There is “a great book,” Saint Augustine says, “the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it.”
St. Anthony also knew about this book. Once when a visiting philosopher asked how such a learned man as he got along in the desert without the benefit of books, Anthony replied, “My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, they are at my hand.”
I had planned to gather with others this past August at Duncan Park in the mountains of Colorado. I was going to lead a retreat at which we would “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” (Book of Common Prayer, 236) the Book of Nature, and let “every leaf of the trees become a page of sacred scripture” (Saadi Shiraz).
That did not happen. Covid-19 interrupted my reading plans. The retreat was cancelled and I spent the summer at home. I had been looking forward to crisp Colorado mornings. The only thing crisp was the grass browning in my backyard.
One day I began to wonder. Did the Book of Nature have to stay closed and unread? What might I read in the backyard? After all, Augustine did not say, “Go to Colorado and look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it.” The Book of Nature was already open and before me, waiting to be read.
I read the rising sun as the gift of a new day and wondered what it might offer or ask of me. I read the stars as light shining in the darkness of my night sky. I read the silence and stillness of the grass as an invitation to learn to just be. I read the mystery of growth and life in the seeds planted in my garden, and in the green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers that rose up from the deep. I read chattering chasing squirrels as a reminder to not take myself too seriously. I read the huge pecan tree, the one that’s been around longer than me, as a guide “returning me to the root of the root of my soul” (Rumi). I read the three abandoned and hungry kittens as strangers waiting to be welcomed. I read the birds baptizing themselves in rain puddles as the assurance that “all shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). I read falling leaves and the first cool morning as a reminder that there is a season for everything. I read vultures floating on the invisible as encouragement to trust what I cannot see. I read the wind as God breathing new life into this world. I read the colors of the setting sun as a palette of thanksgivings.
It was a good read. It was a very good read.
So what are you reading these days?