REFLECTION: ON REVERENCE
PHOTO BY JESS DRAWHORN
ESSAY BY LILY MYERS
I’ve never been religious. Synagogue didn’t do much for me when I was younger; I couldn’t connect any sense of purpose to the songs and speeches that I heard there. But I’ve always imbued my own meaning into little things: books, a certain scarf, a haunting song. When I was younger, I didn’t use the words sacred and meaning. But making my way in the world as an adult now, choosing how I want to live, I find that it becomes necessary to intentionally seek out and celebrate those things that, for whatever reason, feel sacred.
So much of sacredness is the feeling of mystery, of wonder. Reverence is not rational. It’s a mode of feeling, not of thinking. So when the feeling arises, it’s one I simply sink into. I explore it, generating more questions than answers—and this is a good thing. It keeps the mystery alive.
When I first began to be intensely attracted to the crescent moon many years ago, I had no idea why. I only knew that its shape felt intriguing and somehow important. This led me to researching the Roman goddess of the moon, Diana, with whom I soon became obsessed. Something about her image, her strength, her commitment to solitary hunting, fascinated me.
I can tell you why the moon is amazing: its ever-changing phases, its pull on the tides, its effect on our behavior (emergency room admittance rates increase significantly on the full moon!) but I can’t tell you the reason that the moon feels so sacred to me. It simply does. It fills me with awe when I look up at the sky. It both comforts and excites me. It feels massive; evidence of an enormous world that I can only barely begin to understand.
Spirituality is largely an individual process. However, there is something widely shared about a reverence for the natural world. There’s a reason that so many people love to stargaze, stare at the ocean, and exclaim over changing leaves in the fall. Not only are these things beautiful to our senses, but they are evidence of the enormous world that we all share. The seasons are a cyclical rhythm that each of us follows, year in and year out. Whether you look at the stars with a scientist’s curiosity or a mystic’s wonder, you cannot be unimpressed by them. They are massive, mysterious, ancient, and so, so much bigger than us.
Several things in recent years have pulled me toward the world of neo-Paganism: its emphasis on mythology and archetypes, its nonhierarchical structures, its reverence for the female. But perhaps even more appealing than these is Paganism’s reverence for nature. This is a consistent theme in all Pagan circles: a recognition of the divine in the natural world. Paganism has the utmost respect for the season’s cycles, animal and plant life, for the sun, the moon, the planets, the rocks, the logs. And I can’t help but think that in our current climate crisis, reverence for our burning earth might be just what we need.
I fear that many will write this off as unimportant. True, spiritually worshipping trees is not the same as taking direct action to stop deforestation. But we cannot truly save anything that we do not respect. And to have so many people who not only respect nature, but revere it is no small impact. This enormous reservoir of reverence is a resource, and we need all the resources we can get. The scientists and the mystics.The poets, the activists, the dreamers, the pragmatists.
Reverence is not a passive or useless state. It is a motivator, both to your internal state and your external action. I feel deep reverence for the tree trunk I see outside my fire escape when I wake up. I feel love for the yellow leaves that litter the city sidewalk on my way to work. I feel gratitude to the ground for holding my feet steady. This constant noticing and thanking of the natural world not only lifts my emotional state, but it reminds me what an incredibly complex and intricate universe we live in. We are so easily desensitized to our surroundings. Awe re-sensitizes us. It places us consciously once again into our setting: the earth.
I cannot imagine a life without this reverence. It imbues meaning into otherwise random objects and events; it fills me with purpose and emotion. Reverence has taught me the crucial lesson of constant, deep gratitude for life’s routine moments. Reverence takes the mundane and makes it sacred. Reverence turns a falling leaf into an epiphany, rainfall into meditation, a thunderstorm into euphoria. Reverence turns this earth from a mass of rock and lava into our home. And when we treat our home with reverence, we protect her and fortify ourselves.