There’s a story in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers about Abba Silvanus working in the garden. His disciple had gone away on an errand and had asked the Abba to water the garden in his absence. Abba Silvanus went out with his face hidden in his cowl, looking down at his feet. A brother, passing by, saw what was going on, and asked Abba Silvanus why he kept his face hidden while working in the garden. Abba Silvanus replied:
So that my eyes should not see the trees, my son, in case my attention should be distracted by them.
I read a similar story about two Eastern nuns – hermitesses – who, while traveling in search of a new place to live, kept their eyes averted from the grandeur of the majestic mountains they were passing by, for fear of enjoying the sight too much…or something like that. When I read the Abba Silvanus story, I thought he was basically doing the same thing as those two hermit sisters.
But that seems, actually, a rather Calvinistic idea, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is more of an Eastern point of view, and perhaps there is something there that I am missing. As for myself, I cannot refrain from admiring God’s handiwork in the physical surroundings of the place where I live, and I don’t feel that I am worshiping the creature rather than the Creator in so doing – quite the opposite. I see God’s greatness in the views I’ve photographed and placed on this blog; I am inspired to praise Him more than ever when these scenes touch me!
On the other hand, there is a “distraction” factor involved in admiring nature. At one church I know of there was a day chapel that for a long time just had plain glass windows, through which you could see everything going on outside, and there was something of a view of the sky, at least. Any human activity outside the windows was, of course, a distraction from Mass or Adoration, or private devotions…whatever was going on inside the chapel. When there were some spectacular cloud formations or spring-time greenery visible, the distraction factor was great, too. Even though we see God’s greatness in “nature”, I don’t think we should be allow it to distract us from worshiping Him in our public liturgies. In that sense, I agree with Abba Silvanus.
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