Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
A woman – we’ll call her Iris – stands between two bristlecone pines and flashes back on an elementary school lesson about the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As she stands there she feels a connection to the trees and to all of life.
Could Iris’ experience be described as spiritual?
The following are the comments Iris made as she attempted to answer that question for herself.
There was something about standing on the path between those two trees, and I just felt a connection, but it was a connection I hadn’t thought about since I learned about it in grade school. I thought about how the trees give off oxygen, which we take in, and we give off carbon dioxide, which they take in.
And I thought about the relationship between animals and plants, our beautiful connection to each other, that we need each other, that we’re all part of the same living organism. I don’t know if that was spiritual, that feeling of connection to everything in life. I felt it at that moment. But, maybe it was.
I would think spirituality can be a connection to something bigger than ourselves. When I stood there with a tree on either side of me and I was in the middle, what I felt was a smallness.
I’m just a speck in a big universe. You feel that you are here for a small period of time, passing through. But those mountains and those trees are going to be here a long time. I was humbled, not frightened. It gives you some perspective.
The bristlecone pine are not lofty and not magnificent, not like the redwoods and sequoias. They are small and gnarled. But they are survivors, 5000 years. Think about what was happening in the world 5000 years ago. Europeans were probably still living in caves. It was before Judaism. Around the time the Egyptian pyramids were built.
And yet, a spiritual experience might be as simple as looking at the stars at night, or it could be walking through a field of wildflowers. Moments like that, awe-inspiring, wow moments. I guess a wow moment can be an appreciation of the beauty of the moment. But do I see that as a part of a big connection to God? No. You could probably be an atheist and feel the spiritual connection to nature.
I’m such a practical person, that I kind of don’t want to deal with spirituality. The feelings are too amorphous. It’s the unknown, and spirituality has a sense of the unknown. It could be comforting for someone actually seeking it, but for me it’s uncomfortable.
Beauty. Emotion. Connection. The unknown. God. Iris has touched upon many of the elements we associate with spirituality. Her statement gives us a kind of blueprint for considering the topic.
Next week’s post, It is. It isn’t. Maybe It Is, will explore the role of beauty and emotion in connection with the spiritual experience.