In His humanity, Jesus unites Himself with us in all things except sin; on the cross, He unites Himself with our sorrowful condition, making Himself eminently vulnerable so that we might draw strength from Him.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

This, by the way, is the answer to the type of prayer uttered by Ottway in “The Grey” (see part three for more details).  God responds to our suffering not by orchestrating some sort of “easy escape” from a safe distance, but by uniting — even identifying — Himself with us in our pain.

Like any great leader (indeed, as the Great Leader against Whom all other leaders should be measured), He takes the worst of the trials He demands of His followers upon Himself.  Through these, He will lead His People to life.

In the pleading eye of one of the gray whales, might one be able to see a reflection of the Mighty God Who solicits our love through both strength and weakness?

The next and final post of this reflection will deal more with the details of “Big Miracle,” with a focus on how it points to human beings as the earth’s stewards.

The movie poster is from http://www.imdb.com; all other images were obtained through a Google image search.

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