Guest Blog: The Sacred Profane by Chloé Thorne

The following poem is entitled, “To Nature”, and it was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the late 18th century. Though Coleridge was a devout Christian and transcendentalist who saw Nature as an expression of his God, he greatly revered Nature as the pinnacle of that God’s expression, his words ringing just as poetical and true when we substitute the idea of “Nature” for gods altogether. It closely aligns with what I feel when I, as a part of Nature myself, am immersed in the abundance of Nature’s awesome presence. Besides, I’m not going to deprive myself of beautiful poetry simply because it was penned by a theist.

To Nature

It may indeed be fantasy when I
Essay to draw from all created things
Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.
So let it be; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.
So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

I am a tree hugging dirt worshipper and if my saying that that offends anyone, then sorry, not sorry. I know what I mean when I say worship as I understand the word: I mean to venerate, admire, cherish, love, and respect, and to show these emotions outwardly towards the object(s) of my affection, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of the word. In this case it is our beloved Mother Nature which includes our Planet Earth, along with all the beautiful and majestic tall green beings that grow from her soil and all the other things that fly and walk and crawl and slither upon and within her, all those who share our life space here with us. The word “worship” is not peculiar to any god or belief system, and I will not allow it to be. Because it is overused in rituals and belief systems that we do not follow and thus carries with it those strong theist connotations (you might think of them as “charms” put on the word, or you might call it baggage), there may be a tendency to eschew the “w” word altogether and declare it wholly inappropriate for good atheists to use in polite company. As is the same with good poetry however, for myself I think I do not wish to give up a perfectly good word to people with whom I fundamentally differ, simply because I differ with them. Besides, to worship something tangible and real is the better use of the term in my estimation.

It is easier for me just to think that Everything is Sacred. There is nothing profane that did not originate with humans or because of humans. Nature knows no such peculiar distinctions. Only humans took the sacred and divided off a little piece of it to call secular, perhaps because we were ashamed to think there could be any divinity within ourselves, or at least maybe we realised in our hearts there could be no divinity in those acts we performed which led to all that profanity we created. We have allowed this idea of secular to take a bigger and bigger piece until the sacred is only left for us in little bits here and there, whenever we might spare the time from our too busy lives to address it. But secular is only another word. Unlike worship, this word is easy to abandon because it creates what I consider a false dichotomy, and I diligently try not to use it. It is a weasel word too often employed by those who wish to separate themselves from the sacred and put their overlord god on a transcendental throne, whatever profane thing that god may happen to be.

If I say I worship the earth and profess nature as my religion, declaring that “the blue sky my fretted dome shall be”, it means not only that this is entirely sufficient for me, but that in my eyes the beauty and majesty of Nature’s reality surpasses anything that any false invisible gods could ever hope to conjure up. In this view, to attribute it all to the work of some outside deity takes away from the unimaginable wonder and infinite complexity of it somehow. This is what we ourselves are a part of, the dust from whence we came and to which we shall return, the very real swirling energy of the cosmos congealed over unimaginable aeons inside the hearts of stars into minuscule nuggets of matter which are further distilled into human beings by the relentless driving force of this thing we call evolution. If I give up a part of myself and declare it secular then I place an artificial barrier between myself and the source of my being. It then becomes too easy to keep building those barriers until we have mentally divorced ourselves from Nature altogether as something aside and apart, and we are left to see the world in only two colours: as sacred and secular, natural and man-made, immanent and transcendent, good, and perhaps not so good after all.

It is easy to see where this dichotomy might come from. The great religions have claimed that God “Himself” (don’t even get me started) is wholly outside of Nature, governing as a harsh taskmaster ready to throw a temper tantrum and possibly kill things at the slightest insult or infraction of his arbitrary rules (these to be determined individually by whichever of the myriad interpretations you care to buy into). Such a god is only a cardboard cut-out deity, more convenient for lending itself to nefarious, all too human agendas rather than anything real. This hierarchical mode of thinking created a God separate from humankind and separate from all of Nature, with us lowly human beings cursed forever more during one of this God’s tantrums early on, and so as hopeless and unlikely of ever attaining the divine as some naked guy and an old man on a ceiling in Rome are of ever holding hands.

We need not go far; the object of our veneration is all around us in a million places. The blood of gods runs in our veins and goddesses look outward from our ephemeral eyes, even as they internally construct the cells that give us sight. Our “gods” emerge from the ground and reach for the sky, while others soar through that sky on wings made of that same earth. They swim with fins in the seas and the rivers and streams, they move on two legs and four legs and no legs at all. They twinkle and gleam at us at night from so very far away, yet they live right down here in the dirt with the rest of us too, where proper gods should be. When there is nobody left here but us gods, the concept of secular has no more meaning. Ironically, the idea of our own divinity as a part of divine Nature does not make us arrogantly proud, for to whom then shall we boast of our divinity? Rather it gives us great humility and comfort to realise that our own little molecular swirls are but patterns and harmonies within this great Song, this cycle of life, death, and eventual resurrection of our constituent parts into ever new patterns, now and forever more, until the end of time.