Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Communing With Animals as a Spiritual Exercise

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Francis Preaching to the Birds, Giotto (1299)

HERE is a spiritual or contemplative exercise that’s served me well. The source is Anthony de Mello’s book, Sadhana: A Way To God. De Mello presents the exercise as applicable even to inanimate objects (e.g., a coffee mug), but personally I’ve found it more rewarding when applied to animals and plants (or, possibly, astronomical objects). The text below borrows freely from De Mello’s description (Awareness Exercise 14):

This exercise will help you to develop an attitude of reverence and respect for all animate creation, for all the living things. Some of the great mystics tell us that when they reach the stage of illumination they become mysteriously filled with a sense of deep reverence. Reverence for God, reverence for life in all its forms, reverence for inanimate creation too. And they tend to personalize the whole of creation.

Francis of Assisi was one such mystic. He recognized in the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, the birds, the animals, his brothers and sisters. They were members of his family and he would talk to them lovingly. Saint Anthony of Padua went sor far as to preach a sermon to fish! Very foolish, of course, from our rationalist point of view. Profoundly wise and personalizing and sanctifying from the mystical point of view.

For this you will have to temporarily put aside your adult prejudices and become like a little child. If you become a little child, at least temporarily, you might discover a kingdom of heaven — and learn secrets that God ordinarily hides from the wise and prudent.

Choose some animal or plant you happen to encounter on a walk or in daily activities. Let your gaze rest on it. . . . Become as fully aware of it as possible. Visually explore its shape, color, texture, its various parts. See every possible detail in it. Hear it. Notice its smell, if possible.

Now, with the creature in front of you, mentally speak to it . . . Begin by asking it questions about itself . . . its life, its origins, its future . . . And listen while it unfolds to you the secret of its being and of its destiny . . . Listen while it explains to you what existence means to it . . .

The creature has some hidden wisdom to reveal to you about yourself . . . Ask for this and listen to what it has to say . . . There is something that you can give creature . . . What is it? What does it want from you? . . .

Now place yourself and this creature in the presence of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in whom and for whom everything was made. Listen to what he has to say to you and to the creature . . What do the two of you say in response? . . .

Now look at your creature once more . . . Has your attitude toward it changed? . . . Is there any change in your attitude toward the objects around you . . .

Reference

De Mello, Anthony. Sadhana: A Way To God. Christian Exercises in Eastern Form. New York: Doubleday, 1984; pp. 53−56.

 

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