Category: Nature

Warriors’ Path

The more I learn about American history, the more I realize that I dont know very much. Our next-to-last camping destination on this trip was the Warriors’ Path State Park near Kingsport, Tennessee. It’s named for a warrior and trading path that was in use for centuries by Native Americans in the Virginia and Tennessee region. It was a path used by wildlife and by Cherokee in the south and Shawnee in the north who were hunting wildlife for food.

The full scope of the The Great Warriors’ Path extended from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The path’s history reminds me of early European settlers and their descendants (such as Daniel Boone) who led the great European migration westward from Virginia, North Carolina and other eastern colonies. The history of interaction between Europeans and Native Americans includes periods of strife and periods of peaceful coexistence.

As we ponder the natural beauty of this region, I acknowledge the injustices visited upon the original inhabitants of his land by our European ancestors. On this day, I choose to focus on stories of gentleness and neighborliness. Our checkered history motivates me to work for justice and reconciliation. The need is pervasive. Every culture has its stories of virtue and less than virtue.

I’ve done a little reading about justice initiative related to the native people of Australia. I want to put my weight behind “the arc of the moral universe,” which is long, but “bends toward justice.”

From “Native American History on the Appalachian Trail: 9 Iconic Places,” by Kelly Floro, The Trek, October 12, 2020

Bennington

We’re in the home stretch of a month-long journey, towing a small camper across the eastern US. The 21 campsites include state and national parks, private campgrounds and Harvest Host locations in 9 states. This is our first long trip in the camper, which is a cozy ten feet long, seven feet wide and 7’8” high.

We’ve travelled 3,900 miles in 27 days, with 600 miles to go. We’ve compiled a lengthy list of dos and don’ts for future trips. A month seemed like a very long time away, but one of our major learnings is that we’ve tried to cover too much ground in too short a time. There’s much to see in North America.

We’ve avoided the Interstate Highway System. Our “retro” camper seems fitting for the highways we’ve traversed, often two lane, often taking us through small towns we otherwise would have by-passed and never experienced. Bennington, Vermont is a delightful town in the southwest corner of that state.

A 306-foot tall obelisk Battle Monument was erected in 1891 to commemorate the 1777 Battle of Bennington, which was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. This journey reminded me that much of our national identity is associated with that war and the Civil War. During the final week of this journey, I’ll share some reflections about the “battleground” states we’ve crossed.

From Bennington Battlefield Monument

The heavens

When ancient people sought to convey divine reality, they looked to the heavens for words or images of majesty, grandeur and power. From Psalm 19.1: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” One of my childhood memories is reclining on the trunk of our family car, with my head propped up by the rear window, looking at the blue sky and the formation of clouds–thinking Someone had a great idea.

The Christian church post-Constantine consolidated power and stifled dissent. When someone began to think “outside the box” by proposing that the universe is more vast than previously thought, the church was intolerant. Ironically, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) have endured as great minds who have helped the church think bigger about the cosmos.

This week we visited our son, who is making plans to work at the south pole for several months. When he points “up” the heavens, he points in a different direction than those of us in the northern hemisphere. “Up” for heaven is an archaic by-product of the time when people thought the earth was flat. Our minds have moved well past that ancient metaphor for heaven, but our language hasn’t caught up.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), another voice the church sought to silence, helps me think beyond this earthly existence. I don’t grasp the noosphere, but I’m encouraged by the direction of his thought. My favorite resource for thinking about “the beyond” is a novel written by Scott Peck, In Heaven As On Earth. The key principle of the afterlife, in Peck’s novel, is “freedom.”

From In Heaven As On Earth, by M. Scot Peck

Self-emptying

Sallie McFague explores “self-emptying” in various religions and Christianity in particular. I first heard the word kenosis in seminary, which enriched my understanding of the Philippian hymn. It enriched my self-understanding. McFague helped me (in my late life) to see kenosis in a much broader sense, such as restraining our consumption as consumers. She wrote: …kenosis, self-emptying, is a way to get to the goal of moderation.

Kenosis provides an alternative model of understanding our place in the scheme of things. She offers this: …the kenotic way of being in the world contrasts the imperial, market-oriented, consumer way. Kenosis, self-emptying, is not an ascetic, world-denying practice of the saints; rather, it is a catchall term for the way the world works: it works at all levels through restraint, pulling back, sharing, reciprocity, interrelationship, giving space to others, sacrifice. This way of being in the world is the opposite of self-aggrandizement at every level, from the personal through the public to the planetary.

McFague gives three examples of sainthood as living a fully integrated life: John Woolman, Simone Weil and Dorothy Day. In a world too often puffed up, “full of air,” and “full of itself,” McFague offers the counter-cultural approach of self-restraint, which puts others (and the planet) ahead of consumption.

Tomorrow: a final word from McFague about kenosis.

Sallie McFague spent her later years in British Columbia, where she discovered nurse logs, a form of self-emptying. From “Understanding the Magic of Earth Logs,” by Elisa Parhad, Garden Collage, January 26, 2017

Faith’s ecological challenge

Continuing Sallie McFague’s thought in Blessed are the Consumers (from yesterday), the most significant challenge the religions could undertake for the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants—a challenge for which no other field is so well prepared—is “restraint” in consumerism.

McFague offers a helpful suggestion about how the world’s religions might go about this challenge. She wrote: Ironically, the greatest contribution the world’s religions could make to the sustainability challenge may be to take seriously their own ancient wisdom on materialism.

McFague wove threads of ancient wisdom with today’s sustainability challenge: Their special gift—the millennia-old paradoxical insight that happiness is found in self-emptying, that satisfaction is found more in relationships than in things, and that simplicity can lead to a fuller life—is urgently needed today.

Sustainability and conservation of resources seem to be themes that both progressives and conservatives could embrace—a magnanimous act of cooperation for the common good!

From “Environmental, Social, and Governance: What Is ESG and Why Is It Important?” by Liz Starr, Global Citizen, September 6, 2022

Friday’s list

Joe, Ernie, Don and I meet on Friday mornings for an hour. It’s not unusual for a group of old guys to gather around a table at a restaurant for coffee, biscuits, and tale-telling. We bring our own coffee since we’re in four different counties in three different states. We meet via Zoom.

I asked the group for some people and/or books that have been helpful resources for their journeys. I’ll share quotes from Friday’s list and a wee bit of commentary. First up is Sallie McFague (1933-2019), who taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School for 30 years, including several years as Dean.

The subtitle of her 2013 book, Blessed Are the Consumers is “Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint.” Ecology was one of her strong interests. She wrote that the challenge for the world’s religions was to transform our consumerism by restraint: Restraint at all levels, summed up in the Golden Rule (a variation of which most religions take as their central practice), is the one thing needed now….”

We are seeing the results of our slow response to warnings of science that were echoed by McFague.

Tripp Fuller’s Homebrewed Christianity featured a 6-minute audio presentation of McFague reading the conclusion of Blessed Are the Consumers. You can listen by clicking the link below the graphic.

From Homebrewed Christianity, via YouTube

Remaining hopeful

My third read of the day is Today’s Edition Newsletter, written by California attorney Robert B. Hubbell. It’s a free email distributed by Substack. This resource was recommended by some guys in my weekly Fullness of Love group shortly after I learned of it through Morning Rounds by blogger Rita Clagett.

Hubbell’s theme is “A reflection on today’s news through the lens of hope.” He’s a tenacious attorney, passionate and partisan, though primarily focused on the US Constitution. He’s a tour de force, providing essential legal background for the day’s news. I think of him as Jamie Raskin on steroids.

Hubbell saves me an enormous amount of time by condensing important news stories with a hopeful tone. A daily dose of Richard Rohr, Heather Cox Richardson and Robert Hubbell puts my day within the context of faith, freedom and hope. Together, they help me stay oriented to life’s greatest theme: love.

Hubbell’s August 30 installment of Today’s Edition Newsletter, “A coward’s bluff” unpacks the legal issues surrounding the current investigations into Donald Trump. Hubbell referenced a new free Substack blog by Joyce Vance, Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance. Hubbell ended this edition with:

As always, we have plenty of reason to be hopeful, but no reason to be complacent.

From “A Conversation with Robert at the Los Angeles Arboretum,” with Jill Hubbell, November 8, 2020, via YouTube, about his blog that began on the day Donald Trump was elected president. The Hubbells’ daughters were devastated by the election. He writes Today’s Edition Newsletter to keep them informed and to give them hope. I’m one of many thousands of readers who eavesdrop on this resource.

Always present in subtle ways

Yesterday, I began reading Sarah Appleton-Weber’s 2003 translation of Pierre Teilhard’s The Human Phenomenon. Appleton-Weber (1930-2013) wrote: This translation is dedicated to the memory of Ida Treat Bergerer, paleontologist, journalist, and writer, who was my teacher at Vassar College and in whose home in 1952 I first saw a photo portrait of Teilhard and first heard his name.

Brian Swimme’s Foreword mentions his mid-career “search for wisdom” that directed him to Aurelio Peccei’s statement that “Our best hope is Thomas Berry.” Swimme expressed to Berry his “misery and confusion” about the destruction of the planet. Berry gave him Teilhard’s The Human Phenomenon, saying: To see as Teilhard saw is a challenge but increasingly his vision is becoming available to us. I fully expect that in the next millennium, Teilhard will be regarded as the fourth major thinker of the western Christian tradition. These would be St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Teilhard.

Swimme’s Foreword concludes:

…what is needed now for the universe’s unfolding story is not a new galaxy or a new star. What is needed now is a new form of human being.

Begin your study of Teilhard with the confidence that … the creative intelligence of the universe … is always present in subtle ways. … and … swooped into your life with the aim of transforming you into a power that can participate in our great work of building a vibrant Earth Community.

When Teilhard’s sculptor friend Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966) sent him a photo of her bronze Elemental Man statue in 1939, he had completed his original French manuscript of Le phénomène humain. He told her that he hoped a photograph of her “Man emerging out of the elemental forces” statue would be on the frontispiece of the book, which he planned to publish after World War II ended. The Jesuit order (and the Vatican) did not allow it to be published during his lifetime. Hoffman’s statue is on the campus of Syracuse University.

Sentient beings

My engineer/scientist friend Ernie knows his way around the cosmos. He has helped numerous people grasp its history. Correction–make that our history. I objectified the universe, referring to our home as “it,” like a static thing in a museum, rather than our dynamic, evolving home. The James Webb telescope is sending us images of solar systems that are no longer existent. Lots can happen in a few billion years.

A few months ago I listened via Zoom to Ernie’s presentation about where earth fits into the history of the universe, and where humanity fits into the history of earth. My mind and my emotions were stirred when Ernie mentioned the unimaginable privilege we have to exist as sentient beings in the vast scope of the space and time represented by the universe.

Genesis 1 is a “great liturgical poem” about creation. Reflections about sentient beings are prominent in Buddhist thought. Sentience is a topic addressed by various doctors of philosophy. As I scratched the surface of this theme, I kept returning to two words, privilege and gratitude. As sentient beings, we have great opportunity to make a difference in this fleeting moment in our corner of space.

From “Creation,” Will Vinton Studio (1981), based on James Weldon Johnson’s 1922 poem “The Creation,” narrated by James Earl Jones, illustrated by Joan C. Gratz, a 7 1/2 minute video on YouTube

Abby

After reading the latest “Trump did what?” article in Friday’s Washington Post, I ran across Cathy Free’s article, “A dog was missing. Cavers found her two months later 500 feet underground.” I don’t remember the Trump article. They all run together after awhile, but I’ll remember Abby’s story.

I’ll also remember Gerry Keene, a 59-year-old spelunker, who was exploring a cave 500 feet under Missouri. He saw Abby curled up on a rock in total darkness. She was too weak to wag her tail or whimper. Keene took a photo of the dog and climbed out of the cave to get some help.

Caver Rick Haley, 66, heard about it and went with Keene to help carry the dog out. Meanwhile word spread that a dog had been found. The two men put her in a padded duffel bag, with her head poking out, and hauled her out of the cave. Abby had been missing for two months. She’s 14-years-old.

Abby was reunited with her grateful family–a story with a happy ending. No search warrant. No political posturing. Just a lost dog and two guys with soft hearts and a love of spelunking. This week, let’s look for more stories like this. From now on, if Abby sees Gerry or Rick, I’m sure she’ll wag her tail.

From “A caving project became a rescue mission after a dog was found 500 feet down,” by Wynne Davis, NPR, August 12, 2022