I have always treasured walking in the woods. Like many, nature provides me emotional and spiritual nourishment far beyond that which I receive from attending most formal religious services. Viewing nature is like seeing a painting or reading a poem; nature is a multilayered canvas whose unity demands from us an active sense of composition: Unity in Variety. Pantheism, the belief and experience that All is One, that Nature is the ultimate ground of being, begs for such a unifying vision. We worship in nature by communing in her presence; we can venerate the woods either in a solitary way, like Daoist philosophers, or communally, as the ancient Druids were said to have done.
The great divide in our Unitarian Universalist congregations has historically been between those who are theists, namely those who believe in some sort of personal God, and our humanists/atheists who believe that humankind is the ultimate measure of all things. A monotheistic God is a unifying principle, while humanity is a source of rich diversity. What if Pantheism were a middle path between monotheism and humanism, between the One and the Many?
In my role as an intern minister at Starr King UU, I had the great joy of leading an adult religious education/faith formation class on Nature-Based Religions. I’ve noticed that Pantheism furnishes a large theological field upon which naturalist/atheists, animists and theists can play. Everyone in the class reported transcendent experiences in nature–just their interpretations differed: you can celebrate physical/chemical/biological laws, view trees, rocks and streams as burgeoning with spirit and consciousness, or witness the presence of God(s) in the comforting woods. We all sang the beauty of Nature together, refracted through our individual lens. A Unity in Diversity.