A friend in Cambridge, England struck a chord when he reminded his congregation we have lost much of our intimacy with Nature and, in so doing, dangerously narrowed down our sense of reality, of what really is, to what we may call its factual, causal, mechanical aspects. But I get ahead of myself.
My friend is Andrew Brown. He introduced himself through email months ago as very taken by Wilderness and the Heart, a book of essays on Henry Bugbee that I collected and published back a ways. He wanted to ask me more about Bugbee and my own writing about the Montana Thoreau-style philosopher, known for his great philosophical journal, The Inward Morning. As our correspondence unfolded it turned out that Andrew, who is a Unitarian Minister and Jazz Musician in Cambridge, had on his wall a shingle from the Unitarian Parish house I attended regularly as a kid in Massachusetts, just outside Boston, half way to Concord. (Emerson was a great Unitarian orator before he left all churches behind). Then began a great sharing of our common reading, and a sharing, through his marvelous photography, of his Thoreau-walks (and mine). Then lo and behold I began to infiltrate his Sunday addresses (delivered, it’s rumored in black leather biker’s pants — no skirts or white colors). I found a nice sentence that he had found in a note I delivered to him a few weeks ago. You know the world is manageable and livable and embrace-able on occasions like this.
I open my Thoreau book with the remark that we are first and foremost conversational creatures — not just rational, or bi-pedal, or political, or god-fearing, or competitive, or language-using creatures. And conversations are always two way. Here I quote from Andrew’s Sunday address, in which he discusses Black Elk Speaks, and our loss of the sort of language and conversational tenor so natural in Black Elk’s address. We’ve become scientific and restrict reality to whatever the sciences deliver. Yet that’s a loss. A real loss of our world — to reduce the real to the outcomes of causal explanations and mechanical models. Andrew then quoted a sentence that I had forgotten I had written. Here it is: instead of these factual, causal, mechanical aspects of the world, it may well be that “the spiritual ebbs and flows are the main thing, the truth of the matter” and that “after all the facts are in, and even long before that, it seems to be more a matter of what meaning we find in the arching trees or the weeping children, the flow of the river and the flow of life”.
I was glad to have my words echo in Cambridge among Andrew’s assembled congregation, and to have confirmed not only that we are conversational creatures, involved in an infinitely extended to and fro, but also that conversation is the root of all friendship — so much in need in these battered times.