In my first edition of “Mondays with Muir”, I introduced you to John Muir (aka John of the Mountains). I shared with you how he had left a mark on me, made me a huge admirer and basically made me want to be a modern day incarnation of him. (Okay, I didn’t go that far.)
Today, we start down the proverbial path with him as we take a look at a simple idea that I have certainly felt the truth of during my times in wild places: the church of Nature.
Reminder: these posts will primarily be sharing Muir’s thoughts from a small (and fantastic) book I own called Meditations of John Muir: Nature’s Temple. Grab a copy and find your own priceless nuggets from this unequaled environmental philosopher.
Mondays with Muir: Go to the Church of Nature
Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging anyone to leave behind any part of their faith or religious practice. I have no interest in changing your opinions on that front, honestly.
Please attend whatever church you would like, or none at all if that is your desire. That is a personal decision and is outside the scope of this post.
Whether you do attend a formal religious gathering or not, however, I do want to join with Muir in encouraging you to attend the church of Nature.
“The thought is constant–go to the church of Nature. Let the tired and worn out go. Go! Drop it and go! Go to the beauty of life that is free and open to everyone. Go and just be there in it, as a part of it…Breath Life deeply. Live!”
You can’t miss the urgency of his plea in this short snippet! He is passionate about finding any way possible to convince us, all of us, to get away.
A Deeper Sense of Belonging
In our highly connected world, it’s easier than ever to be truly disconnected. Disconnected from your soul, disconnected from the natural world, disconnected from other members of the living family (humans, plants, animals, etc.).
“Virtual isolation” is a reality I have lived. It’s a reality I now actively avoid.
Being drawn into a largely digital world leaves us disconnected from ourselves and from a larger sense of connection, belonging and purpose.
But this disconnection, this loss of belonging, does not just impact us. The disconnect impacts every aspect of our existence.
It affects the ones we love but have lost the ability to communicate well with. It affects the natural world whose fate we now consider completely separate from our own; the result of which is unsustainable, mindless consumption and irreparable damage of that world.
Stepping back into the church of Nature has the ability to renew our sense of belonging in this place, our sense of responsibility to stay connected to this place and to help the ones we love do the same.
A renewed connection to the natural world through attending the church of Nature on a regular basis reminds us that this, everything we see, is connected. And it matters.
We belong, and it all belongs. And our fates are undoubtedly interwoven. For me, this is a central aspect of a healthy spirituality.
Be Present in the World Around You
In the introduction to the Meditations of John Muir book, editor Chris Highland says of Muir:
“By urging us to simply be present in the world around us, loving and honoring it as our garden home, his poetic insight liberates life.”
Highland’s words spark a thought in me: Disconnection from the natural world is a slow and painful death. I do not believe that we can touch the true beauty of life without a deep awareness of, and appreciation for, Nature. Pure and simple.
And yes, you can find mounting scientific evidence of the negative effects of “nature-deficit disorder” in books like the one you see below (that I am currently reading and learning from).
You might struggle with the concept of “being present in the world around you”, as I have in the past. It may be too squishy to wrap your head around. Maybe this will make it easier to grasp.
I am coming to understand that a large part of being present is developing a clear and unshakable understanding of how ALL of this is connected: you with me, me with the tree I watch from my balcony, with the squirrels and lizards and hummingbirds that call that tree home
This is our web of life; to live without an awareness of it or respect for it keeps us from touching presence.
When we develop an acute awareness of these connections, it actually makes it difficult to not be present (and also to not feel a sense of belonging, discussed above) in this amazing world we live in. It becomes a challenge to not walk through a simple city park in complete wonder at the astounding beauty that confronts you at every step!
Where Do You Find the Church of Nature?
Do you remember that balcony I just mentioned a minute ago? The tree I watch from that balcony? Many times, when I can’t get away to a local park or a more remote location, that is my church of Nature.
That balcony is located in the middle of an apartment complex where I live. There’s more pavement than grass, more buildings than trees, maybe more cars than noticeable wildlife.
But that 80 square feet is often my escape, my church service, my opportunity to be present and feel that sense of belonging to the larger natural world.
I’ve visited more than a dozen national parks, and I’ve been forever changed by them. But in many ways, I can encounter the same sense of presence and belonging on that balcony that I did in those parks.
Going to the church of Nature is more about making the choice to see, to pay attention, to appreciate and to feel grateful for every tiny miracle you encounter in your normal life.
Whether you find that miracle while sitting on your balcony or while visiting a national park is honestly beside the point. It’s all miraculous, it’s all worthy of our appreciation and wonder, and it all belongs.
By all means, find ways to escape the “urban jungle” when you can. Heaven knows we all need that. But when you can’t escape, choose to be there with what is, fully and completely.
If you can do this, if you can spend a little bit of time in the church of Nature, I believe you will find a more fulfilling and rewarding way to be in the world.
Todd Bonner is the slightly quieter half of the dynamic TREKKN duo. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at breathtaking pictures of Glacier National Park, probably his favorite spot on earth.