Thursday, May 22, 2008

Homily to be Presented Out-of-Doors

The fundamental goodness of nature
Is a very pleasant thought but
Doesn’t appear to be borne out by observation.

Horrified by the implications of natural science
That were being explored in the nineteenth century,
The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson famously
called nature “red in tooth and claw.”

Tennyson’s view merely errs on the opposite extreme,
And between a beneficent, be-aproned Mother Nature
And a snarling, murderous banshee
There is perhaps a truth.

Questioning Nature’s complete innocence
Does not deny an order to nature,
Nor does it deny that the order is essentially benign
In some large, universal pattern.
The question merely implies
That the implications of nature’s order
Do not always mean what we would call good
Toward individuals,
If we are to define “good” as pleasant
Flourishing rather than mere survival,
A state that even in its own simplicity
Is also always in question.

Whether we believe that nature
Is the creation of a deity,
The emanation from a deity,
Or as close as the universe gets to deity,

Nature calls us out of what ee cummings called
“the bigness of our littleness” and into
the bigness of the bigness.

Ego-obsessed creatures that we are,
This call is never a bad thing,
And heeding it is I believe the primary spiritual act.

It is this escape from the ego,
This escape from the little me obsessed by me,
That human religion
(and I happen to believe there IS NO other
Kind of religion except human) teaches.

This escape from ego is what
The various technologies of worship
And meditation strive toward.

My own spiritual path,
An odd mixture of Taoism
And Stoic philosophy,

Teaches me to look at nature,
To study its ways, and to conform
My wishes and actions to it.

Water always runs downhill, after all,
A lesson to be learned.
And nature also teaches us that
The future is not here,

Never is here, and will never be
At all what we planned for
In the bigness or our littleness.

Nature teaches us to live in the place and time
That nature, in whatever wisdom she has,
Has created us. Our existence, now, is

After all, one of the few things we can
Really know about our lives and our realities.

As Stoic philosopher Epictetus put it
“Your aim should be to view the world
As an integrated whole, to faithfully
Incline your whole being toward the highest good,
And to adopt the will of nature as your own”

“Your aim should be to view the world
As an integrated whole, to faithfully
Incline your whole being toward the highest good,
And to adopt the will of nature as your own”

This is, I think, the wisest of wisdom.

So, perhaps we worship a transcendent deity,
Perhaps we worship nature herself,
Or perhaps we merely marvel at the wonder
Of being here at all;

However we go about that, let us agree at least
That our aim will be to view the world as an integrated whole,
That we will faithfully incline your whole being toward the highest good,
And that it is wise to adopt the will of nature as our own.



Writer Lin said...

Diety and I are one - we transcend - we evolve and revolve, round and round upwards - mostly - learning to do better - sometimes.

For my part, I embrace the call to "incline [my] whole being toward the highest good..." I shall tilt myself in that direction, deliberately, sometimes successfully. At those times, my heart does swell with goodness and effervescent bliss. Those other times, the backward ones, have a gravity all their own which I won't think of just now.

In on my own chosen way, the one inclining toward peace and non-judgment, I will favor and follow what I understand of the patterns of nature. And the aspects of nature that fill my spirit are of nurture and caring, peaceful co-existence, freedom and a supreme joy of the spring breeze on my cheek and the supportive words and actions of those who honor my ways.

I bless the symbol of yin and yang, integrated balance of the whole being. Yet I do secretly hope for the special blossoming of the beneficent and tender within me rather than the power of masculine energy. My own kind of balance -- in some ways modeled from the purity of nature, added to the wisdom of the few. And all in all, I shall continue my appreciative awe of nature and shall incline my being toward my personal highest good...

Writer Lin said...

Tennyson's tooth and claw drip red, as the wounded limps away.
Still the wild creatures of our earth seldom attack without reason (at least to them).

Slaughter for sustenance; ferocious defense the vulnerable young; Violent claiming of territory -- safe shelter, font of life. As reasons -- those resonate even for the oft irrational humans.

Ah, but we of the rational minds, the reasoned actions -- we wound because we're annoyed, or glimpse the true Littleness of the humbled self. What excuse, what provocation can we claim for our random acts of lethal mindlessness?

But for its uncomfortable moments of bloody challenge, nature still maintains a fine balance of normal, if occasionally unexpected, cycles. Raucous matings, careful gestation, care of the young and, generally, a taking of only that which, in one way or another, is necessary for survival. Cycles as sure and predictable as the petal-showers of springtime. It is balance. It is, ultimately, what we seek.