Tag Archives: religion

Winter and the Faith of a Pantheist

A lot of people feel depressed during the winter. It’s colder. It’s darker. Other than the holiday gatherings, it can be a bit dreary. I used to feel that way myself. It was like I was refusing to see the special beauty this season brings.

Riding over to a nearby town during winter, I’m struck by the dull palette of grays and browns, but especially by the nakedness…trees bare of leaves. It’s like living in a house with no curtains, letting the whole world look in, seeing things normally hidden away, including the imperfections that summer’s greenery hides. Some of what I see is frankly not pretty, bare bones and bleak, even dirty, but other things come as a surprise. “I didn’t know that was there!” or “I’d never seen that before.” It can be eye opening, pleasant, if sometimes uncomfortable. Someone, though, also reminded me once that those bare trees make a lovely pattern against a winter sky or sunset, like old lace, and so I began to look at winter differently.

Yet, even as the calendar still says autumn while the days are seeming to feel like winter with the occasional flurry of snow, morning frost on the car, a cold wind blowing, I’m reminded that every season is beautiful in its own way and has the ability to surprise me. One of these gifts comes in the form of my “Thanksgiving cactus.” I think it was supposed to be a Christmas cactus, maybe even an Easter one, but in its own determined way, it has for the last couple of years decided its time to amaze me is in late fall/early winter. I follow its gestation daily from the first sighting of tiny barely-there buds to its full-term burst of bright color that really delights me. It’s my daily symbol of faith, hope, tenacity, Nature, and simple loveliness, and it reminds me that ordinary life is quite extraordinary if we’ll just look and appreciate it. This bright flower perfectly represents the faith I have as a pantheist…not in some godly figure in the sky saving me from eternal torment, or ancient holy books, but in the seasons and rhythms of nature itself. Those seasons will come and go, trees will flower and fade and flower again, and eventually I’ll die, too, but will still and always be part of Nature in a different form. I trust Nature to continue its cycles of birth, growth, and death in so many beautiful, and to be fair, sometimes not so beautiful, ways.

I’m grateful for winter. It gives us time to rest, plan and remember, snuggle and nest, celebrate with family, enjoy its birds and plants with bright red berries, appreciate the darkest of skies full of a million stars, and experience the welcome and extraordinary quietness of snow days. It prepares us for the next season of spring and all that it brings in its pastel and noisy baby-animal, bud-popping fashion.

Winter Haiku

Sparkling raindrops drip
From icy pear tree branches,
Jewels on nature’s arms.

There’s something special and dear about seeing the passing landscape in all its glory, ugly, beautiful, familiar, surprising, but most importantly, authentic. Just like with us humans…we know someone best and feel deepest, I think, when we see beyond the outer person, all made up and dressed in their finery, on their best behavior, when we’re allowed in to see the real depths of who they are. Perhaps it’s my own nakedness as well, not necessarily physically, but emotionally, psychologically, my vulnerability (including questioning the quality, value, and contributions throughout the seasons of my own life) that winter’s stripped-down beauty also reminds me of. As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve become more comfortable and happy with both of us.

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” (Henry David Thoreau)

~Honeybee

(Originally published in Pantheist Vision)

Lessons Learned

My dad taught math for years at the local university.  He was a religious man, but in a quiet way.  He went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday School, helped out any way he could, but he didn’t beat people over the head with his religion.  In fact, through several conversations about spirituality and mathematics with him later in his life, I realized he took many of his Christian beliefs symbolically, which didn’t surprise me given his vocation; it just wasn’t something we’d ever really talked about, and I wish we had.  He told me he thought my pantheism “sounded okay.”  My dad also had a big beautiful vegetable garden that was his passion during the retirement years, the benefits of which he generously shared with neighbors and family; he loved being outside in his garden.

One of my dad’s fellow professors was an atheist, yet the two of them were close.  I first met this gentleman when I was in 9th grade, and I was shocked to learn of his beliefs, or lack thereof.  I had always gone to the Methodist Church in my small town (and admittedly was a pretty sheltered kid), and while I may have met other “non-believers” before, I wasn’t particularly aware of it until I knew this man, who was more vocal about his unbelief (although I don’t know that he actually used the word ‘atheist’ to describe himself, more just something that came up in conversations with my dad).  The closest I’d come was a new boy in my 3rd grade class who stated matter-of-factly at lunch one day that there was no God, but we chalked that up to showing out, and that was the end of it.  I wasn’t ready to think too deeply about such things at that age.

Since identifying as a pantheist over 15 years ago, I’ve had occasion to think back on this other math professor.  The last time I talked to him was when my dad died, and now he has died, too, but I wish I could speak with him again.  When I first moved into my house years ago, he brought me a truckload of shrubs and trees to liven up the otherwise dreary, dirt-filled landscape, helping me fulfill my dream of living in the woods, surrounded by green.  He also loved being outdoors, and his own property was filled with plants, both in the ground and in pots sitting around everywhere.  So, he certainly believed in something, but it wasn’t the traditional God, and I don’t know that he would have been pleased with the pantheist label either, definitely not with the religious language I’m comfortable with like sacred or divine. Some people know what they believe and are satisfied with no particular label or group membership or attachment, just appreciating the natural unfolding of life, sharing their viewpoints in private conversations if and when appropriate.  Others want or need to identify as “something,” to belong, and for me, that something is ‘pantheist.’  It gives me a focus, a reference point, and I enjoy my participation in the pantheist community that without such a label wouldn’t exist in its present form.

Every day I look around at all the beautiful trees and bushes growing in my yard, and I’m reminded of my dad, who helped me set out a lot of them, and of his friend and colleague, who generously shared them with me.  Through those memories, I’ve learned some things.  First, Nature has a way of bringing people of varying beliefs together in wonderful ways.  Secondly, we can know a lot about people by what they do, not just by what they “believe,” and we may be surprised.  Even within the pantheist community, there are varying specific expressions and practices of pantheism.  Sometimes we discover that we actually have a lot more in common with people than we initially thought, and I’ve come to realize that the labels we use to describe ourselves and our path  don’t really matter as much as the way we live our day-to-day lives, how we treat others, decisions we make, what we stand up for.  Words aren’t always necessary.  Lastly, a person’s beliefs can change and evolve over time.

This gruff and rather outspoken man who had surprised me years earlier with his atheistic viewpoint was my dad’s close friend, and he was a generous friend to me, too, and now we would likely have more in common to talk about.  Though in some ways he and my dad were quite different in their beliefs, they not only shared an occupation and a love of Nature, but they could see the goodness in each other, their vulnerable places, the beauty of a generous heart; they cared about each other.  I can only imagine a conversation between the three of us because the time for that has long passed, but it’s a lesson I can take with me as life goes on.  Even though we may have different ideas about some things, the possibility is still there for caring, working together, and sharing, and the world vitally needs that.  The plants keep growing and blooming year after year, the seasons change, and we’re left with memories of special people we wish we’d known a little better.

~Honeybee

(Originally published in Pantheist Vision)

Good Sunday Morning

“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.”
(John Burroughs)

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I’m remembering Sunday mornings as a little girl and a teenager.  Everyone hurrying and scurrying to get ready for Sunday School and church, dressing in our nicest clothes.  Last-minute ironing.  The smells of coffee and bacon, homemade grape jelly, shoe polish, and my dad’s cologne wafting through the house.  That little brown leather shoeshine kit was a familiar Sunday morning accessory in my house.  Yellow egg and purple jelly stains on the Sunday comics.

Then along the way, things changed….my ideas about Sundays and God and worship.  Mr. Burroughs said it eloquently.

This morning, I’m being lazy.  It’s gray and cloudy outside my window.  Rain’s on the way, then cold air, maybe even a little snow.  I want to snuggle in the covers longer, but work awaits, coffee needs made, and kitties are starting to demand to be fed.  Their patience is running out and they’re getting cranky with each other.

Have a lovely and peaceful Sunday wherever you are.

~Honeybee