On Spiritual Mentors: John Muir

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“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” –John Muir

In the spirit of honesty, my experience as a naturalist is limited. I have never been on a backpack trip. I don’t climb mountains. I’ve only been on a white water trip once. And yet I also now that the outdoors is for me sacred. As I wrote previously, the outdoors is part of what I call “church”. Mystical moments for me have included a chance encounter with a herd of deer in Lincoln National Forest, running alone on a beach on the Skellig Coast, watching the sun rise during a morning desert run, and other potent encounters with God through nature

Naturalist John Muir is known to many as the man (along with Theodore Roosevelt) responsible for the National Parks. He is also the founder of the Sierra Club. In many ways, any environmentalist movement has its roots in the work of John Muir. He encouraged people to visit the outdoors and thereby “get close to God.”

What is less known is the deeply spiritual flavor of Muir’s work and writings. He was raised within a strict Calvinist setting but in time rejected the notion that all of nature is there in service to humans and that nature was “fallen”. He wrote that “all of the individual ‘things’ or ‘beings’…are sparks of the Divine Soul variously clothed upon with flesh, leaves, or that harder tissue called rock” and that all of nature had the potential to “draw us up into God’s light”.

Muir also came to view death as an extension of the natural God-ordained cycle: “All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams…go home through death…all alike passed on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all (parts of nature) are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”

For Muir, animals were a vibrant part of creation and also manifested the Divine Spark. He even affirmed this Divine Spark to be present in an alligator he encountered! For those of us city folk, we may have been blessed with encounters with God through our pets, thereby suggesting that neglect and abandonment of our pets may indeed be sinful!

John Muir was a mystic. Even though he decried the adequacy of words, his poetic insights can be as spiritually enriching as an Scared Scripture. He was right. Going out into nature is indeed going in, thereby encountering the Kingdom Within. I need only pay attention for, as Muir wrote, “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere.”

Recommended Reading: Muir was a prolific writer. I highly recommend the collection of his writings edited and introduced by Tim Flinders as part of the Modern Spiritual Masters Series.

Reflections: Where does nature fit into your spiritual world?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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2 Responses to On Spiritual Mentors: John Muir

  1. I don’t know where to begin to answer this question because nature is my church. Rarely am I able to sit in a brick and mortar church because I keep looking out the window wishing I were in the church of nature instead of indoors. Indeed John Muir was a mystic, and nature was his teacher, his preacher, and his divinity. I can only praise and recommend the works of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme as holy scripture for the church of nature. Berry, a Catholic priest who stopped calling himself a “theo-logian” and started calling himself a “geo-logian.” Swimme, a physicist schooled by Berry who more than anyone I know helped me understand that I am not “part” of nature but that I AM nature. Look deeply into the eyes of John Muir, then go out into the solitude of nature and look deeply into what is there, and you will notice very little that is different. A student asked the Indian teacher Ramana Maharishi, “How do we treat others?” His answer: “There are no others.”

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  2. Susan Bass says:

    I rescued a baby bird who had fallen from her nest at my workplace and then she rescued me. She is joyful at the sight and sound of me, thus giving me a reason to be happy too. She was not supposed to be a pet but turned into one due to several set-backs in her early development including a broken leg. This type of bird is native to India and Asia and, I assume, they were brought to Hawaii as pets. Now they are considered pests because they eat the fruit that people grow. I think it is interesting that humans consider other species to be pests but never (or very rarely) do we consider ourselves to be pests. I also think that it is interesting that I resonate most deeply with a creature who is considered to be a pest.

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