Friday, December 27

Nature and Senses

When considering imaginative perspectives on the natural world, there are a multitude of works that could contribute to understanding. For example, St. Bonaventure’s “On Seeing God through his Vestiges in this Sensible World”, St. Francis’ “Canticle of Brother Sun”, and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” achieve this end. Hopkins is well-known for developing “sprung rhythm” in poems, where he grouped stressed and unstressed syllables together – the idea of his poetry “springing forth” from him. He also used archaic words but also made up his own words (like J.R.R. Tolkien or Lewis Carroll). This idea ties into St. Bonaventure’s notion of finding the fingerprints of Gods – the shadows, snapshots, or echoes of the higher order within the lower order – via the Tolkenian concept of Subcreation. As a reminder, Tolkien argued that anytime we create something new – artwork, music, so forth – we engage in the process of creation, but as God is the Ultimate Creator, we therefore Subcreate. Hopkins is engaging in Subcreation by channeling his energies through sprung rhythm, and creates something new. This allows us further insight into the creative process behind God’s world, and by Hopkins’ creative expression, we see echoes or shadows of the Infinite Being in the context of the creation from a Finite Being – mankind.

Another insight to consider can be found in the hymn from St. Francis of Assisi, where we find the repeated refrain “Let’s praise you, my Lord, for…” followed by the variant “Let us praise you, my Lord, for…”. The essential message of his canticle can be seen in the life of St. Francis. At the time of writing this hymn, he was physically blind. But although he had become blind, he utilized his inner eye, so to speak, and like St. Augustine attempted to do centuries prior, he tried to find God. In doing so, St. Francis believed he could understand the unity and harmony between God’s creatures and God’s overall creation. As such, he wrote this hymn in order to offer praise and appreciation for God’s creation. But the basic principle he promotes is that we can clearly see God’s handiwork – his fingerprints – in His creation, and we ought to praise and appreciate the Creator, not the Creation.

In his poem, Hopkins looks at humanity from a misanthropic point of view wherein the narrator judges other humans – yet even after all of the trodding, the searing, smearing, smudging and wear that man has subjected God’s creation to, “for all this, nature is never spent” (line 8). God gave humans the Dominion Mandate – the mandate to take care of the earth and the creatures within it. Yet, no matter how much we muddy up the world we inhabit, God’s fingerprints are still left all over, and the system He set in place for His creation is still working around the clock; the creation is still there. Now, we were made in the image of God and therefore have some of his attributes, including the senses of God described in Scripture. St. Bonaventure discusses the five senses that we as humans have –sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. These five senses are used to show the intelligent design of God’s creation, but also that we can see God – as the title suggests, “through His Vestiges in this Sensible World.” 

He contends that we can clearly perceive God’s attributes in the world around us, and that the reason for this is because “the created things of this sensible world signify the invisible things of God, partly because God is the origin, exemplar, and final destination of all creation, and every effect is a sign of its cause or origin, every copy is a sign of exemplar, and the road is a sign of the final destination to which it leads” (100). In other words, Bonaventure is postulating that everything in our created world points to God – the Creation points to the Creator. Similar to a mystery novel, one clue leads to another, but those clues eventually add up to form the overall picture. He is perhaps suggesting that to most of the world, our universe is a mystery waiting to be solved. Yet for those keen enough to perceive God’s fingerprints and add up all of the clues, the great cosmic mystery is solved; the answer lies in God.

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