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Reading the Book of Nature

2015-11-23 12:01 PM | Dave

“We no longer read the Book of Nature,” Thomas Berry, The Great Work,

I left the city and drove into the country. Just turned twenty-one, I had to get away from some major disappointments in my life, and was ready to start anew. I began looking to country people for the good and simple virtues that I deemed lost in the cacophony of wars, riots, and street demonstrations. My hope was that I’d find real wisdom in the practical lives of rural folk living close to the earth, far from the court intrigues of urban politics.

So I ended up in the beautiful hills of West Sonoma County, California, where I loved to go hiking. Sometimes my walks led to a pastoral retreat which became known in my mind alone as “Beethoven’s house,” a Germanic style cottage with a sloping peaked roof and an alpine kind of balcony, a house the composer Beethoven might have lived in. Emulating Schindler, his friend, I followed Ludwig out of the door as he went for his daily nature walk. Writing in a pocket sketchbook while he walked, he was inspired by the musical ideas he heard in bird songs, “Is that a yellow-hammer singing?” and murmuring brooks. Like the poets and more subjective Romantic philosophers of his time, Beethoven saw God visible in Nature, a god that earned his awe and worship, and brought us great symphonies from his pen.

I was introduced to Classical music by my father. Especially before we owned a TV he would often put on a record to listen to in the den. My sister and I imitated him, playing the 33 1/3 vinyl LPs he introduced us to, Rossini’s Overtures, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, Bizet's Carmen, and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, one that still plays in my head, remembering how we pulled clothes from a costume trunk to dress up and play out stories set to the music.

Beauty sponsors art, music, and the meaningful rhythms of all human experience.” (The Urantia Book,The UB, 56:10.10)

Being a fisherman and hunter, a Canadian woodsman of sorts, Dad had also introduced me to a deep reverence for nature. No wonder that as a young man, I came to love the mountains and hills of Sonoma County where I communed with nature’s beauty. We’d come upon groves of oaks in the high valleys; great branches overhead like the vaulted ceilings of mankind’s cathedrals. I sat at the foot of her mountains and learned the fascinating geologic stories California could tell. 

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more … (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by Beethoven’s contemporary, George Gordon [Lord Byron]).

“Nature discloses nothing which would preclude the universe from being looked upon as the handiwork of the God of religion. God cannot be found through nature alone, but man having otherwise found him, the study of nature becomes wholly consistent with a higher and more spiritual interpretation of the universe.” (The UB, 101:2.9, pg. 1106; John Baillie, source)

The spirit of Beethoven and I climbed the trails near our village that led up and up to views of forested ridges furrowing into each other, stretching far away to the horizon where we read the unfolded pages of the earth from forest slope to barren rock walls. To study the controversies of time and evolution became my discipline. How long had it taken the world to effect a majestic revelation such as these mountains?

This description in The UB which predates James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis (1972), reveals more details. “The grand universe is not only a material creation of physical grandeur, spirit sublimity, and intellectual magnitude, it is also a magnificent and responsive living organism. There is actual life pulsating throughout the mechanism of the vast creation of the vibrant cosmos. The physical reality of the universes is symbolic of the perceivable reality of the Almighty Supreme; and this material and living organism is penetrated by intelligence circuits, even as the human body is traversed by a network of neural sensation paths. This physical universe is permeated by energy lanes which effectively activate material creation, even as the human body is nourished and energized by the circulatory distribution of the assimilable energy products of nourishment.” (116:7.1)

My retreat to the woods happened during the counterculture era, the “hippie” movement. We were living out a reiteration of the Romantic era, a short period of barely 25 years depending on how you’re counting, from 1798 (Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s joint publication of “Lyrical Ballads” to 1824, Byron’s death). Like the Romantic poets and musicians who saw the divine presence in nature, we 60’s children rebelled against the same modern industrialism that was conquering England in their day, a triumph of rationalism over idealism, a valuation of mechanistic materialism over the handiwork of Mother Nature. It was the beginning of an age of alienation from the natural world. Our counterculture revolution was equally shortlived it seemed. But perhaps the work that remains of cleaning up our polluted earth will one day be carried to completion.

 Jesus earned the admiration of his followers, especially Thomas’s, for his superbly balanced character. He was a “lover of nature but was free from all tendency to revere nature.” (139:8.7)

“The Master by precept and example taught the value of worshiping the Creator in the midst of the natural surroundings of creation. He preferred to commune with the heavenly Father amidst the trees and among the lowly creatures of the natural world. He rejoiced to contemplate the Father through the inspiring spectacle of the starry realms of the Creator Sons.” (167:6.5)

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