April showers bring May flowers and, for some people of faith, a sense of awe at the rebirth taking place all around us. This week’s clergy contemplate the spiritual meaning of nature’s annual revival.
The Rev. Nancy Remkus
Interfaith minister, Sag Harbor
As an ordained interfaith/interspiritual minister, I respect all spiritual paths and honor the divine wisdom in all faiths. At the core of all authentic spiritual paths, there lies a commitment to the shared values of peace, compassionate service and love for all creation. Raised on the East End of Long Island, much of my childhood was spent exploring the woods and the salt marshes. It was an easy place to feel a part of creation. At an early age, I found God in nature. To me, there is no purer expression of God’s presence than in the beauty of the natural world. There is no need to translate, analyze, scrutinize or redefine. Amid nature, you are experiencing God’s miracle of life first hand in each moment. Could there be anything more amazing than the purple hyacinth that emerges from the dull brown bulb each spring: the color and scent having lain dormant throughout the winter? Or what about the fact that there are five needles on each bundle of a white pine tree? Rainbows, redwoods, the plume of a peacock, new life, peepers in the spring, clownfish finding safety in anemones, colors, flowers, trees. We are surrounded by the beautiful miracle of life every day: the very presence and essence of God.
Member, board of directors, Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville
It is a very challenging and sensitive question. It requires a lot of fine-tuned sensitivity to perceive God in nature. God is omnipotent and omnipresent. The whole creation is a bubbling evidence of His marvelous expertise. The trees, the sky, the celestial set up of the whole creation, the ecology and 7.3 billion people on this tiny planet, are a showcase and display of God’s forceful existence in nature. To enjoy nature is to enjoy God. I love nothing more than being amid nature, walking on the grass with my bare feet, while breathing in the fresh air and the fragrance of the flowers and trees. In moments like these, I cannot help but feel that I am walking hand-in-hand with God. It touches the innermost part of my soul. I feel inspired by nature and its Creator. Hindus believe in the cycle of rebirth, wherein every being travels through millions of cycles of birth and rebirth in different forms and shapes, depending on their karma from previous lives. So a person may be reincarnated as a person, animal, bird or another part of the wider community of life. Belief in reincarnation supports a sense of interconnectedness of all creation. Hindu texts, such as the Srimad Bhagwad Geeta (7.19, 13.13) and the Bhagavad Purana (2.2.41, 2.2.45), contain many references to the omnipresence of the Supreme Divinity, including its presence throughout and within nature. Hindus worship and accept the presence of God in nature. Many Hindus think of India’s mighty rivers — such as the Ganges — as goddesses. The universe and every object in it has been created as an abode of the Supreme God. Nature is the manifestation of God.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Buddhist scholar-monk, Chuang Yen Monastery, Carmel
Unlike the religions of the West, Buddhism is nontheistic. It does not accept the existence of a creator God who governs the universe according to his will. The Buddha taught that the universe is without a first point in time. Without beginning, world systems have been emerging, evolving and then perishing, as new world systems arise to replace them. Any world system contains multiple planes of existence. Ranged above our human plane, there are numerous heavenly realms, inhabited by celestial beings, and below there are various hells, realms of intense suffering. Life in all realms, the Buddha teaches, is transient. Beings are reborn into any realm in accordance with their volitional actions, their karma, and when the karmic force that brought them there is exhausted, they pass away and take rebirth elsewhere. The world in which our lives unfold, what we might call “nature,” is therefore a reflection of our past karma. We live on the earth — a world with forests, seas, mountains and plains — because our karma brought us here. The beings in the heavens experience another kind of world, more blissful than ours, which for them is nature, because their karma brought them a heavenly rebirth. And the beings in hell dwell in a world of torment — their nature — because their karma brought them an infernal rebirth. Thus Buddhism sees in nature, in the world where we live, the reflection of our own past actions, a domain in which we act once again for good or for bad and forge our destiny in future lives.