I delivered The Spring 2019 Distinguished Lecture on Nature as Revelation at Bryn Athyn College (BAC) April 1, 2019. I had previously visited my friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman, associate professor at BAC, located just northeast of Philadelphia. From the college’s web site: Bryn Athyn College of the New Church serves as an intellectual center for all who desire to engage in higher education enriched, guided, and structured by the study of the Old Testament, New Testament, and theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. This education challenges students to develop spiritual purpose, to think broadly and critically from a variety of perspectives, and to build intellectual and practical skills. The ultimate purpose is to enhance students’ civil, moral, and spiritual lives, and to contribute to human spiritual welfare.
Ray and I had collaborated on several projects during my tenure as President, Urbana University, a Swedenborgian Church-founded institution in west-central Ohio. At the time of my visit to Bryn Athyn four years ago Ray and I were developing a manuscript for The New Philosophy (TNP), the Journal of the Swedenborg Scientific Association, which published the article, “The Spiritual Underpinnings of Nature-Based Leadership,” in the January-June 2016 issue. From the article’s abstract: Eighteenth Century Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) adopted a central philosophical tenet–that the entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality. That is, nature embodies all lessons of life’s physical and spiritual essence. I will explore reflections on how, likewise, our natural world offers powerful truths applicable to living, learning, serving, and leading.
Ray arranged for the two of us to present the recent Distinguished Lecture, expanding beyond the TNP theme to the realm of Nature as Revelation. Rather than distill the entire lecture in this Blog Post, allow me to present the highlights along with photos I included in my remarks and snapshots from my visit. Ray and I are contemplating an expanded article (non-scholarly) on the topic of Nature as Revelation. We’ve also toyed with the idea of yet another paper for the moment whimsically titled: Emanuel Swedenborg Meets a Twenty-First Century Doctor of Applied Ecology.
A Gorgeous Campus, Great People, and Matching Spring Splendor
Always the weather buff, I estimated Bryn Athyn’s (latitude 40.13 North) spring advance lagging only two-weeks behind our home in Madison, Alabama (34.70 North). We’re separated by a single plant hardiness zone. Four hundred latitudinal miles to our north, Southeastern Pennsylvania enjoys some moderation from the Atlantic Ocean; the plant hardiness zones lean northward along the east coast. All that to suggest that many factors influence weather and climate. We lived nine years in State College, PA (Penn State University) at 40.79, which sits more than a thousand feet higher than Bryn Athyn and in the central interior of the Keystone State. We viewed Philly’s weather as near-tropical by comparison. During the day April 1, the sun warmed us as the brisk northwesterly breeze demanded hat and jacket. That’s me at the BAC sign and campus map.
And here’s Ray at the Brickman Center for Student Life and Admissions.
We delivered the Lecture Monday evening April 1 at Pendleton Hall, which stands beautifully below in the afternoon sunshine.
Approximately 60 attendees joined us in the Pendleton Hall Auditorium, along with dozens who tuned in for the streaming (including some of my family members back in Alabama).
Here’s the link to the actual 60-minute : https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox?projector Right click on it and hit “watch.”
Some Highlights from My Message
Here are snippets from my remarks. Raised in western Maryland’s central Appalachians, I relished the great outdoors. Dad kept us in Nature… hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking. He sowed the seeds that led me to a bachelor’s degree in forestry and a lifetime love affair with Nature. That’s me lower left at age six. Notice my dirty knees and pants legs, suggesting that even then I knew how to be one with the good soil! The photo leads me to puzzle why I’m mugging for the camera as mom and dad look to their right. Perhaps I somehow knew that 61-years hence I might be glancing back at the lad I once was. Funny thing to know that the freshness and innocence of spirit, wonder, magic, and awe in those young eyes still reside within the former four-time university president who stands in full academic regalia (lower right).
Aldo Leopold, author of what I term as my secular bible, A Sand County Almanac, wrote prophetically relevant sentiments 70 years ago:
“When I call to mind my earliest impressions, I wonder whether the process ordinarily referred to as growing up is not actually a process of growing down; whether experience, so much touted among adults as the thing children lack, is not actually a progressive dilution of the essentials by the trivialities of living.”
Importantly, I have refused (albeit not consciously) to grow up and, in fact, have deliberately rejected growing down with respect to my appreciation for and reverence of Nature. Dr. Silverman saw my persistent special (youthful wonderment) view of Nature through the words of William Wordsworth.
Dr. Silverman wrote in his Nature as Revelation: Intimations of Immortality (and spoke to during our lecture):
“In 1804 the British poet William Wordsworth wrote what many consider to be his most famous poem, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. The whole poem is an expression of mixed grief and joy. The grief is about the passing of those early states of childhood when we had an intuitive and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders. As Wordsworth puts it, heaven lies about us in our infancy.
All too soon, however, we begin to lose that innate sense of connection to the wonders that nature simultaneously conceals and reveals. As we leave childhood behind, along with its innocent sense of wonder, shades of the prison-house begin to close around us. Subtle suggestions of something greater, which seem to be both beyond and within nature, become fainter. These intimations of immortality, as Wordsworth calls them in his poem, no longer touch us; they no longer spark thoughts in our mind.”
The shades of the prison-house have not yet closed around me, nor will they. The six-year-old boy still sits in amazement at the base of a 110-foot-tall yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). I am grateful that I retain an intuitive and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders.
John Muir wrote 130 years ago, “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
I love the phrase “infinite storm of beauty”! Storms of beauty both literal and metaphorical. Below left the turbulent, tossed, and tortured sky portends the arrival of a mid-summer (2018 from my back patio) derecho. The foreground sapling is already leaning to the left and the first fat drops of rain presage the storm’s imminent fury. Yet the beauty matches the impending ferocity! A gentler storm of beauty appears lower right. The view is dawn (also from my patio) looking due west, with a setting full moon in upper left of the image. These are anti-crepuscular rays having generated from the still below-horizon rising sun at my back. I submit that in both images my Nature-knowledge and expertise enhance my understanding, appreciation, and vision for the storms of beauty, at least by an order of magnitude. And what child of innocence would not see and sense the magic! There are glory and an embedded story in Nature’s every moment, awaiting discovery and revelation for those who are alert to what lies hidden within and who interpret the message and lessons for life.
Wendell Berry wrote his own version of Nature’s infinite storm of beauty, “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.” I see a cirrus halo (my term and not from the science of meteorology) 30,000 feet beyond (above) the lone slash pine (Pinus elliotti) I photographed at Gulf Shores State Park in February. The temperature at ground level stood 120-degrees warmer than the ice-crystal cirrus altitude. Again, the scene made all-the-more remarkable by the marriage of my science and spirituality. The six-year-old child within me cherishes Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. I feel the same about the October 2018 image of a cirrus burst (a cloud fountain) rising high above the Mount Cheaha Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana). Note the secondary puff from the primary burst ring. Again, these are not technical terms, but my heart and soul’s words for the visual features of infinite storms of beauty. As Wordsworth said, “heaven lies about us in our infancy.” I thank God that the shades have not darkened the lens of my infancy.
Revelations of Truths in Nature
Aldo Leopold, deeply concerned 70 years ago that society was distancing itself more and more from Nature, wondered about and fretted that, “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.” And he pondered, “Is education possibly a process of trading awareness… for things of lesser worth?” Riders awaiting a train at a Philly-area station are riveted to their digital devices, absorbed by an in-hand world, oblivious (and blind) to their immediate surroundings. This tyranny of the urgent robs them of awareness. as they focus on things of lesser worth.
I often hike or bike local greenways, feeling dismay for how many other trail users are engrossed in digital distractions, headsets piping music, phone conversations, or thumbs dancing on digital keyboards. They know not the rewards of Nature that Muir noted, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
The gifts come at multiple scales, whether a mountain overlook or the moss and lichen on a woods boulder.
Or my thrill at seeing a bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in full flower roadside the morning of my Bryn Athyn address.
Muir wrote that he saw the magic in every glimpse of Nature, “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” As a child and forever since, I have seen infinite doorways to new worlds as I’ve wandered trails for business and pleasure. Everything is an opening to new worlds to those who are willing and able to imagine what lies beyond. These two slash pines along the Gulf coast both welcome and beckon.
As Carl Sagan so eloquently spoke, our Earth is a pale blue orb, a mote of dust, in the vast darkness of space. So far as we know, we are alone. We cannot rely upon others from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. We have just this one chance to get it right. To steward this Earth with wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. My mission is to “Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.” At Bryn Athyn, I delivered the message (with Ray’s support) within the spiritual framework that I believe Emanuel Swedenborg may have embraced.
[Note: I borrowed this image below from available internet photos.]
I’ll close by repeating words I offered at the outset of this Post, stating that Swedenborg adopted a central philosophical tenet–that the entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality. That is, nature embodies all lessons of life’s physical and spiritual essence. I will explore reflections on how, likewise, our natural world offers powerful truths applicable to living, learning, serving, and leading.
Thoughts and Reflections from Lecturing at Bryn Athyn College
I wrote my books (Nature Based Leadership (2016) and Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)) and the two scheduled for 2019 (Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature and Natural Elixir: Lifting Your Life through Nature’s Inspiration) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Both published books are available on Amazon and other online sources.
I draw four succinct lessons from this Blog Post:
- Always be attuned to Nature’s Infinite Storm of Beauty
- Resist growing down — retain an innate and immediate grasp of nature’s wonders
- Cling to the youthful innocence and a child’s appreciation for Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.
- The entire natural world comprises a series of physical symbols that correspond to a deeper spiritual reality.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2019 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/
And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause
If only more of us viewed our precious environment through my own filters. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:
Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.
- People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
- They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.
Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!