All forms of life, including the planets, galaxies, and cosmos, were created by God as blessing revealing the image of the maker. The mythological bases of both Islam and Christianity are founded on the Hebrew scriptures’ interpretation of cosmos. That is, that the goodness of God is given freely, and imaged in all creatures great and small.
Sometimes the demands of survival keep us from the experience of recognizing the aspect of blessing in all life. Everyday instances, such as the miraculousness of how a baby human, or a baby fawn, are formed and brought into existence, are “common” miracles. Blessing, then, would also have to do with an attitude of gratitude, whereby we awaken to the sacred always present in the myriad events of existence.
In the book of Genesis, the creation is simply gift, a garden made with care, and in its essence, very good (1). Our original place was to walk with God in the garden of life. The saints of Christianity and Islam, once they have entered union, long to return to the garden. In the words of John of the Cross:
My Beloved is the mountains,
And lovely wooded valleys,
And resounding rivers,
The whistling of love-stirring breezes.
The tranquil night
At the time of the rising dawn,
The supper that refreshes, and deepens love. (2)
The image John used of a “supper that refreshes” and “deepens love” is significant. Because God rests on the seventh day we, too, may only appreciate the garden of life through the quiet rest obtained in that contemplative sabbath within. Without hearing the “silent music” through “sounding solitude,” we frequently cannot appreciate the world around us. The Muslim, Shabistarī, in The Secret Rose Garden writes:
Each creature has its being
From the One Name,
From which it comes forth,
And to which it returns,
With praises unending. (3)
Praise is considered by both traditions as one of the highest forms of prayer. Praise is the gate into the garden. When the gate is opened, we see the creation in all its magnificence. If we are too busy to enter contemplative rest, and to be reborn into praise, we lose contact with the very heart of being alive. In the Qur’an we read:
The seven skies, the earth, and all
that lies within them,
sing hallelujas to God.
There is nothing that does not chant God’s praises,
but you do not understand their hymns of praise. (4)
In the verses that follow the above quotation from the Qur’an, we see that the reason one cannot recognize the “hymns of praise” is lack of faith.
Tawhid is Arabic for faith in the unity of all life. A God-centered ecology begins with a relationship to, and faith in, God. Without this center in one’s life, according to both Sufi and Christian saints, one would lose touch (literally as well) with the source and essence of all Being. We see symptoms of this today, in people who have the greatest concern for environmental issues, but become fatigued emotionally and spiritually when they are not strengthened through a stable interior center.
Therefore our role from a spiritual perspective is to remain centered in the divine within, so that we may act for the good of and appreciate the divine without.
Nonetheless, a practice to remember here is that nature herself – whether ocean, mountain, or forest trail – can be a way of returning to center. Experiencing the sacred in the rhythms and forms of pulsating life is certainly a prayerful practice that may bring us back to a realization of numinous presence as attested to in the following verses from Job:
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
The birds of the air, and they will tell you;
Or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
And the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In God’s hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all humankind. (5)
One of the primary religious experiences is a feeling of awe. When one enters into the natural world, the “hand of God” is obvious, so that one finds it often a spontaneous happening of having returned to center without any effort on our part. That all of creation has much to teach us has been acknowledged by the saints time and time again. It is an attitude that makes us truly stewards with all species, and life is then grounded in our own earthliness:
For thou didst form my inward parts
Intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. (6)
See Also: The Human Steward.
Dr. Maria Jaoudi teaches in the Department of Humanities and Religious Studies at California State University, Sacramento. Her publications include Christian Mysticism East and West: What the Masters Teach Us (Paulist Press, 1998) and Christian and Islamic Spirituality: Sharing a Journey (Paulist Press, 1993), from which the above excerpt is posted with the author’s kind permission.
1. Genesis 1:31.
2. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, in The Collected Works, #14 and #15, p. 412.
3. Sa’d un Din Mahmud Shabistarī, The Secret Rose Garden, translated by Florence Lederer (Michigan: Phanes Press, 1987), The Name, p. 72.
4. Qur’an 17:44.
5. Job 12:7-10.
6. Psalm 139:13, 15.
Comments are now closed on this page. We invite you to join the conversation in our new community space. We hope to see you there!