The Book of Nature is not a physical book but an invitation to experience the presence of the Creator in the beauty and complexity of creation. Theologians refer to this as pan-en-theism, the belief that the Creator is in the midst of creation. This is found in other religious traditions too. Native American spirituality believes that Spirit lives and is revealed in the natural world. Martin Luther the Catholic monk and reformer in the 14th century echoed this pan-en-theistic belief: ‘in the call of a bird, in the whisper of wind in the grass, we hear little words from God’. Nature then becomes a reflection of that mystery we call God a portal into this sacred mystery.
In much of this, Kent and I agree except for the part about where this all comes from. It begs the question:
Is the concept of spirituality in nature evidence of a divine creator or merely a reflection of our lack of understanding our innate need to find a cause for all things?
Many of us who spend time wandering in nature sense an almost magical element. There is a reinvigorating quality of one’s being as you explore the natural world.
Some see this as spirituality. Some take it to be one more proof of God.
Our deeply ingrained search for meaning in life compels us to embrace such ideas. Thus, when we find ourselves immersed in the world of nature, particularly in a peaceful wood, a gentle ocean, a long sandy beach, or a flowing river it seems logical that such beauty must arise from some cause.
I think this is more a reflection of our limited understanding of the universe and its many complexities rather than proof of a divine power.
In our quest to survive, we looked for ways to control nature. We turned to worship, ceremony, and what amounts to superstition to influence our world. We sought to appease the powers that ruled our lives.
This is the genesis (no pun intended) of all religious beliefs. As our understanding of our world and the processes which fuel it increased, we needed less and less of a divine cause.
Therefore, it is only natural, while standing on an ocean shore, or a mountain ridge looking over an arboreal forest, seeing a soaring eagle, or watching a blue whale breaching that we would see a magical spirituality in nature.
In the infancy of our understanding of natural phenomenon (to paraphrase Bertrand Russell), we attributed these things to a divine being.
If one believes spirituality arises from a divine original cause, this is easy to understand. Nevertheless, I think this oversimplifies the immense complexity and interconnectivity of nature.
I am satisfied in being part of the magnificence that is the universe. Rather than being the peak of existence, I believe man is just one of the infinite elements of life. I see no compelling reason to consider ourselves somehow superior and justify this by a belief in a divine being purposely creating us in his (or her) image.
Many believe what differentiates us lies in our self-awareness. They point to our ability to think about these things as proof we are different. They argue our appreciation of nature is evidence of our being something special.
I have seen eagles soaring in the skies. I have stood on mountaintops and looked out at unspoiled forests. I listened to the quiet noise of a dark wood. I am certain we are part of the overall puzzle that is life, not more important than any other part. Just more inclined by evolution to think we are.
I have looked into my dog’s eyes and have no doubt there were some interesting thoughts going through his mind.
All of nature demonstrates some awareness of existence, even if limited to reacting to change. This interrelated aspect of nature, some have called Gaia, bespeaks of complexities and characteristics we have yet to comprehend.
Over time, as we become more aware and responsible for our place in nature, we will come to understand the element of nature we call spirituality, and our compunction to attribute a divine cause, is more a reflection of our limitations then a reality of the universe.