Reverence for life: First musings
What has happened to reverence in our busy, modern lives? We live as ever on a biosphere on which we daily depend, yet it is easy to pass our days without much thought of what is supporting us. In this post, I will be exploring how to bring a reverence for life into our routines. What might it mean to deepen our “connection with nature”? How might we rekindle a sense of reverence for the life that we all share in?
In your mind’s eye, you see an idyllic picture: a family living in a simple tipi, the summer sun blazing overhead and a cool, fresh mountain stream murmuring nearby. Living next to such a plentiful, natural supply of water, the family develops a heartfelt appreciation for the “source” of this water. To them, it is a kind of magic to receive it, inspiring in them a reverence for the mysterious power that so effortlessly brings water to their doorstep and to their thirsty lips.
Running from the tipi, a little boy stops at the water’s edge and marvels at the water streaming freely into his hands. He quietly whispers a poem of gratitude:
Water comes from high mountain sources,
Water runs deep in the Earth,
Miraculously water comes to us and sustains all life.
My gratitude is filled to the brim.1
What is it that he is appreciating? The water has no single “source” – it is cycling endlessly between sea, clouds, rivers, Earth and countless living creatures. What is the “nature” (or perhaps the “God”) that he is grateful to? Do such things exist outside his vibrant imagination?
As he stops, he feels that the water is a gift – that it is something that comes to him through a power beyond his own, beyond the human. He realises that he is completely dependent on this gift for his continuing life.
At home in the modern world, we have effortless access to warmth, water and food to sustain us. Turning on the tap, we rarely bother to give any thought to where it comes from. If we were asked, we might say it comes from the pipes or the water processing plant or the water company. All these are human creations, without any sense of the “other”, the “more than human.” Nature becomes a dead expanse of resources which is only meaningfully transformed into the necessities of life by human technology, by “our power.”
We suffer from a kind of myopia, a selective forgetting. What is it that we are forgetting? We have forgotten the power of the more-than-human: that we are not the only actors, and that words are not the only language. We have forgotten that we are always (inter)dependent with the other, and that there is no hard line by which we can divide “our power” from “other power.”
Living in our myopic world, we imagine ourselves to be the source of miracles, but we cannot produce these alone. We forget our relationship to the community of life, and our humility is replaced by hubris.
Forgetting is neglect; it is the opposite of love, of reverence. We must begin to remember nature, remember the more-than-human, knowing that the nature is our nature. I believe that an attitude of reverence for life expresses the deepest spirit of this remembering. In reverence, we recognise the sacred — opening to a profound relationship with life beyond simple appreciation or respect. Reverence for life is a source of nobility and beauty that our world so desperately needs.
Reverence is a practice of remembering, of not taking what we receive for granted. So we have to find ways to remember and to reconnect with “nature” in daily life. Each time we turn on the tap at home, like the little boy, we too can express words of gratitude and reverence (gathas), or simply bring to heart our connection with the countless streams, rivers, clouds and creatures with whom we share this precious water.
Get creative! The more vivid and playful our ways of remembering are, the more inspired we will be to go deeper into exploring them and to keep the flame of reverence burning brightly each day. Good luck.