Reverence is a kind of radical amazement, a deep feeling tinged with both mystery and wonder. Approaching the world with reverence, we are likely to experience its sister — awe. Allow yourself to be moved beyond words.”  ~ from the Spirituality Practice website

There is a question that I’ve been pondering (and not successfully answering) throughout my adult life, a challenge that some of us think hard about:  How do we as educators, teachers, and parents, instill a reverence for life in our students and children?  A simple answer does not come to mind, if indeed there is any answer at all.

I suspect that reverence does not come about instantly, like a revelation, but rather simmers along through childhood as a result of cumulative experiences such as family camping trips, watching eagles soar, and through a slow walk during the season’s first snowfall.

In our modern society, a kinship with life occurs in tiny increments, if it happens at all, rather than through a well-thought-out process.  Our metropolitan governments encourage us to recycle. Our environmental scientists ask us to discuss issues and to carry out resarch.  Conservation organizations implore us to save the few remaining roadless areas.  Yet, these are simply pieces of an intricate puzzle and if you interlock them, the complete work is not necessarily a full picture of reverence.  And doesn’t it seem that these actions can only occur after one feels an affinity with life?

To be fully reverent, do you have to sidestep every ant you find on the sidewalk, belong to five environmental roganizations, speak softly and not eat meat?  There are no criteria.  Can a miner, logger, developer claim kinship with all living things?  Can a teenager be reverent or does it only come with time and wisdom?

To love the land, children need mentors, role models who actively and continually display that love.  “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” Rachel Carson reminds us, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”  If you spend your moments planting saplings, your students may understand the worth of an ancient tree. If you gently place spiders (not easy) found indoors outside, your children may have a greater appreciation for the web of life.

As role models, our task is to lead by example, to smell the flowers when little ones are watching; to take time to watch and listen, for awareness may come with joyful recognition of small everyday occurrences as miracles.

A deep seated love for nature begins outside, beyond the back door, not as much in the common fenced-in lot, but perhaps in the “back 40,” if you are so fortunate to be walking distance from a wild place.  We are forced to travel longer and longer distances to experience solitude in wild lands, and have less and less time to do so.  I had the good fortune recently of meeting a woman who serves on the Yakama Tribal Council.  When she was young, her mother would direct her outside for the entire day, just to “learn something.”  The council member, sadly enough, cannot repeat the daily adventure for her own children, for even on the reservation, nature has been pushed back.

It seems that the only necessary tools for a future naturalist are a pencil and a blank book.  It is difficult to harm living things with a journal, but observations and memories may be permanently captured.  At some point, while outdoors, children need to leave the bat and ball, the frisbee, the sled, and the walkman behind.  Though one feels exhilarated by the wind while sledding down the hill, the primary focus is purely recreational.  Inspiration finds its way to one’s soul when the mind and hands are unencumbered. ~   (Part II next Blog).