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Man and Nature: A Part or Apart

Man and Nature: A Part or Apart

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The one fundamental idea that we must strive to unburden ourselves of is

that we are meant to understand and with it the notion that we can. We may

increase our scientific facts and data, but we will never fully comprehend the

knowledge that what we seek. We must begin to see ourselves as belonging

spiritually to nature and seeing nature as the place where all aspects of life—

ethical, practical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual—as well as death occur.

Through poetry humanity can find itself reconnected to the rhythms of nature

capable of moving with the world, its ebb and flow and constant flux, without

losing respect for community or sight of oneself; capable of confronting the

“mortal dangers” of the world and loving “with abandon.”

While many disciplines, to varying degrees, can help reroute our understanding of our place in nature poetry can bring together the multiplicity of differing

cosmologies and ethics by linking them in two specific ways. “One is in seeing nature as a metaphor—a steppingstone to the divine; the other is seeing

nature as a matrix—a meeting place for the divine. In both of these perspectives nature is valued and cherished.”32 A new or renewed understanding of

our relationship to the world would imbue it with new meaning. An infusion of

new meaning into our relationship with nature would translate into an infusion

of meaning into our own lives because “unless an act or an occupation is suffused with meaning, constantly and indivisibly meaningful, it is meaningless.

It is not possible to work at meaningless work, and then go home or to church

or to a museum and experience meaning.”33 Because it is nearly impossible to

imagine a world where human consciousness has been reintegrated into nature

as an active meaningful participant a balance between the two camps is necessary to secure the maintenance and flourishing of both humans and the natural

world without which all is in jeopardy.

4. T H E R E C O N N E C T E D P O E T I C S E L F

Allow me to shift my focus for a moment away from the poetic and talk about

Graffiti. Graffiti has not always been compulsion but has always been a form of

expression.34 Graffiti is probably as old as prostitution, politics, and gambling.

The one key difference between the latter three and the former is that graffiti

never caught on as a professional pursuit. Most likely because it is incredibly personal in a way that even prostitution cannot claim to be. Graffiti has

been carried across the globe wherever humans have traveled, settled, or adventured. It can be found with relative ease from Mesopotamia to Metropolitan

New York from city parks to national parks and everywhere in between. As

Wendell Berry points out “there are no unsacred places; there are only sacred

places and desecrated places.”35 However, what was once a small token left

N AT U R E , S P I R I T, A N D T H E C O N V E R G E N C E


behind to mark one’s passing through, a goal achieved, or love consecrated or

lost has now become an unseemly blight. It may seem odd at this point in a

paper on the intersections of Christian and Islamic ecology and poetry to be

discussing graffiti but hopefully it will become clear that this is precisely the

most logical place to begin the conclusion since graffiti is, first and foremost,

the art of self-destruction.

Graffiti is a self-destructive behavior that begins in loss and we have lost

something very important in our secular, technological, fast-paced world.

Graffiti is the mark of someone searching, desperate to find his or her place

in the world and the meaning behind it. Why else should someone destroy

his community? Sully nature? Bring ruin and ugliness to the world we all

share? It is more than having lost our moral bearings because if that were it

then we could correct it through the dissemination of the best ethical works

available. Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than such a simple solution precisely because morally chastising each other only works when we can expect

each other to respond in a way similar to ourselves. This response can only

be expected if we share the same personal commitments to our past, present,

and future, by having a similarly developed sense of belonging to something

larger and more important than one’s “self” as we have come to understand that

concept through the lens of rugged individualism. What I mean is that saving

ourselves, indeed, saving the world will require more than just a simple ethics

or a profound one.

As hypocrisy and superstition are rooted out and exposed in our religious

traditions, as secularism and scientific advances take root and fill the void, as

greed and profit-margins guide moral decision making we are more and more

cut-off from our spiritual health, our spiritual connection to others, the environment, and our place in the world. Poets, poetry, and poems can bring us

back to an orientation to the cosmos and our role in it. If religion or some other

discipline could accomplish this alone we would not need the poetic with such

urgency; but in the event religion, politics, education, or any other attempt cannot we can always find the spiritual by turning to the poetic to create a place

where humans “recognizing the limitations of phenomenal reality, undertake

specific practices to effect self-transformation and community cohesion within

a cosmological context.”36

We have at our disposal a sound environmental ethic (and, arguably, more

than one), we have leadership committed to finding new and better ways to

produce capital and utilize the environment, we have religious leaders pushing for increased awareness of ecological destruction, but what we no longer

have is an inward spiritual awareness of our place in the world. These three

things, the environment, our communities, and our spiritual well being, have

been ripped apart, disconnected from each other, separated into categories, and



given specific functions in our daily lives. It is, as I have argued, poetry that

can play the role of bridging these three key aspects of our daily lives. Poetry

is as personal as graffiti but done well poetry, unlike graffiti, can allow us to

see the world through others eyes, it can touch our souls and move us in ways

that other activities cannot. Most importantly poetry can be a shared experience

across cultures, generations, and epochs and in that sharing, I believe, we can

find a way to reconnect to our communities, the land, and ourselves. We must

not forget that “All men are brothers, as we like to say, half-wishing sometimes

in secret that it were not true. But perhaps it is true. And is the evolutionary

line from protozoan to Spinoza any less certain? That also may be true. We are

obliged, therefore, to spread the news, painful and bitter though it may be for

some to hear, that all living things on earth are kindred.”37

5. C O N C L U S I O N S

In this paper I have attempted to draw conclusions from both Christian and

Islamic traditions to demonstrate how closely related their ecological projects

are to one another in explaining the convergence of the ecological and religious world. I used the poetry of these two traditions to highlight the parallels

between them and show them as working to establish the same understanding

of our relationship to nature. But my attempts here are merely a feeble first

step on a long journey of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual understanding

that must occur before a serious inter-religious and intercultural effort to preserve the planet can be undertaken. My argument is that while we work toward

that goal poets can bring us together and help act as a catalyst for more rapid

individual awareness and appreciation. The importance of poetry is that it can

help to alter attitudes, increase awareness, and broaden our understanding and

acceptance of others especially when considering that we need “to make distinctions between human need and greed, between the use and abuse of nature,

and between intrinsic value and instrumental value of nature. We need to move

from destructive to constructive modes of production, and from the accumulation of goods to the appreciation of the common good.”38 So, to offer one final

insight into how we are to accomplish this I would like to offer once more the

wisdom of Rumi,

This is how a human being can change:

There’s a worm addicted to eating

grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,

call it Grace, whatever, something

N AT U R E , S P I R I T, A N D T H E C O N V E R G E N C E


wakes him, and he’s no longer

a worm.

He’s the entire vineyard,

and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,

a growing wisdom and joy

that doesn’t need

to devour.39

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Gary Deaton, Josh Horn, Marshall Jolly, and Clint

Morris for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Also, I would like to thank the

participants of the 2009 conference hosted by the Center for the Promotion of Cross Cultural

Understanding for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this essay. Finally,

thanks to my family for making space in their lives for me to pursue both the poetry and the

philosophy necessary to write this essay.

University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA











Tucker (2001), 8.

Tucker (2001), 2.

Tucker, 19.

Tucker, 9–10.

Felstiner, 356.

Barks (2004), “Only Breath,” 32.

Felstiner, 2.

Excerpted from an untitled poem reprinted in Fernea and Bezirgan, 291.

All uses of Rumi’s poetry are taken from translations rendered by Dr. Coleman Barks. While

Dr. Barks humbly admits that he is no scholar of Rumi merely a lover of his poetry I find his

translations to be passionate and colorful, written with great intensity and respect for his subject,

but above all, I find them to be accessible. For a more scholarly take on Rumi see A.J. Arberry,

Reynold Nicholson, M.G. Gupta, and John Moyne. Additionally, Rumi gave only one name to the

collection of his works, Mathnawi, rather than individual titles for each poem. Hence, in my paper

when I use a title it is the title under which it appears in the corresponding Barks text; titles which

Dr. Barks has chosen and which make referencing the poems themselves much easier.

10 Barks (2000), “A Spider Playing in the House,” 55.

11 Berry (2008), “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” 12.

12 Barks (1990), “The Pear Tree,” 82.

13 Felstiner, 19.

14 See also Qur’an 3: 83 and 41: 11. Additionally, see Parvez Manzoor’s essay “Nature and

Culture: An Islamic Perspective.” in Nature Across Cultures.

15 Foltz et al., 8.

16 Berry (1998), “1988 Sabbath Poem #2,” 98.

17 Felstiner, 2.

18 We ought to remember here that there are Biblical examples of a similar relationship between

God and words. For instance, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and

the Word was God (John 1:1).











Wilson and Pourjavady, 5.

Rifkin, 560.

Leax, John, “Thirst,” Tending the Garden, 132.

Berry (1998), “1990 Sabbath Poem #3,” 118.

Berry (1970), 35.

Barks (2004), “The Grasses,” 43. Emphasis in the original.

Abbey, 162.

For instance, Hagar and Ishmael are given water by God in a wilderness, Moses encounters God

as the Hebrews wander toward Canaan, Elijah first hears the call to serve God, Isaiah cries out to

God in a wilderness preparing the way for the Messiah, and Jesus resists temptation in a wilderness.

Additionally, in order to literally prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist not only takes to the

wilderness but becomes one with it eating locusts and wild honey and dressing as one totally reliant

on wilderness must. His rise as a prophet precedes, predicts, and is a prerequisite to Jesus ministry

and John’s assassination precedes Jesus’ crucifixion. Without wilderness, in short, there would be

no salvation. Where these events happen are not “woods” or “forest” or “meadows” or “glades”

they are wild places. See Felstiner, 20. I am also indebted to Gary Deaton for his insights into this

relationship between the wilderness and the divine.

27 Berry (1970), 41.

28 Felstiner, 5.

29 Berry (1970), 53.

30 Ibrahim Ozdemir in Foltz et al., 10.

31 Barks (2004), 252.

32 Tucker, in Nature Across Cultures, 116.

33 Berry (1970), 37.

34 To be sure graffiti has a storied history and its history includes, as an important form of

expression, links to the poetic both as a means of self affirmation and as social protest. However,

my focus here is on the destructive side of graffiti that plagues modern society as a means of

lashing out against the inevitable loss of the individual in the urban. For more on the loss of the

individual see Edward Abbey “Desert Solitaire.” For more on graffiti as a form of expression see

Saul Williams “The Dead Emcee Scrolls.”

35 Berry (2005), 18.

36 Tucker (2001), 14.

37 Abbey, 25. Emphasis added.

38 Tucker (2001), 20.

39 Barks (1990), 127.


Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.

Banani, Amin, Richard Houannisian, and Georges Sabagh, eds. Poetry and Mysticism in Islam:

The Heritage of Rumi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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GA: Maypop Books, 1990.

Barks, Coleman. Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion: Poetry and Teaching Stories of Rumi. Boston:

Shambhala, 2000.

Barks, Coleman. The Essential Rumi. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.

Barks, Coleman. The Soul of Rumi. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

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Benthall, Jonathan. “The Greening of Islam.” Anthropology Today, vol. 19, no. 6 (Dec., 2003):


Berry, Wendell. A Continuous Harmony. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 1970.

Berry, Wendell. A Timbered Choir. New York: CounterPoint Press, 1998.

Berry, Wendell. Given. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005a.

Berry, Wendell. Standing By Words. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005b.

Berry, Wendell. The Mad Farmer Poems. New York: CounterPoint Press, 2008.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Spiritual Emerson. ed. David Robinson. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.

Ernst, Carl. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala Press, 1997.

Farrukhzad, Furugh. “Modern Iranian Poet.” Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan

Bezirgan, 1977, 290–317.

Felstiner, John. Can Poetry Save the Earth? New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock and Basima Qattan Bezirgan, eds. Middle Eastern Muslim Women

Speak. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1977.

Foltz, Richard C., Frederick M. Denny, and Azizan Baharuddin, eds. Islam and Ecology.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

The Glorious Koran. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. East Brunswick, NJ: International Bible Society, 1984.

Leax, John. “Thirst.” Tending the Garden: Essays on the Gospel and the Earth. ed. Wesley

Granberg-Michaelson. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987,


Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

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University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

Manzoor, Parvez. “Nature and Culture: An Islamic Perspective.” Nature Across Cultures. ed.

Helaine Selin. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, 421–432.

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Perspective.” Islam and Ecology. eds. Richard C. Foltz et al. Cambridge, MA: Harrard

University Press, 2003, 3–37.

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of Kentucky, 1999.

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Persian Sufi Poetry. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1987.




Je voudrais, comme le Christ, condamner

le soleil à donner des yeux aux aveugles.

Mais où puiser encore du soleil? Sa

blondeur s’est volatilisée par les voies


Non qu’il se soit excessivement prodigué!

Avec grande douceur et pauvreté les

astres morts en sucent la moelle sans besoin

d’enfoncer des crocs.

L’âme que j’avais cru inexpugnable

engloutit son propre commencement

Lorsqu’elle se montre sans préavis au

miroir de l’extase.

Tendre ventre d’une plaie à vif, je te

saurai gré de me dire

De quel indissoluble enchnement se

compose l’être

Qui se montre à moi dans le giron et le






demeurent dans le vieux levain du rêve de


Mais la tâche leur est impartie, trop vaste

pour elles, comme une innocence d’univers,

De multiplier les embrasures par-delà tout

souffle retenu

Et de disséminer les clignotements de

l’âme en ses ulcérations.


A-T. Tymieniecka (ed.), Sharing Poetic Expressions, 209–211.

DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-0760-3_17, C Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011



Qui donc est le Nom pour avoir

éclaboussé la charpente des cieux?

En la boucle de ses chemins et jusque

dans la lassitude

Écartelée, l’homme aux outrages se passe

l’âme sur le visage,

Onguent qui charme l’essence et la

réciprocité des transparences.

Je voudrais, comme le Christ, ntre

d’une chair lucide,

Iriser mon aile par-dessus le tourment de


Comment mieux qu’en épiant les yeux

revenus à la vie

Recueillir les éclats perdus depuis la

fondation du monde?

Que dans la déroute de mon cœur qui

s’est hasardé en rase campagne

Ils s’unissent coupe de cristal par cela que


À toute folie dormante qui verse à la soif

le rouge vif

D’un silence prédit! Je dérive en terre


Rêvant des hautes demeures où le soleil

se damne de toucher

L’émail du Glacier céleste. Tu as rêvé de

moi, fleuve

Que la lumière emprunte pour revenir

dans l’œil du temps,

L’indomptable, non celui qui se laisse

docilement mesurer.

Voici que je t’offre la fleur de l’éclair

comme se laisse

D’un coup d’aile glisser sur son erre la

nef qui fut clair de lune.

Ainsi que la Cité sylvestre, je me drape en

Seuil de fiancement des guérisons.

Ô yeux braisés, je vous palpe comme

j’enlace l’émoi!

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