Karen Armstrong. Sacred Nature

Karen Armstrong. Sacred Nature. How We Can Recover Our Bond with the Natural World. London: the Bodley Head, 2022

Karen Armstrong, author and broadcaster, tells us in Sacred Nature that we are on the verge of environmental catastrophe; the only way to avoid this is to rekindle our spiritual bond with nature. Our separation, in the West world, of God and nature can only lead to the destruction of the natural world. It defies thousands of years of accumulated wisdom.

Armstrong emphasises that destruction is not inevitable: if we develop a new way of thinking in which we reconnect with nature and once more understand and appreciate the sense of the sacred in our world, there is hope. We must not only act differently and stop seeing the natural world as something to be tamed or used, we must love and venerate all forms of life. We must change our hearts and minds, and we must understand and cultivate humanity’s spiritual connection with the world – a connection that we have lost and must now seek to restore.

In her epilogue, Armstrong reminds us of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. This poem has ‘a stern message for us today’, Armstrong emphasises. Nature, in the form of a large, white albatross, rescues the ancient mariner and his crew as they steer through the ice of the Antarctic region. When the crew are safe, the ancient mariner kills the albatross with his bow: a pointless action that causes Nature to turn on both captain and crew. The ancient mariner learns by his mistake, however, and discovers that happiness and security can only come when we love the natural world and our fellow human beings.

Like the ancient mariner, we must become both sadder and wiser. Armstrong encourages her readers to recognise ‘the gravity of our environmental predicament and our personal responsibility for it’ and transform both mind and heart to repair the damage we have done to the natural world.

Sacred Nature is a hymn of praise and a plea for action based on a new, more loving and more respectful relationship with nature. As we rekindle our sense of the sacred in the natural world, we must search for new ways of thinking to shape the action needed to save the Earth. We can recover our bond with nature – but only if we develop a new mindset based on the sense of the sacred. What form this will take is individual. Our overall goal must be to preserve the world that we live in – and pass it on to future generations.

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