I have an artist friend, Anna, who is deeply educated in scientific understandings and inhabits their reality. When we walk in the woods she can tell me all sorts of things about the evolutionary relationships between the plants, the geological history of the cliffs, the physics of the thunderstorm and the rainbow. She holds no notions of supernatural agency. In terms of scientific worldview, we’re the same.
But Anna also speaks to the rocks, and the rocks speak back to her. So do the trees and the flowers and birds. We’re not talking metaphor. I can do the metaphor. But I can’t do what she does. She inhabits a second reality.
I have another friend Laura who works at an environmental agency and incorporates science-based understandings at every turn.
And then she also organizes much of her experience around astrology, tarot cards, Feng Shui and a sense that the universe speaks to her through such media. When I participate with her in her rituals, I don’t go where she goes.
My third friend Andrew is an astrophysicist with a research position at a top university. He’s one of the masterminds at designing experiments relating to gravity and relativity.
But he also prays to a very Christian God.
“I’ve always believed in God,” he’s told me. “God has been with me continuously since I was a little boy. God is in everything I see and do.”
Not a metaphor.Not some half-baked concept like “God is Creativity” or “God is Love.” I can say those things. But I can’t say what he says.
So are my friends delusional and I’m not? Or do they perceive things that I’m too defective, too inhibited, too closed-off to perceive?
And are these even the right questions? I don’t think so.
My friends fully embrace Nature, and then they inhabit Something Else Besides Nature as well. Anna makes no effort to explain, to herself or to me, how rock language “works.” She doesn’t insult her experience with Whiteheadian concoctions about quarks having consciousness. Nor does Andrew volunteer to explain to me how it is that he will continue to have life after he dies –- maybe he doesn’t even explain it to himself. He just has the full sense that this will be so. And as for Laura, the many ways that the universe speaks to her generate rich and meaningful understandings in her life.
I confess that I have a lot of trouble being patient with Nature-deniers, with folks who need to say that this-and-that about the scientific worldview is false so that their beliefs can therefore be true.
But I also have a lot of trouble with those who would roll their eyes at my friends.
I would say that all four of us are doing the really important part. All of us are taking Nature to heart, humbly acknowledging our place in the whole and celebrating the story of the whole and seeking to remediate environmental and social injustice. We’re all fully here.
And then, after that, my friends also go elsewhere. How cool is that?