Reverence for Nature – Part III – Radical Amazement

Find Part I and Part II here.

Last Child In The Woods has become a *must read* if you are trying to combine the environment and child rearing.  Richard Louv, the author, coined the word ‘nature-deficit disorder.’  His central thesis is that lack of outdoor time negatively impacts children’s’ physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.  Apparently he has a new book out for adults – The Nature Principle.- which I have not read.

My journal actually suggests I didn’t love this book my first time through.  (I know, I know.. )  I guess I (instinctively?) already knew the central thesis of the book – that children need more outdoor time than modern life generally allows.  It was disappointing at the time as I was looking for concrete ideas of how to facilitate an intimate relationship with nature.  But Louv strongly believes that we all – and particularly children – need unstructured time in nature.  He is almost militant in this, belittling leave-no-trace type environmentalists because it hinders the intimate connection between people and nature.  He might be right, but I have mixed feelings about these types of trade-offs in environmentalism.  Between those mixed feelings and lack of concrete suggestions, I found the book a bit of a let down.  Do not let that dissuade you from reading it; many cite it as pivotal in solidifying their own and their children’s relationship with nature.

All that said, the last section that outlines the spiritual intersection with nature in the author’s view spoke to me.  I have a wonderful quote of a quote (original attribution is Abrahm Heschel) from the last section (pg 291) posted at my desk.

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.  To be spiritual is to be amazed.

We’ve prioritized a lot of outside time for our child even if he probably doesn’t have as much unstructured outside time as Louv would like to see.  He went to a small Waldorf preschool a couple of mornings a week last year; we chose it because they spend a lot of time outside or on nature walks, rain (most of the school year here) or shine.  We’ve carried over the Waldorf tradition of a nature table – silk scarf representing the season on a small, child’s height table with his nature treasures on it – in our home.  We visit the coast, the forest, the desert, the rivers often.  We don’t shy away from explaining oil spills, big wave tsunamis, or big wind tornadoes.  We constantly talk about how living things work – what the bugs eat, why the chickens eat the bugs, why ducks have webbed feet.

All this seems to be working.  At dinner tonight, he asked “why do dogs have big muscles?” and was so excited to learn that they use their muscles to move just like humans do.  When I was drafting this, our child looked up at the clouds during a family walk and said “look at that big cloud… isn’t it interesting how it touches that other big cloud.”   My heart melts when he expresses that awe in his 3-year-old voice.  I think it is is the combination of his innocence speaking my spiritual language.

I often wonder what it would take for most adults to find the natural world so awesome.  What do you find awesome?

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14 responses to “Reverence for Nature – Part III – Radical Amazement

  1. Jenne Erigero Alderks July 19, 2011 at 12:07 am

    This post hits close to home. After years of grief induced depression complicated by a Mormon focus on the afterlife, I found myself struggling to want to live. I was guilty of ‘treating life casually.” It wasn’t until I was turned on to the beauty of nature and the amazement that began to peek through was I finally able to find meaning in living and was able to let go of my desire to rush through this life. It really started with the process of pregnancy and birth. I suddenly became aware of the intricacies of human biology and how it is connected and dependent on nature. It was through childbirth and seeing how delicate, but resilient the process is that I finally began to connect with the earth. To attempt to keep my children pure from the toxic effects of this world, I had to turn to organic, natural, herbal, sustainable, etc. There’s this whole progression that has brought me into a much happier and healthier place, where finally feel free from the grief that consumed me for so long. This amazement features prominently on my blog with my tagline of “connecting with earth through birth.”

  2. Nicole I July 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for your thoughts. I do think that the focus on afterlife in Mormon doctrine can be counter-productive for certain personality types. I know that backing away from the requirements of some weirdly defined future and replacing it with reverence and awe for the beautiful things God provides today has helped me be in a better place spiritually as well as help me to be more action oriented in my daily life.

  3. mfranti July 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Jenne…

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Interesting connection you make.

    Nicole and Jenne, can you explain to me how the Mormon focus on afterlife and how it’s counterproductive for some personality types?

    As a convert, I find this discussion really interesting.

  4. Nicole I July 19, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Well, my personal feelings are that the focus on the afterlife does a couple of things. First and most obviously, it requires perfection in this life – not great for a person who trends towards control. Second, the particular Mormon version of the afterlife sets all others apart from Mormons – I think this can lead to feelings of isolation IF you are not terribly fond of Mormon culture. For perfectionists with tendency towards depression, this is a tough frame to resist.

    Third, I find a strange predilection to dismiss the here and now of the ‘fallen state’ of the world as just the way it is with nothing to be done until the afterlife. Doing something for humanity now can be very empowering; but if you are ignoring those options in favor seminary answers, you are stripped of those options. So someone who is a doer – who likes to see here and now results – can sometimes be boohoo-od as ‘why are you bothering.’

  5. mfranti July 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I find a strange predilection to dismiss the here and now of the ‘fallen state’ of the world as just the way it is with nothing to be done until the afterlife.

    That mindset doesn’t make any sense. If the problems of the world are just part of the “fallen state” of the world, or another favorite “signs of the times”, there’d be no need for perfection in this life. Are we not taught that our ‘perfection’ comes about through charity, love, etc.?
    All of those things are supposed to be directed at other people. We are told over and over and over again that we are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And it is by giving up what we have to serve other people that we are perfected by our sacrifices

    We can’t say that serving other people is good for this life because there’s tons written on the subject but give no regard to the living conditions (water, air quality, lack of resources, pollution, habitat destruction and so on) of the people we are supposed to be serving.

    If that’s the case, all we are doing is giving a (wo)man a fish (from China) instead of allowing him to fish in the lake near his home because it’s polluted. Or privatley owned or leased by the state to a private business. (ht nat kelley)

  6. Nicole I July 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I never said it made sense! 

    I think Mormons think about perfection very individualistically.  If they are keeping all of the commandments AS INDIVIDUALS, then they are moving to perfection.  Further, commandments to love and have charity for others are often re-oriented towards the home and ward instead of the world at large.  Often when we do service it is couched as missionary work – to bring ‘them’ into ‘our’ sanctioned community.  This notion of a sanctioned community is rubber stamped by the version of the afterlife that we proclaim. 

  7. Jenne Erigero Alderks July 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    My preoocupation with death can be traced to two basic Mormon beliefs.

    First is the promise that deceased loved ones will be reunited. That provides a lot of comfort to those who remain living knowing that even after tragedy and not having a chance to say good bye, that it doesn’t really matter. Loved ones will be together again. This was a very salient point to me when my father suddenly died in a car accident when I was 15. I was an only child (my brother at been stillborn at 38 weeks when I was 2) so it was very difficult to me to accept that my family was half on earth and half in the spirit world. I didn’t grow up with the gospel and the Mormon theology of the afterlife was what led me to be baptized. Soon after my father’s death, my favorite grandmother died, then a couple years later, my other grandmother, then my grandfather, my aunt. I missed them all so much. I felt like more of my family was dead than alive. That’s fine when someone is 60 or older because that’s an expected part of the lifecycle, but at 20? That was hard to bear. I felt like I had 60-80 years of waiting until my heart’s desire could be realized.

    Second is the promise that we will be able to learn and know all things after we die. When I finally made up my mind to find something else to preoccupy my thoughts, I turned to understanding the complexities of this life. Again and again, I’ve become humbled by the amount of understanding that people will not possess in this life. We are so limited by our human abilities, the historical record that we can gain knowledge and understanding of many things but we will also be limited. I started looking forward to the afterlife for this new reason: that I believe once we get there many of those limitations to learning we experience here will be gone. I’m really looking forward to the heavenly lectures that will help us make sense of human history and experience.

    After a certain point, I realized how unhealthy that was and I knew I had to accept the limitations and do what I could in spite of them. I’ve finally become to feel “at home” on this earth through this radical amazement that you describe.

    I get where Nicole is coming from regarding the fallen world. We have a vision given to us regarding a perfect world that is free of death and decay, but we live in a world where we are surrounded my death and decay. Its another thing I’ve had to accept about this life and find appreciation for the beauty of earth in spite of its fallen state (and the fallen natures of the people living in it).

  8. mfranti July 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I can’t imagine a world without death and decay because the beauty of the world is a result of it.

    The more I think about the LDS vision of the afterlife, the more uncomfortable I’m becoming with it.
    Someone wanna make it make sense for me?

  9. missy. July 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    What part of it makes you uncomfortable, mfranti?

    I can tell you what makes me uncomfortable: Moses 7. I mean, I love it, I think it’s one of the most beautiful passages in the standard works. But if we are supposed to want to be gods… that passage does not have that effect on me. Can you imagine loving your children and watching them be without affection and hate their own blood? Can you imagine having the power to intervene when someone is suffering and choosing not to (except in cases of lost keys, of course, a la testimony meeting)? Does this idea really appeal to anybody?

  10. mfranti July 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    The beauty of life, the things that make being alive so wonderful are watching the seasons change with your family and friends.

    Without death, what would we do?

    There’d be no flowers in spring, or trees that turn red, yellow and orange in the fall
    There’d be no puppies to grow up with your babies and no dogs to welcome your child home after school.

    There’d be no snowfall in January
    or bird songs in April

    No tidepools and sand to wiggle our toes in in June
    and no fish to swim with in August

    There’d be no harvest in September

    And no sleeping groves of aspen trees wearing a blanket of snow in December.

    Everything that exists would become irrelevant if there is no death.

    So what would we do in this Celestial Glory?

  11. SNeilsen July 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    mfranti
    Desire isn’t rational.
    To somebody wandering in the desert, no matter how illogical, a land flowing with milk and honey, where the bluebird sings to the lemonade springs, is mighty appealing.
    Happy Endings are popular.

    So I’ll just cite some mumbo jumbo about time, the Multiverse and alternate realities and say that what I’d do in my celestial glory is to leave the debate over eternal progression to those that care, and go hiking with my dog(my most beloved daughter). So many planets to visit, including those where the fish jump out of the water perfectly grilled.
    And I suppose obligation dictates that I’ll occasionally check in with human relatives. But if they’re in a realm where time isn’t linear, I don’t think I’ll be missed.

    (Have you seen the monologue, “Letting go of God” by Julia Sweeney. In the first part, she describes her encounter with Mormon missionaries and hew unappealing she found the Mormon view of eternity.)

  12. Nicole I July 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Jenne – “After a certain point, I realized how unhealthy that was and I knew I had to accept the limitations and do what I could in spite of them. I’ve finally become to feel “at home” on this earth through this radical amazement that you describe.” <— This is exactly it. Without radical amazement for the here and now, I don't think we can find peace and happiness in this life OR make the appropriate amount of progress on the things we can change given the limitations of our circumstances.

    mfranti – you bring up an interesting point. One of the more interesting quasi-doctrines of Mormonism is that everything is alive and that the earth, trees, etc have spirits of some sort. I love this idea BUT have a hard time finding myself enjoying a static resurrected state which is almost a logical offshoot of our views of the afterlife.

    missy – My view of God is that although he has power of some sort, the reality is that he too must abide by natural laws and is FAR more hands off than the random Mormon portrays. I am seriously uncomfortable with petitionary prayer for a similar reason – why would God intervene for one person (and their keys or whatever) and not another (the holocaust victim)? But I'm with you; it doesn't necessarily sound like something I want to aspire to either.

  13. mfranti July 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Without radical amazement for the here and now, I don’t think we can find peace and happiness in this life

    reading over my quasi flippant comment reply question to missy, I realize that I suffer from radical amazement.

    Thank you, Nicole.

  14. Jenne Erigero Alderks July 25, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    The transition of a life dependent on death to a life without death is going to require a big mental shift for most folks. I have come to appreciate the cycle of life and the necessity of death to the continued existence of the earth. It was quite a shock to me to see a beautiful place after the first time I went to the temple and received my endowment. The illustration of our fallen world changed how I saw the beautiful places of the world. My ability to take in the awesome beauty of those places was diminished since my attention was called to all of the dead twigs, fallen leaves, dry grass, etc. Prior to the endowment, I had never noticed those things and thought of them as necessary parts of life. The endowment gave a different vision for what the world can become so I then hoped for that future vision rather than appreciating the overall beauty. It took me a few years of being married to an evolutionary biologist to regain an appreciation for the natural cycles of life. The interconnectedness of ecosystems and biology are truly amazing to behold and see how what is dependent on what and what else is altered when something changes.

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