Soul Pilgrim: Nature, Ecology and the Spiritual Vision of Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was a pilgrim.  A soul pilgrim whose saunterings were an intentional spiritual exercise crucial to his understanding of God and his prophetic work as a writer.  Thoreau’s walks were on holy ground.  These pilgrimages across nature from Canada to Cape Cod to New Hampshire and back to his home in Concord, were enacted parables for poetic, imaginative soul work.  This was a spiritual discipline he demanded from himself and encouraged his readers to embark upon in earnest.

Thoreau’s comprehension of Nature as the visible emanation of God was the theological framework which informed his worldview, politics and spirituality.  Hence, it was fundamental to his writings and life as a visionary and prophet.  His work called himself and others to demand simplicity not as renunciation of self, but as living into existential freedom.  He advocated the beauty of nature, not in condescending terms to evoke sentimentality, but to invoke spiritual encounter, “… some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible companion and walk with him.” (Bloom, p.54)

Companionship with God in nature evidences the indisputable holiness of nature.  Nature is holy because it is the incarnation of divinity.  Therefore, nature is elevated and no longer ancillary to human experience.  It is not a commodity for humanity’s self-interest or leisure.  All the contrary, through nature, we discover the nature of our true selves, we are holy.  Thoreau’s green theology was an apologia for communion with God, discovery of true personal identity and the source of his prophetic witness calling humanity to inner reformation.  Although his religion was personal, it was his surrender to the solitude in the woods that brought meaning to his trek on earth.  These walks inspired his imagination to access God in himself as much as he communed with God in cathedrals of flora and fauna.

Thoreau’s writings were, and continue to be, misread by many, including preeminent writers in America.  As nature is crucial to comprehending Eastern philosophical thought, Thoreau’s mind was influenced by the works of the Bhagavad Gita as well as the Bible.  The deserts of the prophets, the rivers of the rishis and huckleberrying of Thoreau, were pivotal expressions of this unique vision of green spirituality.  The invisible truths of divinity were available to all by transcending the maya of reality by sauntering.  Trekking lead to thinking which caused meditation and to the transcendence of body to the true self in the life of the mind.  In short, to sojourn the mind of God.

Daniel Medina 2015 ©


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