Connecting with nature is about more than just exercise or tranquility. As Quaker author Doug Gwyn shares, even in the 17th century, Quakers were concerned about our disconnection with the natural world and what it would mean for the future.
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One of our biggest difficulties, I think, is that we live so much in language and so much in a mediated world of electronic media and print media, and so on, all of which tends to distance us from our connection with the natural world. Getting to that sense beyond language is not only healthy for personal spiritual renewal, but it’s also crucial to reconnecting with the natural world, which is a nonverbal world.
What Does Quakerism Teach About Connecting to Nature?
One of the things that George Fox (the central founder of Quakerism in the 17th century) teaches is that when we stand still in the Light, we come to see ourselves as we really are, which has lots of benefits for self-understanding and self-improvement. But he also says that you begin to see the wisdom of God in the creation, that you begin to see—as he once described it—the “natures and virtues” of the different creatures in the creation, and you have a greater aesthetic sense of the natural world but also a sense of how all the pieces fit together and you begin to have a better sense of where you fit among all those pieces in the creation.
Learning to Live Sustainably
You begin to have the dawning of ideas of “how much is enough?” and “maybe I could do with less” and be less of a burden on the creation. Of course, 17th-century England was nothing to compare to consumerism today, but George Fox spoke of people “devouring the creation,” is the way he described it, through conspicuous consumption. I’m afraid that’s what we’re doing in enormous ways compared to the 17th century.
A Spiritual Practice of Stewardship
All that comes through the insight of a spiritual practice that helps you see those things more clearly and start living your life according to what you’re seeing. I think Quaker faith and practice, as it develops from personal spiritual practice through the life of the meeting, begins to build a life that in not only lived ways but in the ways in which we advocate politically and stand for peace and justice and sustainability with the ecosystems of the world–all that is beginning to be a part of the solution in whatever small ways one life can be, but that’s all we’ve got. That’s our definition of salvation in the 21st century. If we don’t learn to live sustainably on the Earth, all is lost.
- Do you have a spiritual practice of spending time in nature? What does that look like for you? What effect does it have on your life?
- George Fox’s writings invite us to stand still in the Light and know where we fit among the pieces of the creation. What do you think this means, and what does it mean for the way we live our lives?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.