Updated: Jul 30, 2020
out·doors | \ au̇t-ˈdȯrz
The outdoors - what an atmosphere. Hiking the art lobe of Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina is the encapsulation of what the outdoors is for me. With my backpacking pack strapped on, I followed the narrow, winding, rocky path up the steep hills and gentle declines of the forest. Surrounded by vivacious green foliage and the gentle running of the river. The occasional bird chirping and crunch of soil beneath my boots filled the silence. This created a calming sense of peace for me.
Webster-Merriam Dictionary defined the outdoors as the following:
Outside a building.
In or into the open air.
A place or location away from the confines of a building.
The world away from human habitations.
These definitions remind me of religion in a way. For me, religion cannot be confined to a space. It is ever-present in the open. Religion is like the open air for me. It honestly feels like a breath of fresh air. The feeling can try to be imitated but it will never be fully captured. It just is. It is a feeling that can never be confined or pinpointed, it is something beyond that of human habitation.
It leaves me in awe that the definitions of the outdoors so closely replicate my feelings and interpretations of religion.
Historian Lynn White published in 1967 the article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” in the journal Science. Lynn argued that the Bible talks about dominion over nature, revealing a tension between Christianity and nature.
“Christianity… not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends,” Lynn wrote.
This argument sits uneasily with me. Growing up, I had never looked at the Bible in this way. I had never thought to stop and wonder if there was a sense of human entitlement. I had always thought that we are all God’s creations living in a world made by him.
There are two passages from the Bible that I then decided to read:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” - Matthew 6:26-27
At first glance I see the wonders of nature. Despite not having a permanent home or shelter, the birds do not suffer. They thrive. They still find food and live free. At a second glance, one line in particular sits uneasily with me. “Are you not much more valuable than they?” Is this line claiming human life is of greater importance? I guess that in itself is an entire debate. Is it? I do not know.
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” - Matthew 6:28-30
Here, the incredible wonder of nature is shown. He explains how the lilies are arrayed in a way where the glory of Solomon cannot attempt to compare. Yet again, a line following this sits unwell with me. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you.” Is this line insinuate a greater value of humans than nature? Again I cannot say.
This caused me to wonder. How do other religions view nature? I began to look at passages from other religions to try and grasp a deeper understanding about the role nature may play in the interfaith community. The following are some writings that I really liked:
“As a bee - without harming the blossom, its color, its fragrance - takes its nectar and flies away: so should the sage go through a village.” - Dhammapada IV, Pupphavagga: Blossoms, 49.
“Sustainable harmonious relationship between the human species and nature is not merely an abstract ideal, but a concrete guide for practical living,” - International Confucian Ecological Alliance 2015.
“Do not strut arrogantly on the earth. You will never split the earth apart nor will you ever rival the mountains’ stature,” - Qur’an 17:37.
“You, Yourself the water, desert, ocean and the pond. You, Yourself are the big fish, tortoise and the Cause of causes,” - Guru Granth Sahib, Maru Sohele, pg. 1020.
All of these quotations emphasize a relationship between nature and spirituality. I guess the question to ask is what is my interpretation of this relationship?
To be completely honest, I am still figuring that out. But I am glad that I have found a value in the relationship and that both are areas of my life that bring me great peace and joy.