Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Sacredness of Nature

I've been watching with fascination the PBS series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. This 6 part series started on Sunday night and will continue throughout this week.

With amazing cinematography and excellent commentary, this film is a feast for the eyes and soul. Although I've been to many of the national parks in the West because of growing up in New Mexico, this film makes me feel as if I'm there again. The photo above of a storm over the Grand Canyon brings back memories of my several trips to this awesome place (by Craig Mellish, Florentine Films).

The star of the first two episodes was John Muir, a Scotsman who emigrated to the U.S. at age 31 and soon went to California to run a saw mill in Yosemite, CA. Yosemite transformed his life. He got in touch with the sacredness of nature. His description of a sunrise over the Yosemite Valley captures this sacredness.

"Our camp grove fills and thrills with the glorious light. Everything awakening, alert and joyful…every pulse beats high, every cell in life rejoices, the very rocks seem to thrill with life. The whole landscape glows with a human face in a glory of enthusiasm.” (Quoted in Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison, Vintage Books: 2005)

John Muir found a deep and abiding spiritual connection in nature. He literally wrote Psalms in praise of the Giant Sequoias when he first saw them (he wrote in a letter, “Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say.”) He remains one of the great interpreters of the sacredness of the natural world, which also led to a prophet’s outrage over its destruction and exploitation. It was no surprise that when the Sierra Club was founded in 1892, Muir became its first president.

Muir's love of the natural world found a resonance with President Theodore Roosevelt. They spent three days camping together in Yosemite in 1903 and it led to including Yosemite Valley with Yosemite Highlands (the first National Park). The photo of them on the left was taken at Glacier Point (PBS website).

To see the world through the eyes of John Muir is to see the sacred glory of creation. Seeing the world in this way is to feel awe at the abiding beauty of nature and gratitude for the privilege of experiencing it.

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