John Muir, en theos

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John Muir
John Muir. Photo from

I have been reading The Wilderness World of John Muir. It is really a good read. John Muir was a farmer, inventor, naturalist and probably the foremost conservationist in America, co-founding the Sierra Club and giving birth to the environmental conservation movement. As much as he enjoyed being alone in nature, he also enjoyed talking non-stop about his adventures and he wrote extensively in his journals, botany notes, books and correspondence.

Most writers would probably say restraint was not one of Muir’s strong points. His mountain springs ‘sang psalms’ and his wildflowers were ‘joyous’. He once mentioned that he was busily slaughtering ‘gloriouses’ in his manuscript. But his use of the word glorious actually makes us understand his character. He was constantly enthusiastic about the world. Looking into the root of the word enthusiasm, it perfectly embodies Muir. The word came from the Greek ‘en theos’, meaning ‘in God’. To him, nature was as much a laboratory as a temple for worship.

How many of us can claim to be in this state where we are out in nature? Richard Louv, in his book, The Last Child in the Woods, discussed the disorder he calls nature deficiency syndrome, a disconnection from nature of which we actually are part. Climate leader Ina Warren once posted on facebook that many are afflicted with plant blindness. To a certain extent, I am too. But at least I am aware and saddened by it and want to rid of it by consciously taking time in nature.

As I read The Wilderness World, I am reminded of a time when I was a volunteer at the Gamot Cogon School. During the advent ceremony one late afternoon, the kids all went inside their classrooms to start the solemn ceremony. Outside, near the creek and tall cogon grass and huge bamboo, I stood just feeling the wind on my face. Suddenly with the silence came out many different birds, singing their own glorious songs! I have never seen so many different birds up close in my life! Time flew so fast I didn’t even notice that it was maybe half an hour of birds singing their unique songs and flying about. I couldn’t name any of them; even the most ordinary, but I still felt that glorious feeling!

That feeling stayed with me for a long time, long after the kids piled out of their classrooms with their happy chatter and even singing, which immediately drove the birds out of sight and hearing. And looking back now, I thank John Muir for allowing me to recognize that feeling, a very rare feeling which makes it all the more precious. The feeling in itself was a blessing, a wonderful reward for just being in the moment and witnessing the world.

How I wish that all of us would experience such a grace-filled moment. When gloriousness was actually felt, and being ‘en theos’ was just ‘being’.


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