My daughter has been asking lots of big questions about religion and the universe. She has it all remarkably sorted in her head for an 8 year old, she navigates different beliefs in her close family deftly.
I remember navigating similar territory at her age. I went to a Church of England primary, my parents believed in secular education but when we moved house it wasn’t an available option. There was a lot of teasing about not being christened, and many afternoons of mixing enough paint to finish painting another picture of Jesus and the disciples, visits by a vicar who mumbled into his beard a lot, and much repeating of the lord’s prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’, always accompanied in my head by an image of a railway crossing picket fence with a ‘do not trespass sign’.
But there were good things too, less well known Christian festivals seemed especially magical – I loved Christingle, symbols, rituals always appealed to me, probably why I went on to become a drama teacher. Getting your hands on a candle when you are 7 is exciting. Harvest, with its celebration of Autumn and growing things and giving to the poor, delivering hampers to old ladies – all this absolutely appealed and resonated. It was mainly just the God bit, the idea of a more powerful being, and especially him being a man, that I couldn’t grasp.
My home life was rich with love, culture, travel, adventure, rituals and beliefs (and lots of folk festivals), but it wasn’t until much later in life that I truly clicked they were my equivalent of religion, and as valid.
At secondary school I loved RE, probably because we got to have lots of debate and to discuss social and personal education too. But I still didn’t feel we really addressed what I had instead of religion. I had plenty, but somehow being an ‘atheist’ always took over and became a bit of a void in discussions – it took me a long time to see my bundle of beliefs and values and rituals as being on a par with having a religion, and that has stayed with me. I don’t want my children to feel that not having a religion is a void.
I was 21 and on teaching practice, sitting in on a school PSHE lesson about ‘spirituality’ when it finally hit me that spirituality was the word I was looking for, and that spirituality could mean nature. All those walks as a kid, pointing out of wild flowers and birds by my parents suddenly made sense. Being outdoors makes me feel absolutely at peace with the world.
I was reading a Grand Designs book, as we mull of the idea of moving to the country and a self build, when a chapter about living in the countryside, and a mention of the Romantic poets reminded me of studying them at University. They believed in imagination, in nature, in expressing authentic personal feelings. There was a dose of challenging the establishment and denouncing the exploitation of the poor too. Had I been born in the late 18th century, I would have been a romantic. Nature was their religion.
I was wandering through Bunny Wood, a lovely place for a Sunday walk, we didn’t see anyone, just lots of spring. I was trying to work out just why nature makes me feel happy, afterwards I had a look at my pictures and revisited the Romantics….these quotes remind me why nature is such a part of who I am. Bunny is in South Nottinghamshire by the way, it is an actual village, and as we drive past, I have always secretly thought it would be lovely to be at Bunny Primary School.
If a thing loves, it is infinite. Blake
Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. Keats
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. Wordsworth
To the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. Blake
Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. Wordsworth
Great things are done when men and mountains meet. Blake
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Blake
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. Blake
For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity. Wordsworth
As we left we spotted this sign which explains how old the wood is. Forests, where thousands of humans have been before, and experienced something similar, make me feel an amazing sense of being part of the universe.
I have my husband to thank for appreciating the universe, my days are peppered with facts about space which I seldom retain, but they will never cease to amaze me, or our kids.
Keep wondering kids!
To find Bunny Wood, managed by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, go here.
I wrote this a while back about teaching kids about non religious spirituality.