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Back to Nature

by Gus DiZerega

At first glance, nothings seems more removed from the realities of the modern world than the world of nature.

Fresh air and quiet are rare today. The relentless drone of the internal combustion engine pollutes even wilderness areas and national parks. Our homes and places of work insulate us from the rhythms of the seasons, for most of us spend most of our time inside. Artificial light hides the daily cycles of light and dark. From the perspective of the institutions and individuals who dominate our world, everything that exists has become either a resource for or impediment to the serving of human desires. In such a world, nature religion can seem as remote, irrelevant, and out of place as a banana patch in Alaska, or a polar bear in Barbados. But this judgment is myopic.

Now it is the city dwellers who find higher and deeper meaning in nature, while all too many raised in the countryside continue to see the land primarily as a source for money. For them it is vital to subdue it completely, controlling it like a machine. Such rural people are as embedded in consumer society as many urbanites. The rise of secular values has strengthened this materialistic bias to the breaking point. The spirit of money is almost universally worshiped ahead of the spirit of the land-and often ahead of the spirit of the monotheistic God to which lip service is paid. For many Americans this transcendent God has fallen silent. Perhaps this is why the nature religions are again finding an audience.

Encounters with wild nature first demonstrated to many of us the limitations of our society's dominant worldview. It is in nature that we most easily encounter a reality greater than human plans and aspirations. In nature our preconceptions and prejudices are most easily quieted, for they are not continually reinforced by encounters with others. In quiet alertness, our perceptions open to a meaning and goodness unconnected with human ends. Spirit in nature reaches out to us through beauty, through peace, through the openness of heart it evokes within us, and through our direct experience of its presence. Nature religion is hardly the only spiritual path open to humanity, but today it is a particularly powerful and appropriate one, for it teaches us lovingly to accept and embrace our world as a manifestation of the sacred.

Dr. Gus DiZerega teaches politics at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and is the author of Pagans and Christians: The Personal Religious Experience (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2001). This piece is excerpted from his essay, "Nature Religion and the Modern World: The Returning Relevance of Pagan Spirituality," which appeared in the first issue of Sacred Cosmos: Journal of Liberal Religious Paganism, published last November by CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans; $10). CUUPS is now soliciting articles for the journal's second issue.

UU World XV:5 (November/December 2001): 14.

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