Thursday, October 01, 2009

Are Mother Nature and God Married, Or Just Good Friends?

When my son Matthew was four, he asked me, "Are God and Mother Nature married, or just good friends?" -Richard Louve, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Richard Louve's wonderful anecdote sets up an important question; are religion and nature opposed to each other in our lives? For Liberty Hyde Bailey there was no conflict between religion and nature. In a privately published poem written in 1911 titled Outlook, Bailey sets out his personal theology. Where a Christian religion espoused a lost race whose hopes were consumed by innate guilt due to Adam's fall, Bailey found that nature taught a different lesson.

That the strong woods, fragrant fields, meadows green, wind, and beast,

"They bear no mark of fateful trend
To perdition or doom-end-
All lead me out to fearless view
A deepening hold on life construe
For what they teach I hold true.

They teach that all the world is good
Alike fir, man and brute and wood
All set in one vast fellowhood..."

Further, nature wasn't cursed, but redeems the soul.

"Myself I must redeem-
All nature helps me on..."

This trend of Bailey of linking nature and religion continued in the first chapters of The Holy Earth, where Bailey returned to Genesis.

It suits my purpose to quote the first sentence in the Hebrew Scripture: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

This is a statement of tremendous reach, introducing the cosmos; for it sets forth in the fewest words the elemental fact that the formation of the created earth lies above and before man, and that therefore it is not man's but God's. Man finds himself upon it, with many other creatures, all parts in some system which, since it is beyond man and superior to him, is divine...Of all the disturbing living factors, man is the greatest. He sets mighty changes going, destroying forests, upturning the sleeping prairies, flooding the deserts, deflecting the courses of the rivers, building great cities. He operates consciously and increasingly with plan aforethought; and therefore he carries heavy responsibility.

The Bible itself, ascends to this idea of Bailey's, that humans have a direct responsibility to a holy, yet, earthly creation. The verb "have dominion" according to The New Interpreter's Bible, "must be understood in terms of care-giving, even nurturing, not exploitation." It is a refreshing reading of these opening passages that sets the foundation of God's relationship with the earth and nature.

To answer Richard Louve's son, yes, Mother Nature and God are married. Now if only their children could open their eyes.

John Stempien-Director, Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum

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