Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On religion: Finding spirituality through nature

Peaceful summer morning / Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.

Summer vacation is a time of the year when many of us take advantage of our beautiful natural resources. We enjoy escaping urban environments in favor of wide open spaces. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that our beaches, lakes, hills and mountains provide us with a much-needed respite from our busy, fast-paced lives.

However, one thing I recently learned that may come as a surprise to you is this: Nature may have a profound effect on our religiosity. 

Golden Gate Bridge /
San Francisco, California.
In an NPR "Cosmos & Culture" commentary penned by Barbara J. King, which I recently read on the NPR website, she noted that in U.S. counties with warm winters, temperate summers and beautiful natural resources -- sounds to me like she's describing the San Francisco Bay Area -- "people's rates of affiliation with religious organizations are lower than in other places, according to a new study."

Fountain Lake /
Albert Lea, Minnesota.
King is an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary who often writes about human evolution, primate behavior and the cognition and emotion of animals. In her commentary, she cited a study by Todd W. Ferguson and Jeffrey A. Tamburello of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who wrote in the journal Sociology of Religion: "Natural amenities can be considered as a resource for spirituality that has the power to satisfy some people's need for inspiration, awe and divine connection ... 

Mount Rainier / On a clear day,
you can see it from Seattle.
"When a person hikes in a forest to connect with the sacred, she or he may not feel the need to affiliate with a religious organization because her or his spiritual demands are met." 

Imagine that! God is competing against Mother Nature on Sundays for our spiritual attention.

King writes: "Worshipping God, affiliating with a religious organization and experiencing a sense of spirituality may all overlap -- but certainly they're not the same." She asks: "How do the Baylor researchers distinguish these dimensions, and how did they measure an area's natural resources?" 

Allium summer flowers.
Good food for thought, definitely, and King seeks to answer these questions through breaking down what the Baylor researchers have written in their study.

Granted, not everyone who we see outdoors soaking up nature -- whether it be absorbing sunshine at the beach, jogging around a city lake, hiking through foothills or climbing mountains -- is communing with the sacred. 

However, I think it's pretty cool to know that it's a spiritual experience for us to encounter the sacred in nature.

All photographs by Michael Dickens © 2015.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who grew up on the North Shore of Lake Superior, God is NOT competing with Mother Nature. Mother Nature is an extension of God. That's why I enjoy hiking through the woods, sitting by the Lake or trekking up any given mountain trail in Alaska:)