APPRECIATING NATURE

APPRECIATING NATURE

INTRODUCTION

WHY APPRECIATION OF THE BEAUTY OF THE UNIVERSE IS SO IMPORTANT to ourselves, our communities and to the One who made it.

BY SISTER SHIRLEY AERIA FMDM
Brother mouse

An introduction to appreciating nature

By Sr Shirley Aeria

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We asked Sr Shirley to share some wisdom on why an appreciation of nature is deeply rooted in our faith.

NATURE IS A CONDUIT OF GOD’S LOVE

Nature, in all its limitless forms reflect a humble and extravagant God who cares deeply for all that has been created. Through our contemplative gaze, we can experience nature as an immense channel of God’s magnanimous love for each of us and for all of creation. In Matt 6:26, Jesus says, “Look at the birds, they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest… yet your Father in heaven takes care of them.”
In the great mystery of the Incarnation of God in Jesus (when God became man), the core message is that the Divine Presence is in us and in all of creation. The Incarnation has made every being and creation holy. There is an infinite self-emptying of God in creation and therefore, every aspect of creation has inherent dignity and deserves respect and appreciation.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STOP APPRECIATING NATURE?

Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ reminds us that all creation is interconnected. So, if one aspect of creation, whether it be humanity, animals, or landscapes, is damaged due to a lack of appreciation or care, we are all, directly or indirectly, affected. For example, losing habitats and homes due to climate change, pollution or mining can cause considerable suffering to both people and nature. In his Canticle of the Sun, St Francis of Assisi goes to great lengths to amplify the sisterly and brotherly relationships we have with ALL aspects of creation. Every person, flora, and fauna has a mission. Just because we haven’t found their respective purpose, does not mean that they are redundant! Our ecosystem relies heavily on relationships functioning well at all levels, as scientists have informed us. The importance of biodiversity goes beyond our dependence on ecosystems to live. All God’s creatures, from sister tree to brother fly, all have their own value and goodness. Every created thing, living or non-living, is here to give glory to God by their very existence on planet Earth, and the entire universe.

WHAT LEGACY SHOULD WE, AS CHRISTIANS, LEAVE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS?

God has entrusted humanity with the responsibility of looking after the planet as we read in Genesis 1:26ff. The reality right now is rather different. We humans have contributed to the destruction of our planet. Failure to act on our part as Christians, would be both irresponsible and totally lacking in charity if we are to care for our brothers and sisters on planet earth.

“The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction”.

St Pope John Paul II

WHAT ROLE DOES MY PARISH HAVE IN HELPING PEOPLE APPRECIATE AND CARE FOR CREATION?

Within the parish setting, if the leadership recognises the importance of creation, this attitude will more likely filter through the majority of parishioners. The physical space in the parish can encourage practical activities which involve the sharing of the gifts and skills of parishioners to work together to support our common home would, no doubt, inspire and encourage more people to engage with nature. The parish, by making their grounds beautiful and full of nature, can help parishioners and passers by experience of beauty in their everyday lives. The beauty of nature is real therapy for our soul. As many of us will agree, there are numerous health benefits to being in beautiful places such as reducing stress, increased positivity, increased focus, and even measurable physical health benefits.

Future generations would either thank us or rebuke us depending on the type of legacy we leave for them in terms of the care and sustainability of our planet. Appreciating nature will not only save our planet but ultimately, we will be saving human existence! What’s more we will be happier for being appreciative and grateful. We, therefore, have a moral obligation and personal incentive to appreciate, live simply, and ensure that we do all we can to preserve planet earth for future generations.

Shirley Aeria is a sister of the The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who proclaim with their lives the joy and freedom of the Gospel in the spirit of St Francis and St Clare of Assisi. Sr Shirley spends much of her time volunteering to help make her community a beautiful place full of nature. She does so with boundless enthusiasm.

Photos copyright John Paul de Quay and Eleanor Margetts

About the Author

Shirley Aeria is a sister of the The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who proclaim with their lives the joy and freedom of the Gospel in the spirit of St Francis and St Clare of Assisi. Sr Shirley spends much of her time volunteering to help make her community a beautiful place full of nature. She does so with boundless enthusiasm.

FURTHER READING

To help you explore the topic of APPRECIATE NATURE

Appreciating nature is a really key topic in addressing our ecological emergency, as our actions towards our common home are steered by our spirituality. When we put God first, what should result is a care for creation . When we speak of an ‘ecological spirituality’ we are talking about how our love of God allows us to recognise the gift of creation (the universe) and better look after it for the good of all. Cosmic! Here is some further reading to help you get your teeth into a meaty subject.

WHAT IS ECOLOGY?

The word ‘ecology’ get thrown about a lot. Now Pope Francis is talking about an ‘integral ecology’! What exactly are we talking about?

THE CANTICLE OF THE CREATURES

The song, written by St Francis of Assisi, which inspired the name and message of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’.

WHAT DOES 'LAUDATO SI'' MEAN?

Why did Pope Francis call an encyclical addressing environmental and social suffering, ‘Praise be!’ (Laudato Si’)?

How should we view nature?

Global Caring explores how we are called to see nature through the eyes of Jesus.

WORDS OF WISDOM

INSPIRING STORIES

By sharing these inspirational stories with you, we hope to inspire your creativity in your parish and to show that great things can be very simple, and very possible. Please do remember to write to us with any stories of projects that you would like to share.

ACTIONS

GET YOUR PARISH APPRECIATING BEAUTIFUL THINGS AND PRAISING GOD

Here is a selection of ideas to get you started! If you have completed any of these projects, or run these services in your parish please do share your story or resources so that we can improve our guide. When deciding what to do, think about what the needs of your community are; some actions will be possible for some and not for others.

As this site progresses we will add links where you will find toolkits and resources to help you plan these activities. Please do send in any suggestions in the meantime.

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INVITE A GUEST SPEAKER

Could your parish get a speaker to talk of the theological or scientific reasons why we should care for nature?
Editor JP remembers that time when he was young and Nick Baker from ‘The Really Wild Show’ came to talk at his primary school with a collection of his pet bugs. Such experiences leave a real impression and are important in shaping the way we think of the world around us. Could your parish get a speaker to talk of the theological or scientific reasons why we should care for nature? JP is still not keen on cockroaches but has a sort of morbid fascination with them.
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NATURE WALK

We are going on a bug hunt! Great for grown ups and kids alike, grab your microscopes and get exploring!
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APPRECIATING THE WORLD THROUGH ART

“When you painted on earth…it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape.” (C.S. Lewis)
“When you painted on earth…it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too.” (C.S. Lewis) Is there an artist in the parish that could help run art reflection workshops? A scientist, an artist and a theologian could make quite a team in helping us appreciate God’s creation.
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GREENING URBAN AREAS

Work with your local community to bring the beauty of nature into your urban spaces.
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CREATE A COMMUNITY QUIET GARDEN

Could your Parish grounds provide a quiet space to the local community?
Could your Parish grounds provide a quiet space to the local community, or a dedicated area for prayer and reflection? ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (St Mark’s Gospel 6.31). If Jesus regularly and consistently needed such space to just ‘be’, then so do we.
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OUTDOOR MASS, PRAYER OR BLESSING SERVICE

There are so many ways we can use our beautiful outdoor spaces in worship.
Talk to your priest about taking some of your services outside – whether that be mass, prayer services, or even a pet blessing! Worshiping outside not only allows us to experience God in creation whilst we pray, but also serves as a visible sign of our presence in our local communities.
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Parish Film Night

Documentaries can help build an appreciation of the natural world…
Why not host a parish film night? Documentaries can help build an appreciation of the natural world, whilst watching them together helps build community and allows for some exciting discussion. Try a BBC nature documentary or the Global Healing film series commissioned by The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

MORE ACTIONS

There are lots more activities that can help you appreciate nature on our parish allotment and wildlife garden pages. Getting dirt under your nails, growing food, and getting stuck into projects that create a welcome for all creatures great and small, really help us cultivate a deep appreciation that we are creatures living as part of God’s marvellous creation.

PARISH ALLOTMENT PAGE

WILDLIFE GARDEN PAGE

USEFUL WEBSITES

To help your parish APPRECIATE NATURE

These resources have been tried and recommended by our resident experts, editors and parishioners from across the UK. These are more general and practical resources for a multitude of uses. Simple and accessible, they are a great place to start!

NATURE AND MENTAL HEALTH

For plenty of ideas on activities in nature for positive mental health

UK WILDLIFE

A great place to learn more about the amazing wildlife sitting right under your nose (figuratively!).

BIRD WATCHING

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has excellent resources on watching birds and lots of citizen science projects to get involved in as you sit and listen to the birdsong.

PARISH SCHOOL TRIPS

Countryside Classroom helps teachers to find resources, places to visit and school support relating to the themes of food, farming and the natural environment.

PARISH quiet gardens

The Quiet Garden Movement nurtures access to outdoor space for prayer and reflection in a variety of settings.

How does appreciating nature HELP US MEET THE LAUDATO SI' GOALS?

The Laudato Si’ Goals are our global Church’s vision for action. Launched by the Vatican in 2021, the 7 goals aim to guide us in our mission to care for our common home by recognising the integral link between all ecological and human systems. 

Have a read below about how the topic of this page helps us to meet each of the goals.

response to the cry of the earth laudato si goal logo

RESPONSE TO THE CRY OF THE EARTH

Only when we learn to appreciate something will we take care of it. “If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.” (Pope Francis Laudato Si’ 215). Appreciating nature allows us to listen to what the earth is telling us; it helps us to notice where it is suffering, and gives us the drive to do some something about it.

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RESPONSE TO THE CRY OF THE POOR

Seeing the beauty of nature helps us to understand the reality of our utter dependence on it, that we are creatures ourselves and part of nature. Love of neighbour and appreciation of nature should not be separated. This view helps us to live in solidarity with the world’s poorest communities, who, because they are often directly working the land, are more aware of our dependence on nature, and more disproportionately effected by climate change and biodiversity loss.

ECOLOGICAL SPIRITUALITY

In encountering nature, we encounter our Creator. By appreciating what we have been given through nature, we can appreciate the world with a renewed sense of wonder. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker.” (Wis 13:5)

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ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS

Without appreciating nature humans will “see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption” (Pope St John Paul II). An appreciation of nature helps us create a better economic model that puts the wellbeing of people and the planet above amassing personal fortunes. “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Pope St John Paul II).

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ADOPTION OF SIMPLE LIFESTYLES

Appreciating nature is a basic and necessary human experience; one of life’s simple pleasures that require no resources, money, or work. In making time and space in our lives to sit and ponder the beautiful world around us, we are reminded of what’s important and are invited to waste and want less. For a more in depth reflection, listen to “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book.

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ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Nature is the world’s greatest classroom! People of all ages should continue to learn about the world, and what better way to do so than through direct contact with the environment. The more we learn, the better we understand and appreciate God’s love for us through creation.

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COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND PARTICIPATORY ACTION

Appreciating nature helps us as communities engage with creation on our doorstep and to recognise the need for us to act locally to protect it. This keeps our local environment clean and productive for all to enjoy.

How does appreciating nature HELP US MEET THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS?

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for more just future for people and the planet. Recognising that all injustice is interlinked, the UN invites the world to make these goals a reality by the year 2030.

See below to find out which SDGs relate to the topic of this page.

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ACTION STATIONS

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read laudato si'

Read the document that inspired The Journey to 2030.