"Consider the lilies of the field," Jesus said. And so we did. We took a day and visited the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, where we considered the lilies and the orchids, the Desert Rose and the Zombia Palm. We saw succulents and cedars, towering trees and tiny tendrils. We saw the manifold wonders of God's creation - often beautiful, sometimes strange.
The scriptures speak of God's care for all of creation, from the opening chapter of Genesis ("the earth produced growing things: plants ... and trees ..., and God saw that it was good") to the words of Jesus himself ("Look at the birds in the sky; ... your heavenly Father feeds them").
But scripture also speaks of creation's response to its creator: "The heavens tell out the glory of God," says one psalm, while another calls on all creation to join in God's praise, "Praise the Lord from the earth, ... all mountains and hills; all fruit trees and cedars; wild animals ..., creeping creatures and winged birds.... Let them praise the name of the Lord."
The natural world is not merely a passive backdrop for the grand drama of human existence. Creation is humanity's partner in the dance of life. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks of putting "humanity in its place" - yes, as a focal point of God's creation, made in the very image of God, but not the be-all and end-all of God's concern. As Williams puts it, "To be human is to be with the non-human world, even to be for the non-human world."*
As Francis of Assisi put it, "Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs." All creation joins the human race in praising God and crying out for God's help. Williams is right: We are not human apart from our rootedness in God's created world.
The slogan of the San Antonio Botanical Garden is "Cultivate yourself." How true! Only through attention to the natural world around us, only by living with and for the non-human world, do we cultivate our true humanity in God's image.
*The Lion's World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia (Oxford, 2012) chap. 1.