Here is a Thought Tool quiz:
Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two-and-a-half-year long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts. True or False?
In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?
Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?
With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia. True or False?
Ready for the answers? All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.) Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond. The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years. It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image. In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.
While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way. To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. Others delight in lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring. But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie. I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.
It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature. Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans. I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services. That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.
This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.
We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.
Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:
An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery. And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders. And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey. And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.
Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty? History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us. Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances. If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.
Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.
Reprinted from December 2014