Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
The presence of God was often experienced by the Prophets in the wilderness, because it was there, in that refuge from the modern world, that the environment still retained a primordial quality. Moses (as) was in the wilderness when he saw the burning bush:
“Behold he saw a fire: So he said to his family `Tarry ye; I perceive a fire; perhaps I can bring you some burning brand therefrom, or find some guidance at the fire.”1
According to the New Testament, John the Baptist (as) would preach in the wilderness of Judea2. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) would retreat from the world into the solitary space of the cave on Mount Hira outside Mecca to be close to God. It was in that cave when he was visited by the Angel Jibril with the first Revelation:
“Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher who Created.”3
When I see nature, from a humble grass to a great oak tree I am immediately brought to a higher state of consciousness where I feel at one with the order and perfection in the universe.
I seek fulfilment in my life, but so often the experience falls short of what my soul craves. My life seems beset by a constant sense of imperfection. It is often only in those brief moments of `connection` when I feel at peace.
In short, nature can connect us with a deeper sense of reality. All around and within is disturbance, yet when we see a sunset or a bird hopping about in a tree, a sense of meaning and harmony is restored. Thomas Hardy wrote in The Darkling Thrush:
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware
A momentary mystical experience of nature such as this can restore a troubled soul to a feeling that, as Julian of Norwich wrote, `All shall be well`4. Often it is like a sudden awakening. For example, one morning I was out for a walk on the lonely moors, the thick fog encroaching around me. No sounds could be heard except the wind and the occasional shriek from a pheasant. I felt a sense of constriction and depression and understood how myths of the devil appearing as a black dog may have come about. The wilderness can have a powerful affect on the soul. Then the fog lifted and revealed a dramatic vista of green fields, villages and forests. My heart soared into a vision of clarity and happiness. These experiences in nature provide a sense of meaning and purpose in our otherwise mundane existence.
This sense of meaning arises as, the Quran teaches us, because the universe was designed for a specific purpose:
“He has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with an inner truth, sublimely exalted is He above anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity.”5
And it was created in perfect harmony and order:
“Hallowed be He who has created seven heavens in full harmony with one another: no fault will thou see in the creation of the Most Gracious. And turn thy vision upon it once more: canst thou see any flaw?
Yea turn thy vision upon it again and yet again: and every time thy vision will fall back upon thee, dazzled and truly defeated.”6
It is this purpose and flawless design that gives rise to a feeling of connection with God in nature. In `Symbol and Archetype”, Martin Lings explains that the natural world is a symbol of the Divine Archetype. In other words, we connect to God who is the Absolute Perfect, through the symbolic perfection we experience in nature:
“the universe and its contents were created in order to make known the Creator, and to make known the good is to praise it; the means of making it known is to reflect it or shadow it; and a symbol is the reflection or shadow of a higher reality.”7
The existence of the higher reality was a teaching of Plato, who said that, although we cannot `see` a perfect Divine reality existing behind our material one, there are signs which indicate its presence, such as in the mathematical perfection of geometry. Similarly, Emmanuel Kant also recognised that, although what we experience in the phenomenal world was only inside our minds, there was a reality existing outside our minds, which he called the `Noumenon`.
Our heart, is at the centre of our being, and as such is capable of transcending the material realm and accessing into higher dimensions:
`it is the heart of humans, lying above the psychic domain which has access to these dimensions`8.
We feel a sense of peace and resolution in nature because our hearts resonate with the flawlessness of the universe, which brings us back to Allah.
Therefore, although we are subject to our own weaknesses and imperfections and trapped within the worldly sphere, nature can provide a re-unification with the Divine. This is so because higher dimensions are accessible through the heart. This helps us understand how experiencing nature can be a form of `worship`, allowing us to travel towards the Transcendent, what is outside creation.
- Quran 20:10-12
- New Testament. Gospel of Matthew 3:1-3
- Quran 96:1
- Julian of Norwich. The Revelation of Divine Love
- Quran 16:3
- Quran 67:3-4
- Lings, M. (2005). Symbol and Archetype. Fons Vitae, Louisveille –
Lings writes: `The openness of the Eye of the Heart, or the wake of the Heart as many traditions term it, is what distinguishes primordial man – and by extension the Saint – from fallen man. The significance of this inward opening may be understood from the relationship between the sun and the moon which symbolise respectively the Spirit and the Heart: just as the moon looks towards the sun and transmits something of its reflected radiance to the darkness of the night, so the Heart transmits the light of the Spirit to the night of the soul. The Spirit itself lies open to the Supreme Source of all light, thus making, for one whose Heart is awake, a continuity between the Divine Qualities and the soul.` p 3