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Monday, July 15, 2013

Rage, division meet Bonaventure and lichen

Photo: Flicker/e_monk
It’s been a grim few days here in the States. 

We’re in the midst of ugly division and protests over the George Zimmerman trial, over laws dealing with immigration, and over America’s surveillance programs, here and abroad.

This morning, after reading too much sad news, I said a little prayer to one of the greatest minds of the Church—one who sought not just knowledge, but also peace and unity. It was a fitting morning to pray for his intercession because it is his feast—St. Bonaventure, that is, whom I consider a patron.

As odd as this may sound, I was also comforted by an image of tiny living things on today’s home page at The image was of lichen and it soothed me a great deal.  

Photo: Flicker/ Hapaway
Since I was a boy, a red-tipped type of lichen has been fond of the stockade fence in my backyard. I still find myself peering at it while it sits quietly, doing nothing but being humble in a spectacular sort of way. Today I grew more appreciative of lichen when I learned (again, thanks to Bing) that it is a unity of a fungus and an alga. Two different living entities coming together for a common purpose—a common life.

You can read more about what lichen is here. What is important for this moment is that it offers this age of division lessons about nurturing each other. As humans express their tensions with decreasing dialogue and increasing fury—tools of our ancient enemy, of course—these simple forms of life—so subtle, so easily unnoticed—show us profound truths, ones we had better learn, embrace, and live if we are to avoid terrible trials.

St. Bonaventure 
Photo: Flicket/by Lawrence OP
Providentially, there is something in all this talk of lichen that goes to the teachings of St. Bonaventure. He knew that one way to know God—to know truth—is to contemplate nature. After all, God is the author of our lives and all that we creatures see, touch, and live amongst. To read His signs in nature is to follow a sort of trail to Him.

In his great Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (“Journey of the Mind to God”), Bonaventure wrote:
Now at the Creation, man was made fit for the repose of contemplation, and therefore God placed him in a paradise of delight [Gen., 2, 16]. But turning himself away from the true light to mutable goods, he was bent over by his own sin, and the whole human race by original sin, which doubly infected human nature, ignorance infecting man's mind and concupiscence his flesh. Hence man, blinded and bent, sits in the shadows and does not see the light of heaven unless grace with justice succor him from concupiscence, and knowledge with wisdom against ignorance. All of which is done through Jesus Christ, Who of God is made unto us wisdom and justice and sanctification and redemption [I Cor., 1, 30]  (Itinerarium 7)
And then,
There shine forth, however, the Creator's supreme power and wisdom and benevolence in created things …(Itinerarium 10)
And later,
From these visible things, therefore, one mounts to considering the power and wisdom and goodness of God as being, living, and understanding; purely spiritual and incorruptible and immutable ... (Itinerarium 13)
Photo: Flicker/ Heidi Schuyt
In other words, our lost communion with God in Eden echoes in all things. 

Even lichen—this simple and lovely duet of life—shows off God’s supreme power and wisdom. Its existence on wet wooden posts, rocks, and trees can (if we pay attention) teach us about cooperation and humility and much else. 

All we need do is ponder whatever nature has to show us as we journey toward the peaceful unity that God wishes for us all.

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