Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spaced Out in Open Spaces

Nobody ever stood at the base of the Rocky Mountains, looking up, and said, "Remember that time in high school when I could bench 300 pounds?"
-- Matt Chandler

I have a theory -- just a guess, mind you -- as to why hippy-dippy New Agers predominate in places like the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the American Southwest. It's because the environment is so overwhelmingly beautiful.

This thought was triggered in my mind last Sunday when one of youth was presenting his testimony of a solo trek in the mountains of upstate New York over the summer. He said to the congregation, "When you're in the mountains you realize, 'Yeah, I'm insignificant'." That reminded me of the Chandler quote at the top of the post and it made me think about how for many people -- not all, of course -- living in naturally beautiful places heightens the spiritual senses.

So I wonder if the reason we see so many pantheists and New Agers and what-not in these specific areas has something to do with the way the largeness of God's creation has triggered in them a sense of the numinous -- "Yes," they reason, struck small by the majesty of the mountains or the roaring of the oceans or the mystery of the desert, "there is something larger, more meaningful, more spiritual than me in the world" -- while the rebellion of their heart has triggered in them a spiritual knee-jerk response of self-assertion. Perhaps New Agey-ness is a way of offsetting the pain of undeniable smallness.

And when you think of it that way, we see this response in every form of idolatry, explicitly "spiritual" or otherwise.


bobw said...

similarly, I think many folks around here make the outdoors their obsession, filling their lives with pleasure and beauty, although without much or any mind of the "spirituality" of it

Lore Ferguson said...

And the rest of us just endure our way through the vast expanse of the DFW metroplex...Ha! Matt always says the only reason he's here is because of us, the village, because God called him to DFW.

I just got home from 2 weeks in those very same upstate NY mountains and when I got back to DFW a friend said to my obvious disappointment at being back here, "Lo, you're here because here it's difficult to find things to love here. Back there, it's easy, everything feeds your soul. Here, God feeds your soul and that's it."

I've packed that word down in me deeply this week.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest all my life the hippy-dippy New Agers have an easier time of it up here because we're in a largely inactive segment of the ring of fire. It's easy to feel at touch with "mother nature" when mountains aren't exploding around you and floods don't actually happen too often because of topography. We don't live in Tornado Alley, we don't "usually" get flash floods or earthquakes or hurricanes, we are least likely to get hammered each year with "acts of God." And perhaps accordingly, because it really is beautiful up in this region some of the locals just assume mother nature is benign. Thus earth muffins proliferate.