Experiencing God in Nature, Including Our Work That Bears Fruit

Thomas Aquinas alerts us to how “God works at the heart of all activity.”

The late California poet Bill Everson (also known as “Brother Antoninus” when he was a Dominican brother and poet for sixteen years) used to say that “most people experience God in nature, or experience God not at all.”

William Everson (1912-1994), known as the “Beat Friar,” teaching “Birth of a Poet” at UC Santa Cruz, in the early 1970s. Video by Robert Haskell.

Is Everson saying something very important, when he reminds us of how we experience God in nature? Is he promising that we can experience God every day and everywhere, and certainly in our daily work, whether it be inner or outer work?

“In nature” can mean walking in the woods or swimming in the ocean, or climbing mountains or playing sports outdoors, or gardening, etc. etc. In fact, since we are nature on two feet, and can never escape nature because it is in us and we are in it, God is always acting in our work, whether it be inner work of thoughts and no thoughts, filling or emptying, joy or sorrow—all of which lead to creativity.

A Tanzanian farmer showcasing maize in a crop field. Photo by IFPRI on Flickr.

Experiencing God in nature can also mean experiencing God in doing our work, for it is natural that things go about their work. Humans certainly are drawn to expressing ourselves by the work we do. We call that expression the Via Creativa. 

Why did Hildegard in yesterday’s DM employ cultivating the cosmic tree as a symbol of human work? Symbolist J. E. Cirlot tells us that in its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes the life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life. 

Yggdrasil, the “World Tree” in Norse mythology that joins Heaven and Earth. Art by Oluf Olufsson Bagge in his 1847 translation of the Prose Edda. Wikimedia Commons.

In a commentary on her painting of Cultivating the Cosmic tree, Hildegard tells us “God is life” and celebrates the divine brilliance and shining found in all creatures, and the “spark of the soul” in humans. 

Mircea Eliade believes that the tree symbolizes “the center of the world,” or the world-axis. This symbol goes back to pre-Neolithic times when the tree symbolizes both “the central point in the cosmos,” and human nature itself “which follows on the equation of the macrocosm with the microcosm.” 

Hildegard applauds how the “air revived the earth’s greening power and causes all fruits to put forth seeds and become fertile.” Is our human work cosmic and fruit-bearing, and fertile and laudable also?

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Cultivating the Cosmic Tree” in Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, pp. 66-70.

See also Fox on Bill Everson in Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 147-149, 159, 237f., 303-305, 425, 473.

And Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Times, p. 58.

Banner Image: An apple harvest in Steiermark, Austria. Photo by Steindy. Wikimedia Commons. 

Queries for Contemplation

Do you experience God in nature—including your own nature and your inner and outer work? And macrocosm and microcosm coming together as you bring forth fruit?

Recommended Reading

Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen, Illuminations reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition.  At the age of 42, she began to have visions; these were captured as 36 illuminations–24 of which are recorded in this book along with her commentaries on them.
“If one person deserves credit for the great Hildegard renaissance in our time, it is Matthew Fox.”  – Dr Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Sacred Voices.

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

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7 thoughts on “Experiencing God in Nature, Including Our Work That Bears Fruit”

  1. Avatar

    We experience God in God. We too are creation ‘One in Being’ and are creators. Of that, our inner and outer experience of nature, of God, is ‘all-encompassing’. We won’t fully know until we know.

    Excerpt from another writing —
    “We Are Who We Do Not Know Ourselves To Be”
    We need to ‘sink into love’ and reside within our natural state of love, of life, of just being who we are. We get very confused at times and live not knowing who we are. … Life can be the ‘gentle way’, with some level of suffering included, if we ‘park’ to the side who we believe we are now, and discover life in its natural physical and spiritual state. We are who we do not know ourselves to be. — BB 03 08 24. —

    1. Avatar

      We experience God in God. We too are creation ‘One in Being’ and are creators. Of that, our inner and outer experience of nature, of God, is ‘all-encompassing’. We won’t fully know until we know. Such an insightful true expression of who, I/we, are in God. Enough to ponder forever. Thank uou, mi

  2. Avatar

    I am fascinated by the beauty of Hildegard’s “Cultivating the Cosmic Tree”. Does anyone know the specific reference to where she talks about this painting in Scivias?

  3. Avatar

    Yes! Yes! – As I explained for myself in yesterday’s DM.
    The realization that the LOVE~LIGHT~LIFE… of GOD is PRESENT within Us and All of ongoing CREATION in our physical and non physical Sacred multidimensional-multiverse COSMOS with other Spiritual Beings in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT is an ongoing deepening spiritual realization for me on my daily human spiritual journey of this incarnation…
    My daily prayer/mantra is “The Divine Flow of LOVING Healing Diverse ONENESS in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT… “

  4. Avatar
    Michael Dawkins

    Nature is where I truly experience God ,The Great Spirit. Nature fills me with the oneness of all. Such a great feeling. Thank you Matthew for the video of William Everson.

  5. Avatar

    This Video was filmed by Robert Haskell during the early 1970’s, before I took Bill Everson’s course for the first time, in 1979. Experiencing God in Nature and Nature in God (panentheism) is all we knew as students in Birth of a Poet. Thank you to Matthew, for spreading the Word about Bill’s influence on so many of us! I was Bill’s Teaching Assistant in the course during the 1980-1981 school terms. I co-taught and led the dream groups and met with Bill every morning, before he gave his meditations on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I brought him his morning coffee and we sat in complete silence and meditation before he spoke to the students. A was in Awe of him. I write about this in our book “William Everson: The Shaman’s Call,” for those who want to get an inside picture into the workings in the course and what we were doing there, amidst the towering redwood Trees, with our feet touching the ground with bare feet. I loved Bill like a brother, a father, and a friend. He was my Master. I miss him. God love you Bill!

  6. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson MD

    I love this from you: “In fact, since we are nature on two feet, and can never escape nature because it is in us and we are in it, God is always acting in our work, whether it be inner work of thoughts and no thoughts, filling or emptying, joy or sorrow—all of which lead to creativity.” I have been reading “Sheer Joy”, and am grateful for Aquinas’ words about creation and creator, and our part in this flow, the whole cosmos, and what Teilhard called the noosphere. I like that there is a horizon of the known, beyond which is the great Mystery, and what remains to be discovered. I like that human curiosity is always aimed at the horizon, as Lonergan said. I have also loved the images of a thimble, a cup, a bucket, and the Grand Canyon, as metaphors to describe the finite receptivity of each soul, and that each is filled to the brim with Divine creativity and life. Respecting the darkness and what is NOT, is a help to having real awe for what IS. It is so easy to see fingerprints of the Creator in the bursting forth of blossoms and new greenery on the Earth!

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