Dearest RNAers — 

I have been blessed by a new friendship, with RNA member Janet Newton, who lives on “my” island, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and who’s soon to obtain her MDiv from the Unitarian-Universalist Meadville Lombard seminary. Several months ago she suggested that we co-lead a group, mostly from our island UU church, that’s centered around my book, The Sacred Depths of Nature. We’ve now had two meetings, each with ~10 people. At first I hesitated to describe this experience in a Newsletter for fear that it would come across as self-promoting, but that’s totally not the point: used versions of the book are available on Amazon for $2 (yielding no royalty for me!), and it’s available in most U.S. public libraries. No, the point I’ll be making is that the book turns out to be well-suited to generate free-flowing conversation about the RN perspective, and I lift up the experience here in hopes that some of you might be encouraged to follow suit, either with Sacred Depths or with other choices.

We meet at 7p at my house, sitting around my living room with cheese, cider, and Janet’s home-baked bread, and the idea is that each week we come there having read three chapters. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, each chapter leads with a “science” piece – on cosmology, cell biology, evolution, brains, etc. – followed by spiritual “reflections” on that facet of the natural world. The reflections wind up being affirming but they often consider the concerns, and even fears, that the natural world can offer up.

Janet and I had no idea what to expect – e.g. whether we’d need to “lead” the conversation in some awkward way — but what’s been happening has been spontaneous and ever-deepening. A topic considered in the book, sometimes the science but more often a reflection, is put out there by a participant, and there ensues a flow of contributions – personal anecdotes, connections to other writings, and often hesitant first-thoughts on how to think/feel about something. We wander freely into related topics as well, environmental and societal concerns in particular. We close at 8:30p, but thus far it’s felt like it’s only our stamina that has run out.

Sacred Depths is focused on the “spiritual” parameter of the RN orientation, and other books with this same flavor include When God is Gone Everything is Holy and Einstein’s God. Had we opted for a more philosophical conversation, we might instead have picked, for example, books by Rue or Crosby. A full list of these and other options can be found here http://religious-naturalist-association.org/varieties-of-religious-naturalism/.  

Many of us have raised the obvious question: How might it be possible for the RN orientation to morph into warm-body, and not just on-line, community? This experience, which feels in many ways like the “consciousness-raising women’s groups” I attended in the early ‘70s, points to a model. Should any of you want to consider giving it a try – and it would doubtless work fine with smaller groups – and have questions, I’d be happy to engage with you: goodenough@wustl.edu.    

With excitement as the days lengthen in the northern hemisphere, and love to you all –

Ursula Goodenough

President, Religious Naturalist Association

RNA Newsletter – February, 2018