Thank you, nature

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have listened so far to 4.5 out of 7 lectures by Fr. Maximos Costas, the translator of The Ambigua by St. Maximos the Confessor, on St. Maximus, given at St. George Orthodox Church in San Diego this past February at their Sts. Sebastian and Mrdarije Institute. Sorry but I don’t see the lectures available online. I know Fr. Maximos has podcasts available on Ancient Faith Radio, but I’m not sure on what subjects. His latest topic that I am listening to is on the contemplation of nature. Nature reveals God sort of like a handkerchief covering an invisible object could reveal something about that object. This reminds me of reading St. Nicholas Veimirovich’s The Universe as Symbols and Signs where parts of creation can lead us to contemplation of God, like a door can remind us of Christ being the door, etc. Fr. Maximos said that nature both reveals and conceals God.

I like to write about points of disagreement rather than just retelling something. I’m not sure I disagree with this teaching, but there is more I wish were said. I do intend to read The Ambigua which may offer more, but I’m kind of doubting it will. I’m not saying St. Maximos has gnostic tendencies, but I could tease this out of him if I were inclined. I’m not inclined, but I’ll just say the following anyway. Seeing nature as an explanation of God is good when one is weaning themselves off of passionate, short-sighted attachment to creation divorced from God. I believe the attachment, wait, maybe not even the attachment, maybe just our consciousness of what we are attached to and our over-the-top, out of control acts, are what is divorced from God. Say we’ve taken a step back and developed detachment towards creation and want to see it for what it is, and not to have power over it, possess it, or consume it unduly. Seeing it as an explanation of God can still put it in the utilitarian category of what this thing can do for me. That it’s a means to an end that I can dispose of, or at least move through or past. What I would like to hear is that nature participates in God, not just reveals and conceals him. Call me a panentheist, but the prayer to the Holy Spirit does say that he is everywhere present and fills all things. I don’t believe nature is God, but I do believe it is enlivened and given identity on its own by him, in addition to communicating who he is, and I’ll also say communicating with who he is. This is why poets and the Psalms personify nature. Rocks can cry out. Jimmy Fallon should be thanking objects for what they are, but not just for what they are to us. Nature is not just a means to an end, even if it does want to be used well.