Tag Archive 'pantheism'

Nov 16 2017

Profile Image of Walt

Validation

Filed under Blog Post

Today I have put the finishing touches on a book-length manuscript that explores the relationship between God, man and nature. After going through it several times, I can now see the argument as a whole. It doesn’t feel like I’ve done the subject justice, though. I question whether it can stand up to serious scrutiny. No matter. I pull on my boots and go for a hike to clear my head…

My dog Matika and I wander about a nearby town forest between bouts of rain, just as the sun breaks through the clouds. The grey trees, stripped of their leaves, cast long shadows across the forest floor at midday. My eyes drink in the remnant green of ferns, moss and clubmoss as the few dry leaves still clinging to branches rattle overhead. The leaves on the ground crunch loudly as I walk.

A pileated woodpecker sweeps through the trees at eye level. Matika catches the scent of something interesting and wanders off trail. I call her back. While standing on the trail waiting for her, I listen intently to the forest silence, marveling at the interplay of order and chaos all around me. And that’s it – all the validation I need. Pushing away from my desk after so many hours of abstract thought this morning, I harbored doubts about my pantheistic worldview. But while tramping through these woods, it makes perfect sense.

“So there is one thought for the field, another for the house,” Thoreau once wrote, “I would have my thoughts, like wild apples, to be food for walkers, and will not warrant them to be palatable, if tasted in the house.” I can relate to that. My wild thoughts regarding God, man and nature don’t make a lot of sense indoors. But on the trail, where such thoughts were born, nothing else does.

Reason has its limits. At some point one needs a direct encounter with the wild to fully grasp it and thereby see things as they really are. Thoughts and words are abstract. Wild nature is not.

 

 

No responses yet

Feb 24 2016

Profile Image of Walt

The Swirl of Natural Order

Filed under Blog Post

gastropod2Well, I’m back to the old scribble, scribble, revising the pantheism manuscript after nearly a year away from it. Feels good to be writing again. I must admit, though, that this is a tough subject – as challenging as cosmology and closely related to that. If I were smart, I’d stick to writing hiking narratives. But no, I have to get philosophical every once in a while. What can I say in my defense? When it comes to writing, I follow my passion.

Some of you might recall that I went to Fisk Quarry a year and a half ago to check out the fossils there. It’s amazing that we can read in stone the history of this planet going back hundreds of millions of years. It’s also amazing that the swirl of a gastropod’s shell is so much like the swirl of hurricanes and galaxies. Those swirls suggest natural order reaching across time and space. “All is not chaos,” they seem to say, which strikes me as a deeply religious notion – one that I embrace wholeheartedly. Hence the book now in progress.

A tough subject, indeed. Natural order suggests that nature exists beyond our conception of it. Nature with a capital “N” that is, which is nothing less than God-talk. When it comes to rational discourse, no subject is tougher than that.

Incredibly, I am writing natural theology. It’s hard to say what exactly has brought me to this point. I came away from the Alaskan wilderness with pantheistic inclinations, I suppose. Before that I could have passed for an existentialist.

It’ll be another year before I finish this book, and another year after that before it’s published. But I thought it important for those of you who have been following my wanderings and wonderings to know what I’m up to these days. Yeah, I’m in the deep end of the pool now. Good thing I know how to swim.

 

 

Comments Off on The Swirl of Natural Order

Apr 06 2015

Profile Image of Walt

Eternal Renewal

Filed under Blog Post

NiqBay.AprilEarly spring. A few patches of ice and snow still linger on the forest floor, and the ground is still frozen beneath a few inches of cold mud. No matter. My dog Matika and I are on the move at the beginning of yet another warm season. With temps just barely above freezing, I use the word “warm” loosely here, of course.

To those of us who revel in eternal renewal, it is quite clear what is happening. Slowly but surely, the natural world is awakening from its long winter sleep. The forest and fields are still brown for the most part, but the robins have returned, the squirrels are busy, and streams are roiling with snowmelt. The first flowers are still weeks away, but I am encouraged by the give of soft earth underfoot.

I amble down the trail following my younger self. A year older and slightly less agile, I marvel at this wild world full of growth and decay. Already the buds of trees are swelling. Already pine cones are chewed to pieces. Of the thousands of acorns beneath my boots a few are already on their way to becoming great oaks, while the bones of newly fallen trees litter the forest floor. Nature is cold and cruel, yet it is also warm and embracing. It changes faces with the seasons. Now begins a more ambient season.

Eternal renewal. With each passing year, I travel farther away from a supernatural god and closer to a natural one. Wild places fill me with awe. I see in them a power that trumps all human ambition – the endless, dynamic interplay of elemental forces and the countless forms that they take. I am in love with the world even as it slowly saps my strength, pushing me ever closer to my inevitable demise. Why? Because the wild and I are one in the same, because there is a part of me that will never die – the part of me that is nature. I worship it with every breath I take. Nature exists! All is not chaos.

 

One response so far

Nov 25 2014

Profile Image of Walt

Back from the Cosmos

Filed under Blog Post

M51Yesterday I finished writing the cosmos book. I’ve been hard at work on the last draft of it for a couple months now. A year ago I pulled the manuscript from storage, where it had been languishing since 2005. A quick perusal convinced me that the manuscript was worth finishing and eventually publishing even though it’s not the kind of thing one expects from a nature writer. What can I say? Sometimes passion trumps practicality.

The cosmos is nature on the grand scale. With a 4.5-inch telescope, a little help from astronomy books and the Internet, I have wandered through the night sky for years, frequently visiting spiral galaxies, nebulas and other mind-blowing phenomena. These wanderings have fueled my wildest speculations about the nature of the universe and our place in it.

Whenever I tramp through the woods, I marvel at the dance of order and chaos that is wild nature. Whenever I spend enough time alone in the forest, I feel that wildness emerge from deep within me. Now I see that same wildness in the swirl of galaxies millions of light years away. It is all connected

No doubt those of you familiar with my work can see where I’m going with this. Back from the cosmos, I’m headed for that ethereal realm where mystics, philosophers and theologians spend their days. I’m already deep in it, actually. The path between cosmology and God-talk is a short one. But don’t worry. I’ll keep at least one foot on the ground. I’ll step away from my mad speculations long enough this winter to self-publish the Maine hiking narrative that so many of you have been waiting for. Above all else, I want to keep it real.

 

One response so far

Oct 12 2014

Profile Image of Walt

Natural Religion

Filed under Blog Post

gastropod1On a balmy, partly cloudy day, while driving around the Champlain Islands admiring autumnal color with my wife Judy, I detoured to Isle La Motte to check out a rare geological phenomenon called Chazy Reef.  It’s the stony remnant of a coral reef that existed 480 million years ago, transported to Lake Champlain by the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates. Well aware of it for many years, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I parked the car at the entrance to Fisk Quarry, where more practical folk once cut and removed stones for buildings. It is now a preserve and national landmark – one of two in the area. Judy stayed in the car, more interested in the here/now than fossils. I understand. Like gazing at the stars, any venture into the depths of natural history is an exercise in imagination. What one sees is only a rough sketch of what once was.

At first I saw nothing as I walked around the preserve. After all, I have only a layman’s understanding of geology. Then I spotted a swirl embedded in solid rock. Then another, and another. The skeptic in me assumed that someone had carved them, but a closer look dismissed that notion. I knelt down and touched those ghostly apparitions, half expecting them to disappear when I did so. My fingers traced the fossils as if reading braille. Then I got it.  That is, I sensed an order to things in a world that so often appears to be utterly random and chaotic.

Truth is I have always been something of a pantheist. I don’t particularly like that label, but it comes closest to describing what I feel during those precious moments when I see the hand of God in nature, when the yawning chasm between mathematics and mysticism suddenly vanishes and I understand, on some level, how everything connects.

The swirls I saw in the rock, the vague outlines of marine creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, remind me of the swirls of hurricanes and galaxies. There are forces at work in the universe that press our ability to reason to its limit. And when confronted by the Real, all I can do is genuflect. Nature, it seems, is wilder than our wildest imagination.

 

One response so far

Nov 16 2012

Profile Image of Walt

Still Reading John Burroughs

Filed under Blog Post

For over a year now, I have been reading and rereading the works of John Burroughs, along with critical and biographical essays. He continues to fascinate me because he was a curious mix of contradictions: literary man and dirt farmer, naturalist and abstract thinker, recluse and socialite. His work is a sea of mediocrity seasoned with flashes of brilliance. He was deeply religious yet wholeheartedly embraced Darwinism. Few nature writers have ever been as popular as he was at the peak of his career, yet his work is largely unknown today. He chummed around with both Walt Whitman and Henry Ford. That alone makes my head spin.

“There is no light more mysterious than the light of common day,” Burroughs wrote in his journals. That sums up both his approach to understanding the world, and the man himself. In many ways he was a common man with many commonplace beliefs. Yet there is no mistaking the rarity of his vision. I have read a lot of naturalists and philosophers over the years. Few have been as scientific in their thinking as he was without discarding the concept of God altogether. Even fewer have speculated about the nature of the universe at large while growing grapes. He was a rare bird, indeed.

It is no mistake that I have been drawn to Burroughs and his work. His spiritual father was Ralph Waldo Emerson. In my latter years, I too have gravitated to Emerson’s way of seeing the world. All three of us have one thing in common: a deep and abiding pantheism. And while that word does none of us justice, it comes as close as any word can to explaining how they felt and I still feel while beholding the divine in nature

The danger in reading the likes of Emerson and Burroughs is that one loses touch with the spirit of these modern times. It’s hard to imagine either man yapping on a cell phone, watching television, or surfing the net. Burroughs drove a car in his old age but had a hard time keeping it out of ditches. That said, I think either one would make a good trail companion if they were alive today. Some things never change. Our relationship to the wild is one of them.

 

One response so far

Nov 05 2011

Profile Image of Walt

Pantheistic

Filed under Blog Post

Recreation. Making good use of a precious day off from work, I head for the hills to re-create myself. It’s a cool, sunny day in late autumn and everything I need is stuffed into the small rucksack on my back. I step into the woods, following a favorite stream deep into the Green Mountains. My dog Matika, wearing a blaze orange vest, bounds ahead of me all smiles. She’s just as happy as I am to be here.

It’s a hunter’s forest. A few brown and gold leaves still cling to branches but most of them are on the ground now. Slightly overdressed in thermals and wool shirt, I quickly break into a sweat. And yet I feel a chill in the air whenever I stop to catch my breath. Oh yeah, it’s that time of year.

It’s a hunter’s forest but I’m not hunting for anything in particular today – not game, not adventure, not deep thought. I have no agenda, really. I’m just out here to groove with the elements and forget about all that nonsense in the lowlands. It’s enough to simply move, to sweat, and occasionally rock-hop across the stream. And yet a moment comes when I start pondering the order and chaos of the natural world, wondering half consciously where the laws of nature come from. Then I stop and look around me in pantheistic ecstasy, convinced on the most visceral level that the universe is far from being random.

I recently read The God Delusion, a manifesto of atheism penned by a renowned biologist named Richard Dawson. I was deeply disappointed by it, as I am by most religious and anti-religious texts. Professed atheists do not take pantheism any more seriously than religious fundamentalists do. These two camps are too busy warring with each other to consider any other possibilities – namely that the laws of nature have to come from somewhere, that “god” and “nature” are different words for the same thing. A few pensive souls like myself speak up but we are quickly dismissed.  There is little room in most human minds for the obvious. Warring – the battle between good and evil – is so much more engaging.

“Let it go,” I tell myself, as I tramp through the woods. I didn’t come out here to think. I came out here today to leave all that nonsense behind. I came out here to groove with the wild, feel the truth of it, and reconnect with What-Is in a way that doesn’t translate into any kind of -Ism. So I whistle to Matika to follow as I change direction, rock-hopping across the stream one more time. By the end of the day, I will be re-created and ready to return to the lowlands.  But right now, I just want to worship nature in the simplest and most direct way possible.

 

One response so far