My last few posts have been about the way nature helps us make connections – with ourselves and with others, in particular. Another connection fostered by nature is with the “cosmos”. This connection can be felt as a sense of the seamless unity of the natural world and of ourselves as part of that same “oneness”.
Connecting with the cosmos is a form of transcendence; our consciousness shifts from the here-and-now to a place beyond the limits of our senses. Such experiences are often associated with the beautiful and grand places of “wild” nature.
But there are situations and activities in urban nature where we can feel a deep sense of intimacy with the cosmos. Working in the garden can do it for us, as Michael McCoy, a landscape designer and writer, discovered while landscaping his own property. This is part of his account:
There came a point when my body was in autopilot, and my mind just sufficiently occupied to retain a single focus. It was at these times, and when I least expected it, that I stepped into some new relationship with my surrounds. I was suddenly a part of them…
For many, connecting with the cosmos has a spiritual dimension, serving as a window on the sacred and divine. Bede Griffiths, writer and Benedictine monk, recalls how this window opened for him:
Now I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery such as I never imagined to exist, except in poetry. I experienced an overwhelming emotion in the presence of nature, especially at evening. It began to wear a kind of sacramental character for me. I approached it with a sense of almost religious awe, and in the hush that comes before sunset; I felt again the presence of an unfathomable mystery. The song of the birds, the shape of the trees, the colours of the sunset, were so many signs of this presence, which seemed to be drawing me to itself.
I heard a similar testimony many years ago from Irene Gleeson whose recent death prompted an extraordinary flood of tributes for her humanitarian work on behalf of thousands of Ugandan children. She has been acclaimed and honoured as a woman of great selflessness, faith, courage and resourcefulness.
Irene, whom I knew as Irene Twemlow, was a member of a trekking party I took to Nepal in the late 1970s. As
one of her college lecturers, I knew something of her difficult early life and resulting low self-esteem. She saw the trek as a way of forging a more positive view of herself and her circumstances. One day near the end of the trek, which had taken in some of the most scenically awe-inspiring places on the planet, Irene said something to me along these lines, “I came on the trek to draw and write, but I keep thinking about God”.
A reference in Irene’s obituary to her Himalayan trekking suggests that the experience was a significant step on her spiritual journey and a landmark in her life of faith, love and service. Vale Irene.