Monday, November 23, 2009

The Religious Naturalist

I have been reading A LOT of books lately about nature; ecology, philosophy, journals, social issues, spiritual issues. For a long, long time I just couldn't get interested in non-fiction. I think that I was unhappy and needed the escape that a good work of fiction provided. Also, I realize now, I was not doing what I wanted to do--work that involved art, the environment and wildlife. Perhaps I was shielding myself from what I knew deep inside I wanted to do but thought I could never.

Anyway, all that changed when I picked up a copy of Sigurd Olson's Reflections From the North Country nearly two years ago. I had been compiling quotes on nature, and his name came up several times. I was curious about this fellow and so looked him up online. What a book that was! His words resonated with me right out of the gate, and it started me on a path of voracious reading. I read another one of his books, then Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, E.O. Wilson and Paul Hawkin to name a few.

One of the things that many of these authors shared was a healthy spiritual connection to nature, and in some cases a complete rejection of the idea of a personal God. However, that lack of faith did not leave them wallowing in a spiritual void--they looked at the natural world and saw everything they needed to sustain their souls.

I was fascinated by this. I have never been a religious person in the traditional sense. I could never get behind the notion of a personal God or even the idea that there is some sort of "consciousness" that created the universe. It just never made any sense to me. What resonated with me was (and is) the life that exists all around me--the Creation, if you will. It is tactile, it is obvious, and it excites me and fills me with wonder and reverence.

Being without God in a God-fearing world can leave one feeling...isolated. What was wrong with me? How could I not believe when so many did? Was I missing something? I tried, I did, to get on board. Read some of the Bible (what a beautiful man Jesus was!), went to this church, then that church, but try as I might I could not buy into God ("God" with a capital G being the Christian version). But what stayed with me, had been with me since I was a child, was nature. My awe and amazement and delight in everything living outside my door. I worshipped it, in my own quiet way.

So the turn of events that lead me to try my hand at making a living as an artist also started me on a spiritual journey. I wanted to learn. I wanted to know about the subjects that I was drawing, to learn about their habits and habitats, their lives. So I began researching, and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. At the same time I was trying to create a product, and I was using quotes about nature that resonated with me on some notecards. I wanted to know about the people who had uttered or written such sage words, so I began to research them too. What a world I found! Emerson and Thoreau to be sure, but also Henry Beston and Chet Raymo and Bernd Heinrich...the list goes on and on.

It wasn't until I picked up a copy of Chet Raymo's When God is Gone, Everything is Holy that I finally had a name for what I was--a religious naturalist. A religious naturalist is essentially one who rejects the supernatural, embracing instead the natural world for their spiritual identity. There is the belief that all life is interconnected, and science is called upon to reinforce these spiritual beliefs. In a sense, the religious naturalist relies on science, while the followers of other faiths, if you will, rely on myth.

How happy I was to see that I wasn't an outcast after all! I generally eschew labels, but in reality we all need to not only define ourselves in some way but also feel like we fit in--community is one of the basic needs of human beings. To find there were like-minded people--and a lot of them--was an epiphany for me. So in addition to reading about habitats, species, living for a year in the desert or in the woods or on a beach, I have been reading about religion, primarily religion and science, ever seeking a firmer grip on what it means to be human, and what it means to be me.

On those slow blog days I will do a "book review", a summery of something I've read, some quotes and thoughts. I hope to have some lively feedback as a result! (The photos, BTW, are from the Porcupine Mountains, a trip I took last year with Lisa and Lori, who had won an Artist in Residence there. I wanted to give you a little visual stimulation as well! I will probably blog about that trip this winter.)

1 comment:

  1. Religous Naturalist. I like that term. And what I like is that you are in a special place whenever you venture outside your door or look out a window. Natures cathedral.