I posted this on the “Devotions” Page a while back. Now that I’m teaching another course on the “Wild Spirituality” of Muir and Burroughs, I’ll be referring to this again. This time with the added wisdom of Emerson:
“The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” (Nature, 1836)
“Where Did the Founders Go?”
In a recent introductory class of educated adults I re-framed the World Religions as “Rivers of Wisdom” each with very natural and down-to-earth sources or springs. I asked students to contemplate the stories of the Founders of the historic religions and how they “met God” or the “Holy” in Nature. Here’s how I presented this secular perspective for sacred origins.
The Faith Founders (where they went to “meet God”)
-Abraham (and Sarah): Near Eastern desert; under the Oaks of Mamre
-Moses: Mountain in Egypt; wilderness
-Buddha: Forest in India; under the bodhi tree
-Confucius: Taught under the apricot trees of East China
-Lao Tzu: Explained the Tao on the open frontier of China
-Zoroaster: Mountains of Iran
-Mahavira (Jain): Hills and countryside of India
-Jesus: The Judean wilderness; mountains; rivers
-Muhammad: Caves of Arabia
-Guru Nanak (Sikh): River in the Punjab
The pattern is not hard to see. The Founders of Faith found their faith in the natural world, in specific locations where Nature set the context for their story (legend, myth) of an “encounter” with the One, the Unnameable, the Named, the Ultimate, the Spirit, the Creator, the God or Goddess. Or, with themselves. In any case, the obvious point is: these people went into Nature and came out with a tale to tell about an experience with Super-Nature (stumbling to put words to their awe and wonder).
What does this all mean? Where do we take this? Why would hearers of the story believe the story? What happens to faith, belief and religion when we tell the very natural, secular story of origins? Does this present us, nontheist and theist alike, with some common ground, some Rational Parks to add to our National Parks?