February 21, 2017, Madison Public Library: Employing Nature’s Wisdom to Ensure Living and Aging with Grace, Fulfillment, Joy, and Dignity
February 22, 2017, First Baptist Church, Huntsville: Employing Nature’s Wisdom to Ensure Living and Aging with Grace, Fulfillment, Joy, and Dignity
February 2, 2017, Alabama A&M University: Applying Nature’s Inspiration to Natural Resources Policy
March 26, 2017, Madison Public Library; Nature Based Leadership Book Signing
Mid-summer, 2017, Huntsville Senior Center, Huntsville Chapter National Association of Retired Federal Employees: Employing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration to Ensure Living and Aging with Grace, Fulfillment, Joy, and Dignity
August 24, 2017, National Summit, Association of Nature Center Administrators, Camp McDowell Alabama: one-half day workshop on Applying Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration to Nature Center Leadership
American Academy of Religion, Boston, November 18-21, 2017 – Paper Submitted:
Abstract: Nature as Revelation: “Intimations of Immortality”
The presidential theme for this year’s annual meeting is “Religion and the Most Vulnerable.” Usually, the phrase, “the most vulnerable” includes groups such as orphans, the poor, the oppressed, the physically handicapped, and the mentally challenged. This paper focuses on three additional groups: the elderly who languish in “rest” homes; the young who sit in self-imposed captivity behind video screens; and the nature-illiterate who have not learned how to extract vital spiritual lessons from nature’s treasury of hidden truth. Quoting from a wide range of authors and religious leaders, including the Buddha, Swedenborg, Chief Seattle, Emerson, and Thoreau, this paper explains how nature, when rightly seen, can be regarded as a divinely ordained means of communicating what Wordsworth called “intimations of immortality.” The paper distinguishes between the misuse of nature imagery to support false beliefs and the proper use of nature to confirm spiritual truth.
Nature as Revelation: “Intimations of Immortality”; Ray Silverman, Bryn Athyn College and Steve Jones, GBH, LLC
The presidential theme for this year’s annual meeting is “Religion and the Most Vulnerable.” Usually, the phrase, “the most vulnerable” includes groups such as orphans, the poor, the oppressed, the physically handicapped, and the mentally challenged. In this paper, we will also include the following categories:
1. The elderly
Today in the United States, there are 50 million people at least 65 years of age; within two decades the number will be 80 million. Not all are vulnerable or without voice, yet a significant number of these people advance into a time of loneliness and neglect, feeling abandoned by family, and struggling to survive in a dull zone of extended passage without dignity, meaning or grace. Many live in isolated quarters, separated from the healing, restorative powers of nature. Nevertheless, the call to love, care and respect the elderly is core to every religious tradition, and summed up concisely in the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” In this paper, the importance of honoring the elderly, by helping them remain in touch with nature, will be discussed.
2. The young
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv describes our future citizens and leaders as suffering from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Their digital and indoor existence isolates them from the beauty, awe, and wonder of nature. As a result, they are vulnerable in a way that is similar to the plight of children in developing nations who are deprived of essential vitamins. Their detachment from the world of nature not only lessens their drive to protect, conserve, and preserve the environment, but also results in a wide array of behavior disorders. Like the call to honor parents and care for them in their old age, the call to raise our children with a respect for their father (God) and their mother (earth) is of paramount importance. As Chief Seattle says, “Tell your children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth.” In this paper, the importance of raising our children in a way that nurtures their respect for their common mother—nature—will be discussed.
3. The nature-illiterate
In this category, we include everyone who has not learned to see in nature deep lessons about how to live a deeper, richer, more meaningful spiritual life. They are vulnerable to the extent that they have not learned how to extract vital spiritual lessons from nature’s treasury of hidden truth. Even those who have grown up surrounded by nature may have never learned to correctly read the lessons that nature is consistently teaching. In this regard, the paper discusses the importance of “nature-literacy”—the ability to see and hear and experience the joy of worshipping in God’s cathedral, beholding “heaven in a wildflower” (Blake), and hearing “sermons in stone” (Muir). The paper distinguishes between the misuse of nature imagery to support false beliefs and the proper use of nature to confirm spiritual truth.
Nature as Revelation: A Common Thread
It is well known that nature can help people connect with something beyond themselves—something which can be called “the Great Spirit,” “Divine Energy,” or simply, “God.” Whatever term is used, keen-sighted scientists, philosophers and theologians have always sensed that nature, when properly read and understood, can reveal the secrets of spiritual life. As Emanuel Swedenborg has written, “the whole world of nature is a theater representative of the spiritual world.”
This idea, that nature can help us understand the secrets of the spiritual world, is well-illustrated in one of the Buddha’s last sermons. Using no words, the Buddha simply showed his followers a lotus flower, and let the flower speak for itself. The message of the “Flower Sermon” seems to be that each of us, like the lotus, can rise out of the mud, and bloom—wherever we are planted. One implication is that whatever our past may have been, and whatever misfortunes we may have encountered, we can rise tall and strong like the lotus and radiate beautiful blessings to others.
Jesus also used nature-based instruction when he spoke to his followers in parables. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a sower who went forth to sow, to leaven hid in three measures of meal, and to laborers in a vineyard. He also talked about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and the fruit of the vine. The more the reader enters into the meaning of these nature-based parables, the deeper the lessons go. As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “All spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols.” And Robert Frost writes, “To say matter in terms of spirit, or spirit in terms of matter . . . is the height of all poetry, the height of all thinking.”
From this perspective, nature can be seen as a divinely ordained means of communicating what Wordsworth called “intimations of immortality.” The flight of an eagle can serve to remind us of something within each of us that wants to soar; the majesty of a mountain can serve to fill us with a profound sense of humility; even the secrets of the beehive can prompt us to reflect on the wonders we can accomplish when we work together in community. These are just some of the many ways that sacred truths are continually being illustrated through the vehicle of nature. They are examples of “nature as revelation.”
Those who do not hear, or see, or experience these moments of transcendence are missing out on God-given opportunities for physical and spiritual restoration. Whether it is an old person shut-up in a lonely “rest” home, a young person addicted to a video monitor, or simply a person who has never learned to rightly read God’s message of resilience in the Book of Nature, these are among the most vulnerable. And unless we humans awaken to learning from nature, and caring for our common mother, we may all be among the most vulnerable to the consequences.
February 8-9, 2018 Kansas Professional Natural Resource Societies (Forestry, Range, Wildlife, Fisheries, etc.) annual joint conference. Harnessing Nature’s Wisdom and Inspiration, keynote presentation. Manhattan, KS.