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In Praise of Losing My Mind

John Muir the great conservationist and mystic founded the Sierra Club and was instrumental in ensuring that Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon became national parks. In the later part of the 19th century and into the 20th, Muir would grab a bedroll, frying pan, bag of flour and head out for a few weeks to explore the rugged terrain of the Sierra Mountains in California.



Kent Harrop at Sequoia National Park, in the shadow of a Grandmother/ Grandfather Sequoia


Muir grew up in Scotland, the son of a rigid, fundamentalist Christian. Once he emigrated to the United States, first Wisconsin and then to the west coast, he jettisoned the rigidity of his boyhood religion, while remaining deeply connected to the Creator of the natural world.


He was what theologians call a pan-en-theist. Whereas a pantheist thinks the tree or water are gods unto themselves, a pan-en-theist believes that there is a spark of the divine in each aspect of the ecological web, to which we all belong. For example within the Judeo-Christian tradition, in Psalm 139: 7, 9-10:


'Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.'


Many Native American traditions are also guided by a pan-en-theistic spirituality. The sense that the very breath of the Spirit is within all that comprises the natural world. Hence, each part of creation has inherent worth and wisdom to share.


Imagine what happens, when we believe that the natural world has inherent worth, because the very presence of the Divine is to be found in the most mundane plant or the most majestic mountain. Imagine seeing the earth as sacred, rather than as a commodity.


There's a story told of John Muir finding himself in a the midst of a mighty storm in the Sierra Mountains. Instead of hunkering down out of the elements, he climbed up as far as he could in the tallest tree and lashed himself to the timber. Throughout the night he made his home in that tree as the rain fell, the thunder roared and the wind bent the tree (and Muir) from one direction to the next!


The more Muir immersed himself in Nature the more he felt connected to the Creator. How about you and me? When was the last time you immersed yourself in the natural world? When was the last time you felt your soul quicken as you paddled through the dimples of rising trout, the sound of wind through the reeds, the piercing call of an eagle?


To put it another way, when was the last time you had a pan-en-theistic experience? This season I encourage you to go outside and explore, or, to join me on the quiet water of Lake Cochichewick, as we paddle and immerse ourselves in the beauty and wonder of the Creator's creation.


John Muir summed it up this way:




Hope to see you on the water and along the forest path, as together we lose our mind and find our soul.


With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop



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