“In the early Church, there was a clear understanding that we needed to advance from the self-understanding or self-contemplation that taught us to discipline our greedy instincts and cravings to the “natural contemplation” that perceived and venerated the wisdom of God in the order of the world and allowed us to see created reality for what it truly was in the sight of God—rather than what it was in terms of how we might use it or dominate it. And from there grace would lead us forward into true “theology,” the silent gazing upon God that is the goal of all our discipleship.” Rowan Williams, “The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address to the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” 5,
The Wisdom of God
Venerating the wisdom of God in the order of the world is what “en plein air” painting is all about. In the chaotic jumble of branches and bushes there is order. The artist contemplates the jumble and discovers how it holds together, how it flows and how it dances in natural rhythm. Contemplation is really the key to true theology.
Artists have a head start
Although artists have a head start in this practice, anyone who ventures into a natural setting will discover the sacred if they open themselves to awe. Mother Nature is God’s first bible. Allowing oneself to leave behind preconceived notions and personal agendas opens the door. The opportunity is offered to everyone. Not everyone chooses to partake.
While gazing at the green kaleidoscope across a lake one sees beauty, peace and the love of God. Another sees an investment opportunity for lumber and condo complexes. Our national parks are essential to maintain the possibility of getting beyond ourselves. City parks and green spaces feed the soul.
Nature no longer respected
However, some deny the idea of soul and God largely because our perception of nature changed during the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. No longer a source of consolation it became the enemy to subdue, the source to exploit. The Industrial Revolution sealed its fate as something to use rather than respect. The Information Age has removed us from the natural world and placed us in the virtual where there is little to respect and much to exploit.
Awe is the door to true theology
As a result, we have lost the art of contemplation. It is time to reintroduce moments of silence in our frenetic world. Take a walk in the wood. Gaze at a flower and behold its intricate beauty. Make a bouquet of dandelions and find dinosaurs or castles in the clouds. Engage with a baby. Be awed. This is the beginning of veneration and the door to true theology. God awaits our response.
Time to paint
Now where did I leave my brushes?