Natural things can’t be appreciated with a dualistic mind. Nature almost naturally teaches you non-duality. If you look long enough at anything in nature it is always non-dual. It is both this and that. It’s living and it’s going to die. It’s gentle and it’s violent. It’s useful and totally unnecessary. It’s beautiful yet wild and uncontrollable. It’s always a mixture of what seems like “good” and what seems like “bad.”
No wonder Jesus told us to learn by observing “the lilies of the field” (Luke 12:27), “the seeds falling to the earth” (Matthew 13:4), “the birds in the sky” (Matthew 6:26),” the red sky in the morning” (Matthew 16:2), and “the very stones crying out” (Luke 19:40). Was Jesus a New Age tree hugger? No, he was a Deep Seer of all things, who saw the souls of things.
The only way dualistic thinking is possible long term is if you stay inside of words, concepts, and ideas, as if they were reality itself. Once you meet factual reality, it’s always non-dual or both-and, and it takes a merciful, compassionate, and often forgiving mind to receive it exactly as it is—and let it teach you whatever it has to teach you.
Richard Rohr, adapted from The Soul, The Natural World, and What Is
I know what Rohr is getting at, here, and yet somehow something gives me pause. I can’t help remembering Isaiah 65:25:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain…
and Revelation 21:3-4:
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
For all that Rohr says here, sounding disconcertingly like the hip Americanised Taoism of Alan Watts, it wasn’t meant to be like this. It won’t always be like this. The story of the Fall in Genesis may not be the police report that young Earth creationists like to imagine, but it is true nonetheless. Something happened. We screwed up in some unimaginably profound way, and opened the door to evil across the earth. Creation is broken. It is beautiful, and glorious, and it speaks of God in every molecule, but here on Earth at least it is broken. Pain and grief and death and injustice stride the world like ghastly spectres, feeding where they will. We cannot celebrate this! Our desperate prayer must be for mercy, and justice, and healing, and one day our prayers will be answered, as glorious as God has promised. It is only through the Cross that this healing can flow; perhaps it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to suggest that this is the reason for the Cross, that this is what lies behind the Incarnation itself (Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:14-15; Romans 8:18-25)
St. Isaac of Nineveh, writing back in the 7th century, had it right:
An elder was once asked, “What is a merciful heart?” He replied:
“It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.
For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”