godisnature

I found myself up the Poudre Canyon, just inside of Roosevelt National Forest at 1AM, pulling off the side of the road to sleep. I had decided to drive up at 11PM, a way of a quick escape in a canyon I’ve only felt recently possessed more of the quality of “home” than my run-down basement bedroom. It wasn’t that my bedroom didn’t make me feel cozy or warm, it was just that waking up next to trees and nothing else seemed comforting. Pulling off the road, I knew it was time to sleep. I was tired. I had brought a tent to pitch, but it seemed like a terrible idea to put effort into setting up a tent in the dark (it was cold, I was tired, excuses etc. ad infinitum).

As my 1987 4Runner sputtered to a stop in a small turnout some ways into the park, the smell of exhaust and fresh air combined created in me some small thrill. I hadn’t come here for any other reason than to sleep, but it suddenly felt very important to sleep inside of the truck I had practically pushed with my puny legs up the mountain. Clearing space in the back, I nuzzled into my sleeping bag and passed out so quick I hardly remember being there.

The breath of the morning felt like resuscitation. Cool, clean, crisp air being forced into my lungs by some indomitable morning calm. I didn’t move much for quite some time and the sun was rising. The windows of the 4Runner were crystal clear, a surprise having slept in it all night and, I assume, been breathing the whole time. Condensation seems to love to stick to those puppies anytime I sleep in a car. However, this being my first time with the 4Runner (a recent purchase for me), it had enough leaks and holes and cracks from the years of neglect to let out all of my human heat, and keep me just warm enough to wake up comfortably. I shifted my body about 2 feet west, just to get a better look at the sunrise clinging to the eastern sky. Barely moving, I felt my body sink into the truck.


At that moment I experienced something.


I have spent nights sleeping in various cars, trucks (you can even add a good bicycle or two) waking up in the middle of somewhere to the sun beaming on my face.


A 2001 Subaru Outback in Moab.

A 1989 Plymouth Reliant K in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A 1987 Nishiki Prestige on the side of the road in Unaweep Canyon.

Even a 2010 Toyota Camry (too nice to be mine) in Rifle Mountain Park.


All memorable times that I cherish. All sweet connections to the “natural” world. Waking in my 4Runner felt different. For a moment, however brief, I found myself indistinguishable from the truck. As if it had seen the same sunrise as I had. As if the wheels felt the same dirt I did. As if we could sense all of the same things.


I’m not a truck guy. Clearly, based on my automotive resume above, I have owned the simplest of vehicles. Nothing particularly flashy, save a strong case for the Reliant K which would have made my grandmother the talk of the town in 1987. I can’t tell you why, but this truck made sense for me.


The reason: in the middle of Roosevelt National Park with that beat up rust bucket, I realized there was no distinction between a truck and nature.


There was no distinction between me and nature.

There was no distinction between the sunrise and nature.

There was no distinction between god and nature.


This frame of reference has been changing everything for me. For the majority of my life, I have carried nature as a place away. The natural world has always been a space to go to. To travel toward. To make a goal of. That day inside my old beat up vehicle, it was hard to tell the difference.

The fact is that everything has come from the natural world.


My “natural” sense of separation wants to take things that I love and separate them from nature. I want to think of coffee, pianos, tables, a bench grinder, my pesky younger brothers (just kidding, they’re brilliant), and even an old truck as separate.


But it’s all right there.

Breathing the same earth and air that I am.

Harvested from the same planet I just so happen to adore.


John Muir has always fascinated me. If you have never read any of his work, it will feel like a dry field manual with bible-length descriptions of birds, trees, and mountain ranges. You name it, he’s over-written it.


In subtle moments, John Muir’s voice slips into the divine. He’s become, to me, something of a personal encyclopedia of the normalcy of everyday mystery. In his account of the Yosemite Valley -- a space he was integral in preserving and was a part of establishing the boundary of -- he actively describes the “natural” phenomenon of my own disambiguation of self. The best example I can give, is right here:


“This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests (it) may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers.”


Muir had been passing through the Yosemite Valley, and ended up in Lake Tenaya. As he traversed the various ranges surrounding the lake, he began to reflect on the ecosystems of the upper Sierra Mountains, he realized how connected these spaces were.


It was simple for me. I felt the same. And for some reason, I felt it in my truck. I felt how I was a simple extension of that thing. How I could not be separated from the way I had driven into this Forest. How I was a part of the ecosystem, and how it was a part of me.


So why is god nature?


As Muir hinted, there is no separation. There is no way for me to identify a frame of reference outside of the context of nature. My truck is made of nature. It has been taken from its original place and crafted into a vehicle. So god, in all of it’s it-ness, cannot be fathomed without nature. Without everything that we see and know we would not see or know anything. How could god be separate from that?


The thing is, we want to spiritualize things, to make them seem outside of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, but they are all so carefully ingrained into everything and there is not separation for god itself.


It’s not wonder that the nature of the world and the nature of man are from the same root word.


Nature.


It’s who we are. It’s where we are. It is everything.


If I am to believe that god is omnipresent, I am to believe in a god who inhabits nature. Who is nature.


Everything.

There is no separation.


I found it in my own little way. So where will you find it ?



Jesus Christ is a Myth

I can nearly see you on the other side of this screen. Perhaps you are angry at the title of this. Perhaps you are curious what I may mean by calling Jesus Christ a myth. Perhaps you come with no preconceived notions and merely happened upon this out of dutiful passive scrolling.


Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

I want to start this Jesus business by tell you a brief story. Or maybe it’s a personal anecdote. Who even knows, but I would like to share with you.

For the last two and a half years I have worn a necklace with the scared heart of Jesus on it. I found the pendant on the necklace when my grandmother passed away and as family members rummaged through her belongings, hoping to find hidden treasure (many in search of a little pocket change, as relatives often get greedy for post-mortem) and all I wanted was this small pendant I once saw my grandmother wearing. It is roughly the size of a quarter and on the back side has an engraving of the virgin Mary with a long head covering and on the front an impression of Jesus with open arms and an open chest revealing the sacred heart.

When I saw it, I slipped it into my pocket and quickly exited the room. My grandmother had passed the night before, and we were all taking time to talk about her personality and the way that she made us feel. To be frank, I’ve always thought she was a rather calloused woman, who enjoyed telling me how much I was doing wrong as a kid.

But her love of Catholic imagery was always so fascinating to me, even as a child.

So, I snuck the sacred heart into my pocket and told no one until right now when I’m trying to tell as many people as possible.

... and if you’re out there reading, family, sorry... I just wanted it, ok?

I have always loved what the sacred heart symbolizes.

It is directed at the love of Jesus toward humanity.

The heart bears a couple distinct marks, including the heart itself, a cross, a flame, blood flowing from a pierced portion and the crown of thorns. The imagery is guttural and vivid, and yet the heart itself always looks so soft and is glowing in light.

The symbol that sits around my neck has Jesus pulling his chest open to reveal the heart.

But I’m not particularly here to talk about the symbol or how beautiful the necklace I own is (even though because it’s made of silver it doesn’t depict Jesus as a white man, thank God, but we’ll talk about that some other time). I am here to talk about the significance of the sacred heart in recognizing the power of Jesus Christ as a myth.

I would love to take a moment to clarify... Just because I say Jesus is a myth does not mean that I am saying Jesus was not real.

I just don’t think it’s important to say that Jesus was a real human man.

I have been noticing lately how many cross necklaces there are in the world, and while I think the cross is important to the narrative of the scriptures and to understanding Jesus, I think wearing a cross around your neck or getting it tattooed on your arm is kind of a bullshit way of proclaiming something about your dedication to an instrument of torture.

Yes, the story says Jesus died on a cross, but why are we glorifying that death device?

I think the reason we love the cross has to do with the fact that it connects us to the parts of Jesus that are distinctly human. We feel we can relate to Jesus, because at some point we’re all going to die.

YES. You will die. Even you, sitting there with your phone glued to your nose never considering the life of others around you. You will die, and you have no idea when.

So the cross becomes a symbol we can tote around and tell people that we are “close” to Jesus, or god, or whatever we try to say by wearing or showing off our crosses. The point is, the Jesus that you want is more like you than like god. Which is a bit of a problem.

I don’t want my deity to be like me. I want my deity to be BIGGER and UNKNOWN and MYSTERIOUS. I don’t want to be able to understand the full breadth of what I choose to acknowledge as god, I want it to be vastly beyond me. I want it to shock and awe me. I want it to take me for a spin and show me the whole world upside down.

Which is why I think the sacred heart is the key to understanding Jesus as a myth.

Here’s a question: have you seen Jesus’ physical heart?

My guess is not (also, if you have seen the literal heart of Jesus, please message me privately because I have a lot of questions for you). I bet, though, that if I told you the qualities of Jesus’ heart that most Catholics cling to are the compassion and long-suffering love toward humanity you would be able to conceptualize those things inside the heart of Jesus. You would be able to know that the tales about the heart, and the symbols associated with it would turn you toward looking at the people around you in your own life and treating them with love and compassion. The tales about the sacred heart are so vividly important to how you live your life RIGHT NOW!

You see... The sacred heart turns us toward life ! The cross turns us toward death.

The myths surrounding Jesus turn us toward life ! The physical attributes of Jesus turn us toward death.

One of my good Catholic friends wrote me a prayer that she thinks is important to understanding the sacred heart of Jesus. It’s called “Prayer to the Sacred Heart During Suffering,” and here’s what she wrote:

Oh sacred heart

Of Jesus for who

The love of me.

Did gently carry

My cross to calvary,

Grant me to suffer

And to LIVE with thee. amen.

[capitalization added for emphasis]

The sacred heart calls us to live; to be fully consumed by the life around us. To seek out the Jesus in front of us, and to suffer alongside others. The sacred heart allows us to move into the mystery and myth of the god creature and imagine the spaces that god would live in right now. The sacred heart allows us to not worry ourselves with pithy details of a life full of rules and regulation, but to press into the humanity of the moment. To be aware of our own life and the lives around us and to seek compassion and long-suffering love. It is the mark of one who has not only blindly accepted the story of Jesus, but considers the implications it has on navigating the life in front of us.

I know this seems harsh, and I’m not looking to critique anyone for wearing their “faith” with such openness. At the end of the day though, Jesus never wore a cross necklace. Jesus died on one. So perhaps taking the words of Jesus about life are vastly more important than idolizing the physical life of Jesus.

In John’s account of what Jesus said, he hears Jesus say this metaphor about life:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down their life for the sheep.”

It seems appropriate to me that the 13th century Sufi mystic, Rumi, said a similar thing about compassion in the way that mythic speech always seems to go: metaphors. He writes:

“In compassion and grace, be like the sun...

In concealing other's faults, be like the night...

In generosity and helping others, be like a river...

In anger and fury, be like dead...

In modesty and humility, be like the earth...

In tolerance, be like the sea...

Either appear as you are, or be as you appear.”

Perhaps the words here surrounding compassion and life lead us toward something bigger. Perhaps the lines between the myth and the real are too close to distinguish. Perhaps what we consider when we approach Jesus should be on the table for discussion.

So, what will it be? Cross or heart? Death or life? Literal or mystic?

The openness to the mysterious interpretation of the heart of Jesus extending out to us and from us to others places us in the beautiful recognition and interaction of the self being a part of god-on-earth. I imagine this is what Jesus wants, sitting right next to you laughing silly alongside your heart and sipping in your presence as your heart melds with god’s heart, that this sacred heart would become your own in the great mystery of our unknowing.