It’s Monday morning. I’m sitting on my porch and realize it’s quieter than most Mondays. It sounds and feels more like a Sunday, but it’s Memorial Day, the time for remembrance and honor, a day off work and school for many, a day of barbecues and picnics and the kick-off of the summer vacation season for others.
Even though this is a more somber holiday, and in fact I’ve often wondered if it’s appropriate to say Happy Memorial Day when we are honoring people who have died, there is that holiday expectant feeling in the air for me. It happens without intention. The occasional car I hear, I wonder, where are they going? What are their plans this day, this week?
The weather is cool, like earlier spring, so that I could almost use a sweater, as I have goosebumps on my arms. The begonias and Christmas cacti here on the porch seem none the worse for wear, though, after a chillier night and morning.
I love the mornings, the way the young sunlight filters through the trees, the glimpses of pale blue sky. I adore the stillness and quiet, though traffic is picking up, and I hear machinery running across the road somewhere, the occasional human voice and slamming door, then suddenly it’s quiet again for a brief few seconds, which seems right for a day of memorial. I’m alone, yet I’m not. Nature is all around, and its own little sounds of bird call and breeze are comforting and nurturing. The birds know nothing of Memorial Day as they sing and call and chirp and flit from tree to tree, nor the bunny as he basks in the sun over in the driveway, nor all the other little critters in the yard and trees, as Nature goes about another day.
I’m thankful for this day, this time, and for all those who gave their lives to help make this life possible for me.
It’s Christmas Eve. It’s dark out, raining, pouring, and Oscar is snoring. Glad I rode over to Junaluska yesterday to bring Emmy’s ashes back home. It just feels right. I’m putting the chili on soon and making peanut butter pies, and it’s going to keep raining some more, then there’s going to be heavy rain after lunch. Late this afternoon and early evening, it may turn to snow for a little while. I’ll talk to the kids and the grandkids today. The little ones, and children everywhere, will be too excited to sleep much tonight. Then I’ll sit down with my so many memories and feelings, tears and smiles and that feeling of nostalgia you can’t put into words, some hot chocolate and a sappy Christmas movie. I’ve already eaten my favorites out of the Whitman sampler my neighbor sweetly gave me. And yet, I find some contentment in all of this, in this messy thing called life. I still enjoy Christmas Eve even now as an “older person,” its sense of anticipation. Despite the sad and difficult year it has been for so many people, the collective unexpected losses endured on so many levels, for me hope really does still abide, and so does love.
In this season of celebrations of Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice/Yule (Northern Hemisphere), Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day and more, I’ve been thinking about how pantheists celebrate. What traditions are important to us? How do we mark special days and holidays, the passage of milestones in our lives? How do we honor the seasons? Some pantheists are rugged individualists who avoid rituals or traditional holidays altogether, especially anything remotely “religious,” yet most of us have some traditions that we cherish, even if we do them alone, and they certainly don’t have to be elaborate. Many continue with longstanding practices, adapting and tweaking them to fit more neatly with their pantheistic beliefs. We know that rituals help bring people together, a way to include us as part of a community and to remind us of our place in the Universe and our corner of the world. Lately, though, I’ve realized some can be equally meaningful when practiced in solitary. Even though we may not be sharing the same physical space, there’s something comforting about lighting a candle on Winter Solstice here in our homes, or decorating a tree full of sparkling white lights, while knowing other people are doing the same thing all around the planet. Rituals, whether practiced in community or alone, can provide stability and connection, and hopefully are also just simply enjoyable and gratifying.
Several years ago, I wrote about a December lunar eclipse, my own Holy Night:
“The knowledge that the eclipse was happening and being viewed by people everywhere, combined with winter solstice and the quiet peaceful beauty when I was out on my porch during the time I’d normally be sleeping, gave me a feeling once I had settled back into bed like I had when I was a kid on Christmas Eve. I’d wake up every hour, knowing something amazing was going on while I tried to sleep, and part of it was happening in my living room, but simultaneously all over the world, that expectant feeling, excitement, and happiness that you never forget. Wow! I didn’t expect to feel that last night, but what joy!….no presents in my living room when I woke up this morning, just my sweet pets and the smell of coffee and the light of day….but with the promise of unexpected treasures to come. I feel different this morning. I think I did get a gift after all.”
For pantheists, many traditions are understandably nature/science related. We bake pies on Pi Day and take late night walks on Winter Solstice with friends. We enjoy campfires or bonfires, candlelight and moonlight, and maybe a stargazing party. Eclipses are causes for a celebration. Arbor Day is for planting a tree, Earth Day for cleaning roadsides, and Earth Hour for switching off the lights for a designated 60 minutes as millions around the world do the same (from the earthhour.org website, it’s “a symbol of unity. It is a symbol of hope. It is a symbol of power in collective action for nature”). Some pantheists honor the Sacred Wheel of the Year and participate in the various activities associated with those special days.
You’ll find pantheists attending weekly church services, while others prefer a day spent out in Nature. Mary Oliver reminded us that prayer can be “paying attention,” or it can be a focused meditation or contemplation during walks in the woods. To quote John Burroughs,
“Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth.”
Burroughs, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and other naturalists knew the value of quiet time spent outside in Nature. Thoreau wrote a wonderfully detailed essay called “Walking” in which he described sauntering, a word “beautifully derived from ‘idle people, who roved about in the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going a la Sainte Terre,’ to the Holy Land,” or possibly from “sans terre, without land or a home…having no particular home but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.” Thoreau paid attention to sounds, sights, smells, textures, and when he took his hours-long walks, it was vitally important that not only his body entered the woods, but his spirit also, leaving the village and its obligations behind.
The great thing about Nature, though, is that it’s everywhere and it doesn’t cost a cent, it doesn’t matter how educated you are or how much money you make or what your job is. It can be your porch, yard, neighborhood, campground, National Park, or the little patch of woods between you and your neighbors. It can even be looking out the window. Just a few minutes each morning or at evening time spent contemplating nature can be calming and inspiring, The first thing I do when I wake up is open the blinds and look out at the sky and the mountains, with a brief silent word of thanksgiving. Sometimes it really is just that simple.
Pantheism is a way of life, a worldview and a point of view, not some garment we wear one day a week and then lay aside until the next week, so when I really think about it, I see pantheist practice as simply everyday life, done with mindfulness, at one with the time and place at hand, alone or with companions (though always interconnected), indoors or out, when any day or moment can be special and worthy of our attention and devotion. My own list of pantheist practices, which will be different from yours, includes photographing these mountains I love, blogging, celebrating birthdays, planting flowers in the spring and filling the house with colorful decorations in fall and winter, stocking bird feeders with special treats on New Year’s Eve, spending Sunday mornings on my front porch and cooking a big Saturday breakfast, and weekly phone calls with family. Maybe your list also includes things like climate change marches and signing petitions, family reunions with a shared meal and a simple blessing, putting flowers on family graves, or taking a yearly trip to a new destination. It’s all about experiencing and celebrating life on this precious planet of ours in a myriad of ways.
On our Universal Pantheist Society blog and in our Facebook group, as well as in Pantheist Vision, we regularly share days that may be of special interest to pantheists. We’ve celebrated the birthdays of Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Muir, Burroughs, William Wordsworth, and the Periodic Table of Elements, among numerous others. Then there’s World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, Species Requiem Day, World Food Day, and the International Day of Peace, etc. Do you like rhinos, chimpanzees, bees, black cats, or maybe watermelon or chocolate ice cream? There’s a special day for all of them and a variety of ideas available to help you acknowledge them. Please consider joining the UPS Facebook group, Universal Pantheists, or follow the blog at pantheist.net to learn more about pantheist practices and traditions, special days and people, and numerous resources for ways you can celebrate Pantheism, Nature, and the abundant extraordinary blessings of everyday life.
Even with so many stressful and upsetting things going on in the world, there are lots of things I’m grateful for. My family and the technology to keep me in touch with them, the sweet cats that share my home, a few days off from work to relax, good food to eat, enjoyable movies to watch, and as always, beautiful Nature all around me. I hope you have a good day, too.