Nature and Prayer
One of our challenges as modern city dwellers, is to manage our life-time. We become divorced from the rhythms of nature around us. We become separated from the cycles of our local community, driven by the needs of our employer's 24/7 business, disconnected from our friends. Slow Saturday cricket matches, Sunday afternoon barbecues, time simply to relax and be at ease- many of these things can be lost to us. We can feel profoundly "out of sorts."
Our separation from nature is of earth saving importance. Our ecological crisis is largely rooted in our long held belief that we rule over and exploit nature. We have forgotten that we are part of nature. Most of us, living in cities, do not see the gradual degradation of land and water- although the long drought here in Australia is rudely raising our awareness. We need to learn to live in, and with the land, not over it.
D. H. Lawrence sums up our separation in a few lines which begin "The old Church knew that life is here our portion, to be lived in fulfilment." He says later,
Oh, what a catastrophe for man
when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year,
from his union with the sun and the earth.
Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was a personal, merely personal feeling,
taken away from the rising and setting of the sun,
and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and the equinox!
This is what is the matter with us.
We are bleeding at the roots...
Our own personal happiness and satisfaction is bound up with nature. Living consciously with the rhythms of nature is to be living with Reality. This is not nature worship, but a plain recognition of what is. We cannot, for the most part, transcend nature's realities. We are a part of earth. There has been a point where our technical prowess has become a denial of reality. To continue to work at full speed through the heat of summer, to deny the depressions of winter, and the bearish parts of our nature that wish to hibernate a little, is to live an unreal life.
It is not only to overuse earth with heating and cooling, it is to deny our animality. It seeks to make us a machine, bound to the rules and needs of modern commerce and the ruling elite; it is a denial of our humanity.
Instead of rebelling at this, we seek to accommodate. We put in cooling at home, so we may sleep enough to keep up an unreal and unhealthy summer schedule at work. We drive to work, parking under the building, because bus, train and walking- if we have such an opportunity, would leave us sweaty, and unsuitable for the manicured, deodorised, and lotioned life of the office. We seek to compensate with ever increasing amounts of coffee and chocolate for energy, with summer fruit all year round, regardless of the cost to earth, and "work smarter, not harder" Blackberries and IPhones.
Are we free? We are only more entrapped in an unreal life. In the west, our "accommodation" and "compensation" is also an unjust exploitation of those poor elsewhere in the world who have less power than us.
As religious people, whether Christian or another tradition, we understand that the ultimate reality lies in what we call the Divine. Our ultimate calling, and our greatest satisfaction or fulfillment comes from relating to this Divinity. The regularity and rhythm of liturgy prayer can be a major player in this. The rhythm begins to enable contact with the real. It establishes some control over the un-real of commerce and industry. It helps us gain a foothold of freedom in an in-human world.
Key in the regaining of reality is an appreciation of nature. I have said already that living consciously with the rhythms of nature is to be living with reality. When we discipline ourselves to be in touch with nature, we are already moving against the artificiality of commerce. We are putting before our face another reality than the one the office ,or shop, or factory seeks to control us with. Each day we walk to work we are confronted with the real world, instead of shielded and insulated behind the glass of the windscreen, and pampered by filtered airconditioning. We move closer to the real. We are closer to living as God has made us to be.
It's now almost two years since I finished a seven year job in the city as an IT Consultant. The job included long hours, even occasional 36 hour shifts. I left burned out, and fed up with corporate life and the greed involved. I felt the company of which I was a part had lost some of its soul, and the ethics and compassion I had valued in the early years. It was time to move on...
That's one way to look at it, and there is truth in it. But there is another side.
A wider framing would note how in the beginning, I walked from the railway station through the university campus, the Botanic Gardens and Botanic Park. When the business shifted its location, I varied my path through the parklands, even going slightly further than necessary to take in trees and water. With time, I walked less often; taking a bus half way. More often than not, I began to take a bus straight back to the station in the evening instead of walking, and increasingly, took a bus all the way in the mornings. This did not save much time; I just spent more time waiting for public transport! I began to lose control of my garden at home, always too tired and too busy. Evening walks with my wife became less frequent. Did the pressures of work become too great, or did I step out of reality and allow a pretence of what is important take me over?
This experience has sharpened my awareness. As a different kind of consultant I now resent those days lack of public transport forces me to drive. I have learned the value of walking. I do my best to walk with my wife on days I can work from home. I have begun the garden again, and each night while the dog has her last trip outside to check for cats, and visit the toilet, I spend time looking at the stars, listen to the silence of the night, and pick out the smell of trees and bushes round about. I am all the healthier for it. The times I depart from the discipline impact my health. I am also quickly more irritable. I am less sensitive to others. I lose my creativity.
In the original shorter post of Lawrence's words I said
DH Lawrence writes of this separation in another age. His longings cannot be re-captured today by some sentimental and essentially artificial adoption of old worship patterns. But worship, and the church year, are a means of regaining rhythm. They mean to bring us back into step with a reality that goes deeper than the transient needs of the current economy.
Indeed, this is not about some sentimental fad for nature. It is serious business. It will cost time to be real about it. The investment of "taking time to make time" has an enormous return. All the significant periods of my life and ministry have been marked by two features. Firstly I was deeply grounded in the natural reality by regular swimming, running, gardening and so on. And, and only then, I had a regular discipline of prayer. I find the correspondence of the two quite startling.
I live in a land which, quoting Lawrence, is "bleeding at the roots." The current financial crises of 2008/2009 come on top of a final recognition by many that our climate and ecology are in serious trouble. We are afraid.
Prayer, rightly understood, is not a retreat into the past or the sentimental. It is a return to a real life where, in touch with the Real, we might make some better decisions.