“If one steps out on a starry night and observes one’s inner state, one asks if one could hate or be overwhelmed by envy or resentment. . . . Is it not true that no man or woman has ever committed a crime while in a state of wonder?” —Jacob Needleman from A Sense of the Cosmos
“All actual life is encounter.”—Martin Buber
MATTHEW, my youngest son, once asked me if a connection to a higher power is, in fact, an under-utilized sense—one that some people find activated in nature. This is the same son who, when he was five, asked, “Are God and Mother Nature married, or just good friends?” Great questions. Most religious traditions, especially in indigenous cultures, intimately or actively offer ways to discover the divine in the natural world. Some people worship nature. Others consider such worship blasphemous, or detect nothing. Most of us are less direct. Just beyond the veil of rain, we sense a presence for which we have no name.
Since the publication of Last Child in the Woods a decade ago, I’ve been surprised and impressed by the support that many religious leaders of all faiths, and nonbelievers as well—and from very different political persuasions—have offered to the growing movement to connect people, especially children, to the natural world. One of the first and unexpected champions of the book was the Rev. Albert Mohler, Jr., a conservative radio host and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who wrote: “Christians should take the lead in reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from machines.” When I was asked to be on The 700 Club, Pat Robertson’s show on the Christian Broadcasting Network, a friend (who worked for a large environmental organization) said, “Don’t go, it’s a trap.” The segment, including footage of children outdoors, turned out to be very good. Other religious voices chimed in—Presbyterians, Buddhists, Muslims, Unitarians, Jews.
In a provocative piece for the Torah Aura Productions Bulletin Board, titled “It is not Jewish to Stay Inside,” Idie Benjamin and Dale Cooperman wrote, “At the Seder, we eat green vegetables to remind us of spring. We celebrate the holiday of Sukkot by sitting outside in our sukkot for eight days, surrounded by the fruits of the harvest. Is it any wonder that the holiday is called zman simhatainu, the time of our happiness?” They pointed out that, “Tu B’Shvat has become a Jewish Earth Day, a time to focus on the earth that God gave us and how better to care for our world . . . . But in many classrooms, that caring and learning is too often happening inside with paper trees and pink tissue paper blossoms.
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Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 4: 58-61