Creating a Sense of Reverence for Every Species

By Andrea M. Couture
July 2022

Angela Manno's “Sacred Icons of Endangered Species” shed light on the holy work of loving the earth.

Lascaux is famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings, found in an underground complex in southwest France. The biggest area of Lascaux with the most abundant paintings is an echo chamber. Enveloped in sound, our human ancestors may have drummed and danced around a flickering fire whose shadows animated the natural scenes of people, animals, and their environment on the surrounding walls—all inviting transcendence. In ancient Greek religion, the lyrical music of Orpheus charmed the gods and compelled animals, even rocks and trees, to dance. Early Christian iconography developed a practice of liturgical art that both offered theological instruction and included details of the plant and animal world, both literal and allegorical, to foster spiritual reverence.

Closer to our time, great thinkers such as 19th-century German explorer-scientist Alexander von Humbolt looked beyond isolated organisms to the unity among plants, climate, and geography. In the 20th century, French Jesuit and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s perception that the universe is an evolutionary process moving toward greater complexity and consciousness furthered the understanding that humans are interdependent with the created world. Albert Einstein wrote that human beings experience ourselves “as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness” and that “we will have to learn to think in a new way” if humanity is to survive. This view is echoed in new developments in quantum physics that we may be evolving toward a more coherent wholeness among spirituality, science, and art.

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