Dancing With the One Who Brung Ya'
George Carlin famously mused:
I've begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, and a lovely day. There's no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there's no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to 'God' are all answered at about the same 50% rate.
Easter in my house is about the food. What religious context that ever existed in mine or my wife’s celebration of the day is long gone. So we mark the occasion as a good excuse to enjoy memories of tradition with heaps of ham and scalloped potatoes. Wedge salad and asparagus in the mix.
This year Alli had a pile of homework to get through so I decided to spend Sunday morning in Auburn, taking a walk and fishing. It was a gorgeous day. Mid-seventies, sunny. Lupine and poppies were blossoming on the steep slopes of the canyon. People were out with smiles on, walking and biking, celebrating one another. When I got to the fishing hole I heard the screech of a raptor and looked up to see two hawks swirling together in a tight helix, their wings illuminated by the full sun behind them.
My mother always had a connection with birds. My grandfather taught her about all kinds and she noticed them acutely throughout her life. When I was very young we had a pet pigeon that she rehabilitated from a dog attack and kept for years, Homer. When my grandfather died she became even fonder of birds, seeing my grandfather’s spirit in them, most so in birds of prey. On the week he died, my mother was with him at our family’s farm and the day after he passed she saw a bald eagle circle the upper pasture of the mountaintop property. She was certain it was him.
I found this silly. Was this eagle possessed? Had it lived—the at least five years it takes to reach maturity—independently sentient until suddenly taken over my grandfather’s consciousness? Granddad could sure fly well for one day in wings. My brother was even more skeptical since bald eagles are generally rare on our Vermont farm. A few weeks later, he saw the eagle himself.
Since my mother died four years ago, I’ve adopted a similar affinity for birds and find her spirit in them all the time. Sentimental maybe. I told you I’m not religious.
Fifteen minutes into fishing I hooked into a tough fighting shad, twenty inches or so. I coaxed the fish into the shallows and removed the hook without handling it at all. Fishing’s appeal, for better or worse, is feeling closeness with an animal. It was an incredible sensation. Not a minute later, a river otter appeared, trimming casually on the surface of the calm water before diving deep, its direction flagged by a trail of carbonation. He popped up for a breath, swimming for a few moments before diving away and out of sight downriver.
Suddenly the connection with the shad became a connection with the otter. We were both hunting the same fish after all. But the connection was something more, a sense of shared presence, not unlike the hikers and bikers and families and friends congregating in the canyon. But even deeper. A connection with all nature: the otter, the fish, the hawks, the tadpoles, the insects, the wildflowers, the trees, the grass, the bacteria and the people. With everything in the canyon, country, earth and universe. Everything was one thing. Is that God? Is everything a piece of God with some ego thrown in?
Episcopal priest and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor said of God:
When I use the word God, I am so aware I'm using a code word and that everyone who hears that word and probably everyone who uses it imagines something different, imagines a different posture in front of that being, that presence. I suppose my own image, my own idea of God, as imperfect and as evolving as it is, right now would be the glue that hooks everything together, the consciousness that moves between all living things.
Nature, in that case has always been analogous to God for me. All spirituality, faith, inspiration and rationale in my life has come from nature. There was one point where my closeness for nature led me away from religion. I didn’t believe in heaven and was thoroughly devout to biology. The natural world, not the bible, told us what was going on. I hated church and The Church, resisted conformity. I hated parochial school. I hated rules and guilt and a ruling class. But I’ve come to think that rejecting the bible and church, even religion, is not the same as rejecting God. Humans corrupt. I get it from the source.
Books and classrooms are inappropriate methods of teaching all sorts of things. In our world of adventure, skiing, fishing and riding a bike are all apt examples. Concepts of love, trust and grief even more so. “God” may be needed to be seen to be believed most of all.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.
Life needs to be lived to be understood. Nature beheld.
Wordsworth lived during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. He and the Romantics railed against the scientific rationalization of nature. Today, as we’ve emerged from his period under the peril of climate change, I feel a lot of what Wordsworth felt. Even as reason and science have granted us the ability to understand the damage we inflict on the planet, author Michael Duggen argues that it’s a lack of spirituality that keeps us from doing anything about it.
I don’t believe in a conscious creator but I believe in ecology, and like any creative, understand that creation and evolution are synonyms. I don’t believe in Eden but I believe in sustainable ecosystems. I don’t believe in heaven but I know the fish’s life will sustain the otter’s and so forth down to the wildflowers. I don’t believe God is a guy who made the world, but I see the world before me and know we all live with a communal energy.
This isn’t to say that I’ve cracked any code. This is hippy pablum about an inspired day I had. Just because I find power in nature doesn’t means city people and indoor kids are delusional heathens. Nor are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Satanists. Nature is the power I was raised to seek understanding and salvation from, so I find it there now. I’m dancing with the one who brung me and everyone else does the same.