HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN MUIR!
APRIL 21, 1838
"Christianity and mountainanity are streams from the same fountain."
Scottish-born naturalist, explorer, mystic and founder of the Sierra Club - John Muir - has been my primary spiritual mentor for almost fifty years! I first met Mr. Muir in elementary school, when my class studied "Stickeen" in a third-grade reader. Then, throughout my boyhood, Muir's outdoor adventure stories inspired me to fantasize constantly about Western landscapes and eventually - at age 17 - to move there, fall in love with their wild grandeur, and - like Muir - to dance in utter elation in the vibrant beauty and light of their sacred mountains.
Then, in my 30s, I began a serious study of Muir's spirituality, at one point poring over volumes of his pencil-written journals housed on microfilm in the library of my alma mater - Colorado State University. The result was the publishing - in 2012 - of "The Contemplative John Muir," a book which I frequently quote here on Facebook, on Instagram, and in my Wilderness Mysticism blog.
For Muir, the joy experienced in Nature was not a mere subjective emotion but was instead a Divine Force that served to SWIRL together both human and wilderness realms, making them into ONE! Similarly, the love and passion Muir felt while exploring wild country became a visceral heat that effectively MELTED the two dimensions together, until one's individual self became simply the means through which Divine Nature celebrated and became aware of Itself in human form.
John Muir took the language of his strict Calvinist upbringing and effectively transferred it to his experience of wild Nature, where it took on a completely new meaning. Through Muir, Christianity became "mountainanity" as the presence of God and Christ emptied themselves out - through "kenosis," I would argue - into the wide-open spaces of mind, heart and landscape. Thus, if we want to see a uniquely American Christian Mysticism, all we have to do is study MUIR!
With Muir, becoming "born again" was a description of what happens to us while out exploring in the mountains. For him, it was Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada of California - which he called "The Range of Light" - that effected this religious conversion. Similarly, "baptism" for Muir was the rite that occurred when immersing himself in the rainbowed spray of Yosemite Falls, when "some of the earthiness washed out of me and Yosemite virtue washed in." Eucharist became a participation in the literal and metaphorical blood-sap of his beloved California Sequoia trees, which he also shared with Douglas Squirrel. In fact, for him, it was the crucified CHRIST who appeared within these god-like trees, declaring - as they were being cut for lumber or for sport - "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
I am firmly convinced that unless our religion and spirituality teach us to perceive more deeply the utter magic of our life HERE ON EARTH, they are detrimental and should best be jettisoned from our lives. A focus on the "afterlife" is understandable during times of sorrow and illness, but let us never forget that God - and heaven itself - humbly and eternally serve as a sky-like Backdrop of love that allows THIS WORLD AND ITS CREATURES to reveal themselves in all of their magic and wonder, like echoes appearing out of nowhere! That indeed is the whole point of meditation, where we become ONE WITH that divine Backdrop of both God and heaven, thus enabling all of life to reveal itself, permeated from now on with the love and warmth of our own sacred personality and essence!
For Spiritual Direction or Workshops, please visit: http://www.resourcesforspiritualgrowth.com/
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.