RNA Newsletter – December 2020

Friends, As you know I enjoy re-imagining traditional theology in naturalistic terms, so you won’t be surprised to know that Shiva has been on my mind lately. I’m sure my Hindu friends will say it is simplistic of me to think of Shiva as the god of destruction, but in the year 2020 it wouldn’t take much of a stretch to think not all divines are benevolent.

If you are one of those who has suffered loss this year, I doubt that either supernatural or natural analysis will be much comfort. As our US president-elect says, it puts a hole in your heart that just aches. If you know someone who has suffered, or is suffering, please reach out to them to let them know of your care, because in the very act of reaching out our shared humanity is increased and deepened.

As I understand the Shiva concept, somehow destruction is a good thing. I find this hard to accept in principal, but I do recognize that we humans tend to take the hand we are dealt, and try to find meaning in it. Maybe it would be better not to search for meaning in such massive pain, but rather simply start from wherever we are, no matter where it is, and do what we can to make it a better world for ourselves, our families, and our larger society.

That said, what might 2021 bring? An effective vaccine is of course our first wish, and an economy that recovers our second. But there is so much more we need, which may come of this destruction if we choose wisely. Our human institutions need re-visiting and re-furbishing and in some cases re-working entirely. Our understanding of such concepts as xenophobia and humility and cooperation need deepening.

We as naturalists have a contribution to make to all these tasks. Not only in our civic lives, but in our daily interactions with friends and family and foes, we can join the challenge of understanding what faces us, articulating our own approaches to it, and widely sharing our ideas and efforts. Here at your association, we have started a wonderful new initiative under the leadership of Partap Khasa, to try to understand how we can not only participate in the world that is changing under our feet, but how we can also offer leadership in small and large ways. Please let us hear from you, and tell us how you are responding to the challenge, and how you have been changed by this terrible year.

Michael Cavanaugh, 
RNA secretary

P.S. I can’t help but add a footnote that may seem small, but in our household we brought in plants from the cold, and discovered a late Monarch caterpillar on the milkweed. It ate the milkweed, built its chrysalis, and this very morning has emerged as a small but very natural symbol of the hope we all feel. To be sure it has tough times ahead – the internet says it can survive only if we give it the help it needs, and we are trying. We took photos that mostly show the anxiety we feel for it, but I’m sharing the one that shows hope and promise, namely the chrysalis that is just about to burst forth, with furled wings fully visible.