The author weaves together an account of a single year in rural New Mexico with a history of the pantheistic tradition from ancient Greece to the present day.
Russell (Creative Writing/Western New Mexico Univ.; Hunger: An Unnatural History, 2005, etc.) opens with a quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy.” This nutshell definition of pantheism is expanded upon but not superseded in the pages that follow. Russell lives in New Mexico’s Gila Valley, next to a Nature Conservancy wildlife refuge and near an ecological research center where visiting scientists involve amateur naturalists in research projects along the Gila River. She describes netting and banding birds, hiking the Sacaton Mesa, stargazing, encountering wild javelinas, observing sand hill cranes, butterflies and the native loach minnow. In this setting, she readily imagined that she was walking through the “Mind and Body of God,” but that wasn’t so easy to do in less felicitous surroundings. Pantheism, Russell found, could be a lonely business; at times she mourned the loss of a personal God and felt envious of those with faith in prayer. Meanwhile, she attended Quaker meetings, where she found a welcoming, comfortable community. With some misgivings, she experienced their hour of silence and pondered her compatibility with the Society of Friends’ religious philosophy. Russell weaves into this personal journal a selective history of pantheism in which she examines the writings of Aurelius, Baruch Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers, among others. She also looks at elements of pantheism in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, as well as in the works of contemporary authors who describe themselves variously as holistic scientists, religious naturalists or deep ecologists.
A deep reverence for nature shines throughout Russell’s rich, enjoyable text.