Historically in America, the wilderness has represented disorder, the unknown, and even evil. While settlements represented order, safety, and an overall good. We separate ourselves from the wilderness of nature with the constructs of man. Civilization limits our focus or experience of the natural world. We feel safe with our level of control. We let in the safe and the comfortable and build barriers against the rest. Our infrastructure keeps out the wind and rain, keeps us warm, it holds animals and insects at bay. Every so often natural disasters and freak accidents come along to remind us how small we are and how futile our attempts at control are.
The natural world for many is divine. For some just evidence of God’s wonder, while it is truly holy for those following some variety of pantheism. Imagine the natural world as the world of spiritual experience and practice. It includes everything; the normative, the safe, the odd and unusual. A perfect balance, call it ‘bad’ and ‘good’ if you like, but a perfect balance that keeps the earth viable. In the spiritual world, this holistic variety represents the many faces and expressions of the divine. It is all there for people to experience and take hold of. Representative of man’s civilization, we have religion to focus and limit spiritual experience. The chosen focus is beautifully explained in scripture. Beliefs and rituals are held up in doctrine. In the Western world, pantheist and New Age traditions that utilize a wide spectrum of spiritual experience are viewed with skepticism and even fear. While ‘world religions’, with their regulation and hierarchies are often regarded as safer. Here the divide between nature and civilization is mirrored in religious attitudes in the West.
I very much see nature as divine. In fact, I think it is the rawest, purest connection to the divine we have. Religion creates systems of understanding, while raw spirituality pumps just under the surface. While it seems more and more that man is dominating nature, nature reminds us that we are part of it rather than ruling over it. Similarly, we get comfortable in our religious categories only to find our spiritual experiences thrusting us out of those boundaries to question and explore our traditions and beliefs. From our neat, safe towns we walk into the woods, even just for a short time, and open our eyes to the wide world of spiritual experience.