By Gary Suttle
Many religions have sacred texts, like the Koran, the Torah, and the Bible. What about Pantheism?
Pantheists believe Nature and deity are one in the same. So the more we learn about Nature, the more we know about god. Informative writings on Nature may be considered holy texts because they illuminate our concept of divinity. Such books are also ‘inspired’ (by the unbounded inspiration of Nature).
Unlike religions with a single holy text, Pantheists have hundreds of them, many beautifully illustrated! The books may or may not be written by Pantheists themselves, but they further a pantheistic outlook. Volumes by naturalist John Muir, ecologist Aldo Leopold, poet Gary Snyder, scientist Carl Sagan, photographer Ansel Adams, and the works of countless other individuals, enhance communion with Nature.
Every Pantheist has a bookshelf that reflects his or her special interests; my favorite titles include the natural history field guides. These books open our eyes to the marvels of Nature as they draw us nearer to the Earth (animal, plant, and mineral guides), to the sky (weather guides), and to the universe (star guides). Taken together, I think of them as ‘field guides to God,’ to the sacred reality all around us. Here's a firsthand account of their value:
As a geography major in college, I had learned a lot about climate, vegetation, and land forms around the world, but little about the flora and fauna in my own backyard. My best friend, David Rawlins, experienced a similar situation. We both loved Nature, and on a whim we bought birding field guides to learn some local species.
Binoculars in hand, we soon identified a perky rock wren hopping over boulders, a colorful rufous-sided towhee scratching in the underbrush, and dozens of other species--they’d always been there on our hikes, but we’d never noticed them before! What else had we been missing? We gradually acquired guides to trees, ferns, wildflowers, reptiles, butterflies, mammals, and more. My wife, Paula, and our children, Torianna and Tyler, often shared in the fun discoveries.
For nearly three decades, together or apart, David and I have haunted natural areas in our free time, enjoying hundreds of adventures, thousands of revelations, miracles galore. Mysteries, too. As our knowledge blossomed, so did our joy and caring for the natural world.
We joined the Audubon Society, the Native Plant Society, and numerous other conservation organizations. David led nature walks and spoke at garden clubs, emphasizing the need for habitat preservation. I wrote articles on conservation issues, including a piece on a four-lane road slated to slice through a local parkland. The road would have destroyed a peaceful place where rare chocolate lilies grew and spade foot toads croaked; I knew both species there, thanks to the amateur naturalist activity stimulated by field guides, and that knowledge spurred my zeal to stop the road. Eventually, with the help of hundreds of others, the road was defeated.
I felt a real, if
diffused, sense of sacredness in Nature before consulting field guides.
But the books gave breadth and depth to my religious feelings by
bringing me in closer touch
with myriad manifestations of the divine. Now more aware of my
surroundings than ever before, I live in constant amazement at the
wonder of it all.
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