“The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.”
The words, redolent with centuries of arrogance, are from a hymn written by a British missionary stationed in Calcutta at the time the first cotton mills were beginning to fill the sky above Manchester with soot.
The blindness is ours. No people, regardless of the simplicity of their culture, ever took a stone carving to be divine. Rather, things were once transparent, and greater realities moved behind and within them, were seen in this and that, here and there. This is where the concept of spirit comes from – the once-homely, utterly normal sense that something other than matter moves behind matter, animates it, sustains it.
When we deny there is consciousness in nature, we also deny consciousness to the worlds we find by going through nature; and we end with only one world, the world of McDonald’s, and that is exploitable.
~ Robert Bly
Of that something, tribal people stood in awe, as Wordsworth did when he reached back to salvage the remnants of a visionary childhood in language that can still speak to us:
And I have felt [he tells us]
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Source: Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth
Image: Andy Goldsworthy, found on Graeme Mitchell’s photography website