Fall is a time of enhanced beauty. Leaves begin to turn colors. Acorns and seeds fall from the tall trees peppering the metal roof like gunshots. Acrobatic squirrels fly, leap and jump through the trees. And fall wildflowers spurt their last offering before sleeping through the winter.
On one of our morning walks with Zulu near the cabin, Vickie decided to collect wildflower blooms and press them in a book. It was a return to her childhood project. Along the way I photographed the flowers and plants: ferns, passion flowers and even the triennual blooming kudzu–that pervasive (an invasive) southern vine–the vine that ate the south. Reviewing the photographs I could not have been more elated to find another face hiding in the forest. It was a tiny Cotton-top Tamarin hiding in a Kudzu flower, and he was sticking his tongue out at me! Why would I laugh and enjoy this so much? Why would I see it in the first place?
I consider myself rational, a realist with a scientific worldview. Yet, having lived in and studied African cultures, and coming from a religious background that taught about the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer, I can appreciate a mystic, or spiritual worldview approach to life. Especially, that there is a role for symbols, art, myths and legends within a broader cultural context. It is an ancient approach to spirituality common to ancient religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
If you were around in 1985 you might remember a popular song by Julia Gold, From a Distance, also recorded by Bette Midler. The times were simpler then, filled with a somewhat naive hope for the future of our planet and the people who live in it. Julia Gold, in her words, “believes in an immanent and beneficent God” and “the song is about the difference between how things appear to be and how they really are.” It was not a religious song per se, though some interpreted it that way.
A few of my conservative evangelical friends outwardly turned up their sacred noses because it didn’t mention Jesus; and my agnostic friends rolled their questioning eyes at the idea that if there was a god, why would god even care what goes on in a world of free will where we make all the decisions about our world anyway.
I was living in Africa at the time and as a musician I thought it was a nice little melody–relaxing. What caught my attention were the words of the refrain, “God is watching us.” To my African friends this was entirely possible since the physical world was not the real world and it was often in the dream world that conflicts were resolved with mediating ancestors.
My own Scots-Irish background and the Celtic idea of a thin space, where the sacred appears in the mundane, has started to make more sense, especially during late summer walks in Riverbend–where life takes a slow turn–especially if you are looking.
My goddaughter, who is of Irish, West African and American Indigenous ancestry, is quite open to non-western approaches to life and spirituality. We sometimes discuss the topic of the conscious earth–“a global unity of consciousness, a thinking sphere circling the Earth above the biosphere, which [would comprise all] human reflection, conscious souls, and love.” The Noosphere, as the Jesuit Priest de Chardin called it, is inclusive of [now] the virtual global Internet, as well as the collective healing–or survival–of nature, and possibly a communication between them. Imagine the collective plant world communicating and mutating themselves for survival. Or, the fires, drought, winds and rain deciding to chase away unruly humans.
I have embraced the view of divine and natural play in the world as Jürgen Moltmann expressed in his Theology of Play in 1972. He proposed that those of us from the protestant work ethic ilk, worked with obsession and had lost the joy of life and need for play. All work and no play made Nathan a dull boy. Yet at 70 and in retirement, I get it. God is at play, and plays in the world.
I get that the world has immense problems. We, as a conscious earth, animals and plants, are collectively working out our future. Not everyone is so hopeful, as Harari expressed in the afterward to his book, Sapiens (an interesting book, by the way):
I am not so pessimistic.
I am an artist who in the past four years has expressed my creativity by restoring an old cabin that sits in the middle of a forest. As a lover of nature, and especially since spending hours on my front porch observing and reflecting on the beauty and life around me, the conscious and living forest and the historic peoples who inhabited it are coming alive to me. They present themselves to me in often surprising ways.
So, I am willing to play with the tamarin in the kudzu flower. Or, maybe it could well have been my eccentric father making a quick goofy face, as he so often did during serious moments, to see if he could make me lose my composure. He has visited me before in person and in my dreamworld. Don’t ask.
I can sum this up in the Shabbat Whistle of my friend David Shabot: “If we attribute amazing things in life to natural phenomena, we no longer recognize miracles.” So maybe I’m not such a rational scientific worldview person after all. But I’m not giving up on science, either.