In exploring the movement from opaqueness to transparency, Nouwen turns from a general consideration of contemplative prayer to the role the natural order plays in helping us develop a “clear vision of the nature of things” (p. 6).
Quoting John Henry Newman, Nouwen agrees that nature suggests and points to a greater order of reality. And for many people, contemplating the natural order has been one of the early movements in their spiritual development.
I’ve become more aware of this since moving to Florida in 1998. Every weekend, thousands of people flock to the beaches—some to surf and swim; others to put their chairs in the sand to watch the waves and feel the breeze. And if you live close to either of our coasts, you’re in for a sunrise or sunset blessing on an almost-daily basis.
We seem to be drawn into the sense of the transcendent by nature, even when it unleashes its fury on us. By paying attention to the world around us, we learn the art of sustained, patient attentiveness to one experience (e.g. a flock of seagulls or a school of dolphins). We come to believe there is something behind and beyond the present moment. Our souls seem to know they have been created “from the dust of the earth”—from that mysterious intersection of the natural and the supernatural.
Nouwen goes on to say that when we begin to interact with nature on this deeper level, we realize we are to steward creation, not manipulate it. And if we come to believe this about trees, mammals, and waterways, how much more we may come to feel the same about people.