On Beauty: Places to Play and Pray

Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 9:43pm
On Beauty: Places to Play and Pray

Yosemite meets Saarschleife in this pairing of German wilderness and poignant words from John Muir.

Post by:
Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Head of Content / Executive Editor for On Being
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The Saar River forms this wondrous loop (Saarschleife) in Germany.

Credit: Wolfgang Staudt License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."
—John Muir, from The Yosemite

These lyrical words from the great American conservationist are often cited, but what is far more interesting is the religious language he uses in the following paragraphs:

This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks — the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc. — Nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world. Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, shampiously crying, 'Conservation, conservation, panutilization,' that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great.

Thus long ago a few enterprising merchants utilized the Jerusalem temple as a place of business instead of a place of prayer, changing money, buying and selling cattle and sheep and doves; and earlier still, the first forest reservation, including only one tree, was likewise despoiled. Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed."

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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3Reflections

His language is too self righteous for me (e.g, "by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial,").
It is easy to admire beauty but the true task is to see beauty in the dark, filthy alleys of our souls. It is most important to appreciate good and bad and how they are intertwined. Because in reality good and bad are just labels that our mind puts on things.

Dear Reza, I agree, self-righteousness lurks everywhere and in all of us...it takes rigorous self-observation to watch out for it in oneself. How do we know that we are not being self-righteous ourselves when we castigate John Muir's old-fashioned English wording written so long ago yet but within a specific context and purpose that is generally known? Only you know the context of "true task" and "beauty in the dark, filthy alleys of our souls." Why is it "most" rather than "more," or, simply, "important" - and what is the meaning of your "good" and "bad"?

John Muir is so right on! What he says is sadly as true today, if not more so. So many refuse to see that if we don't value and save our world from our over population, greed and selfishness that all that makes life precious will be lost. We don't have to be the blight on this world but so often we choose to be the destructive force not the helping, protective one we could be.

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