I am impressed every time my child spots a dandelion and plucks it as if something truly magnificent has captured his attention. This kind of wonder seems to fade as we get older. So I have always been interested in how the saints were able to not just maintain this sense of awe but also express their sense of wonder in such beautiful and poetic ways.
They could be in nature with a sense of the sacred. St. John Paul II noticed this in St. Francis: “In contemplating nature, when Francis discovers that everything speaks to him of God, his eyes are filled with joy and he exclaims in the Canticle of Brother Sun: everything “… from you Most High, bears significance.” Saints like Francis had a capacity for wonder that was tied to their sense of stewardship. This stewardship drew out of an appreciation of the good and love of God and neighbor.
Wonder draws us into what St. John Paul II called an “ecological conversion.” In “God Made Man the Steward of Creation,” he says:
Stewardship Is More Than Recycling And Sustainability
Before I saw how wonder is uniquely connected to stewardship, I thought stewardship was being mindful of recycling and sustainability. I had little understanding of how ecology is about relationships—relationships between us and God, between us and others, and us and the world. Then, I observed my son in nature. A child’s sense of wonder is so deep that he can behold a dandelion like a star fell from the sky. Their sense of awe isn’t jaded by the things in nature that we have begrudgingly recast as nuisances—dandelions are now weeds that ruin our manicured lawns and insects are bugs that spoil our patio enjoyment.
I also discovered profound quotes from saints—saints who were Church fathers, saints who were scholars, and saints who served. They had a capacity for wonder that enabled them to see with a supernatural gaze. The beauty of creation led to their recollection. This was the starting point for my journal Behold: A Reflection Journal Where Wonder, Creation, and Stewardship Meet.
The Saints Admire Creation
As a principle of Catholic social teaching, care of creation calls us to become good stewards. The sense of awe and wonder of the saints helped them see creation with the eyes of good stewards of creation. In Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse of Lisieux could name specific plants on her walk: “I still feel the profound and poetic impressions which were born in my soul at the sight of fields enameled with cornflowers and all types of wild flowers. Already I was in love with the wide open spaces. Space and the gigantic fir trees, the branches sweeping down to the ground, left in my heart an impression similar to the one I experience still today at the sight of nature.” This encouraged me to take time to learn the names of plants and flowers with my son. We also learned the names of songbirds so we could identify them and distinguish their different styles of song.
St. Catherine of Siena, among other saints like St. Francis, St. Teresa of Ávila, and St. Hildegard, also saw profound connections between us and creation that spark our recollection. In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, she says: “Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to your neighbor’s vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.” When chemicals pollute our water and food sources, people, especially disadvantaged people are impacted. We also know the health benefits of being in nature, but not everyone has access to or lives in a place surrounded by the beauty of nature.
Finally, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas noticed the beauty of creation and how that beauty directs us toward God. St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “The beauty of the creature is nothing other than a likeness of the divine beauty, participated in by created things” (De Div. Nom. 4:5.9). Our call to stewardship is drawn authentically from our awe of creation and relationship to God.
Some might ask what naming plants and expressing awe and appreciation have to do with stewardship. Learning and appreciating are the first steps to practicing stewardship. To be a good steward, we must know and love what we are stewards of; what we aim to protect and why. It is also just as important to see the integral nature of ecology in order to reestablish our relationship with nature and others. In this sense, wonder might be the first step in caring for creation.
Jody C. Benson is a writer and editor from Wisconsin. She earned her master’s degree in bioethics from the Medical College of Wisconsin and taught at the college, high school, and grade school levels. Her academic background in literature, philosophy, and bioethics sparked her interest in exploring how awe, beauty, and the moral imagination meet and intersect. She loves nature, theology, and sharing the beauty of Catholicism with her husband and two children. She writes at www.aholywonder.com and recently published a reflection journal called Behold: A Reflection Journal Where Wonder, Creation, and Stewardship Meet.