I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Sue Schuerman’s reflection “Language of the Land.”
My earliest companion was the natural world. Ocean, sand, orange trees, seashells, sea gulls, and chameleons—all spoke to me in a language that I didn’t understand at the time. Sixty years later I’m just beginning to comprehend the wisdom these natural teachers have to offer.
Under the dappled shade of orange trees, behind my grandparents’ home, where I played as a child, I had a Place. Tucked in behind the leaves of the banana tree and fragrant jasmine vines, my dolls, my books, and an occasional mockingbird or blue jay were my only visitors. No humans were allowed into my sacred Place. This is where I taught my dolls to pray, where a young poet blossomed, and where I held life-changing conversations with a myriad of plants and wildlife. I didn’t have the words for it then, but that was the birth of a contemplative life.
During my teens, our family moved from the sultry summers of Florida to the icy winters of Iowa. In my world of algebra tests, learning to drive a car, and dancing the twist at slumber parties, the natural world only showed up in my dreams.
I can’t say exactly when I started conversing with plants again, but I do know the more successful I became in my career, the more I craved silence and solace. Contemplative practices such as meditation, haiku, photography, and Terra Divina have given me permission to practice deep listening, pure seeing. To hear the humming of bumble bees. To see dragons in puffs of clouds.
I practiced Lectio Divina and was ecstatic to discover Terra Divina. Thomas Berry expresses my thoughts so beautifully, “The divine communicates to us primarily through the language of the natural world. Not to hear the natural world is not to hear the divine.”
Terra Divina is like reading the language of creation through birdsong, waves lapping the shore, whispers of wind through willow trees. Today my favorite Place is what I dubbed the Pine Cathedral. It reminds me of a church without walls. The sun seeping through the branches is the belltower calling forest critters to join the celebration. Fallen pine needles serve as pew benches. Tall trees dressed in their greenery are the saints and sages who lead me to the Divine. As I wonder among the towering pine trees, I make note in my journal where my mind lingers, what images, thoughts, words appear (lectio).
Following the ancient monastic form of Lectio Divina, meditatio draws me into deep listening to discover why I was drawn to a certain aspect of creation. This is where I observe what is happening in this patch of Earth and let my imagination form the story unfolding before me.
Oratio is the stage where I engage fully in my new relationship and translate my experience into song, movement, or sacred conversation with other than human kin. My journal holds my emotional and physical responses.
And, finally, I celebrate this sacred time with deep breaths while sitting or lying on this patch of Earth (contemplation). With deep gratitude, I send prayers to all who occupy this sacred space and to the Great Creator. I bow gently. I then offer a reading of inspirational poetry, a short story or wise words from the many saints and sages who have inspired me.
Terra Divina has called me back into the wild and renewed my childhood conversations with the “wild” things. I now see how a fluttering butterfly connects me to everything. Sacred has taken on a new meaning in my life. Every part of creation is holy. Everyone can find the holy in their special Place. I enter each Place with open arms and open heart.
Six years ago I retired from a career in public relations. I craved (and still crave) a creative, contemplative life—to live as a monk in the world. I wanted to live in a world where water flows free and clean, where trees embrace humans, where deer speak through their soft brown eyes, where humans and nonhumans live in reverence of their space. So, I started teaching nature writing classes and eventually co-founded what I hope will become my legacy, EarthWhispers Abbey Programs & Retreats. My friends jokingly say that I didn’t retire, I recalibrated.
May your time on this Earth be filled with mindful moments and magnificent memories.
As co-founder of EarthWhispers Abbey, Sue Schuerman leads nature retreats and programs that integrate contemplative practice and creative expression. She feeds and shares her passion for nature, legacy writing (certified legacy facilitator), photography, and a spirit-illuminated life through retreats, workshops, and classes. Visit her website for a schedule of offerings at glasspenwriter.com