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Monk in the World Guest Post: Jan Blencowe

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jan Blencowe’s reflection “Drawing the Book of Creation.”

The quietest pond edge, the still winter woods or the silent desert floor are never really quiet, though it does take a certain kind of listening and seeing to become aware of the life there.

I have always had a very strong and sacred connection to nature, even (perhaps especially) as a child. In those younger years it seemed easy to converse and commune with the aliveness of nature.

As so often happens with some of the wondrous things of childhood, like the capacity for play and friendships with trees, that ability grew dimmer as I got older.

One day in a moment of deep understanding I saw that my longing to be connected to nature was just that, a longing. I realized that I actually knew very little about nature.

The trees in my yard, the birds, and the weeds were strangers to me. They each had a name, a story. Yet, beyond being able to recognize a pine tree, or knowing that the red bird was a cardinal, I knew very little about the things that lived around me.

The desire to reforge that childhood connection to nature and broaden my knowledge took hold. Yet, I sensed that learning their names and classifications was not what I was looking for.

I desired not an “I – it” relationship, but rather the deeper “I – Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about.

Gardening was one way I began to learn about nature. Keeping a nature journal was another. I began my nature journal in my garden with plants that were familiar.

Creating drawings right in the midst of nature, as the sun warmed by back I had the opportunity to learn from mother nature herself. I saw first hand what was living, breathing and growing right on the same parcel of land that I was living, breathing and growing on.

Tuning my eyes and ears to nature I could observe the dramatic sweep of a life cycle, as well as the minute changes that take place day by day throughout the seasons.

One of the most profound discoveries I made through keeping sketches in a nature journal was understanding my own place in creation. It was astonishing to see how my very presence and actions changed, for better or worse, the environment around me.

As  Mechtild of Magdeburg, wrote, “The day of my awakening was the day I saw, and knew I saw, all things in God and God in all things.”

Hours of quiet and solitude, sketchbook and pen in hand, became a school of spirituality for me. I sat at the feet of the Creator, revealed to me in the guise of a tree, a great stone or the rolling waves of the sea.

I began to cultivate a friendship with trees, stones, insects and weeds.

This friendship and intimacy with nature was in fact just another facet of communion with the Divine. In nature I was able to find the archetypal Earth Mother and recognize those feminine aspects within God, too.

One of the most compelling lessons I’ve learned is that matter is not separate from spirit but rather infused with it. The aliveness of all things in nature began to dawn clearly in me, allowing  a deeper more penetrating way of seeing. A way of seeing that perceives both the outward appearance and the inward life.

Drawing provides a special way to slow down. It gave me new eyes to observe the smallest and the greatest, from the tiniest moss to Venus in the morning sky, to the shifting winds and the eclipse of the sun.

The amazing rhythms of migration, procreation and death became the framework for my understanding of how life unfolds.  Nature is a profound teacher and her wisdom plays itself out moment by moment, year after year .

What I gain from this type of creative practice in nature is something experiential, a process of becoming aware of the unity of all that is.

Through nature journaling I’ve been given a sense of belonging, and a certainty that what can feel out of control is always held within something greater that orders our existence. This has made the acceptance of what can seem harsh realities like accident, injury and death easier.

Nature survives these things in so many amazing ways, and I am strengthened by watching how persistently and beautifully she recovers from her wounds. Ultimately, for me, it is understanding the integration of all experiences through grace, that has been the greatest gift of observing and drawing in my nature journal.

Jan Blencowe is an artist, creative depth coach, and retreat leader. She helps women use art and nature to heal their past so they can design their future.  She is the creator of the online courses Beginning a Nature Journal and The EarthWise Way, a sacred journey through the Celtic year.

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