Nature As A Holy Teacher: Consider the Lilies

November 6, 2022

In the Gospel of Luke (12:22-34), Jesus not only offers his disciples some guidance around trust and faith; there is also an invitation to look at the myriad gifts from God that surround us. Among other examples, he says, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your [Creator’s] good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Earlier this summer, my spouse, our two young boys, and I took a road trip from Chicago to Colorado to spend a week in the mountains. Most of our waking hours were spent outside: going for hikes, throwing rocks into the many streams that dotted the area, climbing logs, and looking for local wildlife. Witnessing my kids’ enthusiasm for all that surrounded them–new and familiar–and watching their senses come alive in each new moment is connected to what, I think, Jesus was getting at with his disciples. God cares so deeply for each of us, regardless of our strengths and weaknesses, surrounding us with abundant reminders of that abiding care and love if only we are able to pause, notice, and appreciate.

In addition to our trip, this year, our family has been trying to spend as much time outdoors as possible. All of the hours I’ve racked up alongside two little ones have drawn me closer to the earth (figuratively and literally). My preschooler is intent on filling his treasure box with whatever special nature items he can find and is full of questions: how do tiny seeds become giant trees? Why do bees have that yellow stuff all over them when they leave a flower? What makes the rain leave the clouds and come to the ground? And my toddler is the biggest bundle of wonder and joy when he’s exploring the natural world, stopping to smell the roses (and clovers, and dandelions, and whatever other flowers he stumbles upon). He can watch ants crawl for minutes on end and roars with laughter when he spots yellow finches eating kernels off our sunflowers. 

There are many things I think God invites me to learn when I look at the world through my children’s eyes, but certainly one of them is realizing how much the beauty around me is an unearned, freely-given manifestation of God’s love, just like the beauty of the lilies comes not from anything they’ve done but simply from God’s goodness. 

Not every day as a parent is what I’d like it to be. I lose patience, I raise my voice, I have plenty of moments where I’m not my best self. Yet it doesn’t matter if it was an ideal day of parenting or whether I’m barely surviving the hours with my kids. God loves me unconditionally and welcomes me with celebration of my parenting “wins” and in spite of my many growing edges. Even though I’m always trying to do better, just like those lilies in the field that Jesus uses as teaching examples, I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love and care, and I don’t have to worry about God’s constancy. What a gift!

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, wrote frequently about how prayer can simply be paying attention, being present, and noticing the tiniest things easy to overlook. In “The Summer Day,” she writes, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down / into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, / how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, / which is what I have been doing all day.” 

Through Oliver’s poetry, we’re encouraged to slow down, to immerse ourselves in the experience at hand, and simply to be in touch with that which is beyond ourselves, gracing our every moment. Like the lilies in all their glory, God both creates and sustains us as expressions of God’s love. In every moment, if only we have eyes to notice, God gives us reminders, big and small, of that love alive in our world, all without us having to do anything to prove ourselves or earn those gifts.

Going Deeper

  • Pray with scriptures that refer to nature such as the lilies of the field found in Luke 12: 22-34
  • As part of your prayer or reflection, read one or more of Mary Oliver’s poems. You might start with “The Lily,” found here, or “Praying,” found here
  • Try to make a regular practice of venturing out into your neighborhood or a nearby park for a walk, noticing the little things all around you and pausing to express gratitude to God for all the beauty. Especially as the seasons change, note what shifts are occurring in you and how greater attention to the world in which you live might influence those shifts.  Use the Prayer of Consideration prayer card as a guide.  
  • Find a prayer or two rooted in the natural world to incorporate into your own prayer life–or write your own. See this collection from Xavier University as a starting point.
  • Check out Christ in a Grain of Sand: An Ecological Journey with the Spiritual Exercises, by Neil Vaney, SM, for more on the connection between God’s creation and Ignatian spirituality.

Photo by Kimia Nemati via unsplash.com

Kristen has been deeply shaped by Ignatian spirituality during her time as an undergrad at St. Louis University, a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City, and a graduate student at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago. She has worked in Catholic parish ministry, community organizing, spiritual direction, volunteer support and formation with Jesuits Volunteer Corps, and ministry with people with developmental/intellectual disabilities, and she currently serves as a pediatric hospital chaplain and chaplain researcher. Kristen is passionate about accompanying others through the highs and lows of their lives and spiritual journeys and about joining with others to co-create a Church and world with greater justice, equity, and inclusion for all. She lives in Chicago with her spouse Patrick and their two young sons.

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