Saturday, August 02, 2008

Religious naturalism

Walked the high sea cliffs at Feohanagh yesterday with friends -- red sandstone strata plunging almost vertically into the wild Atlantic. At our backs, sheep grazed the heathery upland fields. Below us, gulls screamed and dove above crashing breakers. We watched clouds gather far to the south and hoped the rain would hold off long enough to enable us to compete our walk. It was one of those times in one of those places when everything fits together: land, sky, sea, plants, animals, human friendship. On one high peak feathery golden grass softened sheer walls of rock, inviting us to sprawl and take in a panorama that seemed to spread itself for us alone.

In his account of an expedition he took with his friend the marine biologist Ed Ricketts into the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), Nobel-prizewinning novelist John Steinbeck wrote of the collected sea creatures: "One merges into another, groups melt into ecological groups until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air...And it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable."

He continued: " This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things -- plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and the expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time."