“Mother Nature’s Son” – The Beatles, Chris McCandless, and C.S. Lewis on our relation to Nature

Chirs McCandless in his area

A self-portrait of Christopher McCandless in his camp on the Stampede Trail was found undeveloped in his camera after his death.

Today was a beautiful mild and sunny late winter day. In the morning I attended a memorial service for someone my age that died from cancer, and in the afternoon was able to go with my family to the “Great Sacandaga Reservoir” in Upstate NY. Walking in the warm sun along the shore, under clear blue sky and on soft white snow, with our two dogs; the snowmobiles enticing one of them like distant buzzing bugs (that was what we thought she was thinking.)


“Penny” watching the buzzing snowmobiles!

In a few minutes we stumbled upon some deer fur; moments later finding a small area strewn with skull attached to spine and some gnawed ribs, a bent leg and hoof, the lower jawbone and more patches of hide. What was the life and death scene that left this grim memorial? Our only conclusion was that some coyotes felt themselves fortunate and that the “circle of life” is evident.

“A day in the life.” What are we to think of nature? Of our place in it? I have always loved “Mother Nature’s Son” by The Beatles, but since I became a Christian I have felt uneasy with it’s title since I consider God as my “Father,” and I do not believe they are “married.” But what is their relationship? And what then is nature to me if not my “mother?” For certainly I am “naturally” a product of nature, and “scientifically” more a product of nature than of God. More importantly, what should we think of Nature in view of the seeming “split personality” of her sublime beauty and sheer terror?

In honor of the beautiful (yet in some sense also tragic) day that was today, I am presenting some thoughts about our relation to nature, introducing the subject through The Beatles, and then providing some “lessons” about nature from the tragic story of Chris McCandless and some writings of C . S. Lewis.

This following statement of Lewis comes after some discussion wherein he defends the idea that God and Nature are different. Nature is the creation of the supernatural and transcendent God. This post will not try to defend that view, but accept it as a given. Otherwise the post would be about a different subject. I believe though, that some of the content of the quotes will support this view, and most of us will probably be glad that God and Nature are not the same. (Not that God is mere “wish-fulfillment,” but again that is another subject.)

“God and Nature have come into a certain relation. They have, at the very least, a relation – almost, in one sense, a common frontier – in every human mind.” C. S. Lewis

Chris McCandless was an explorer of this relation. He believed that our separation from nature also separated us from true existence, which consisted of experiencing Nature and God in their relation (whatever that was).

“You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.” Chris McCandless

Therefore, because McCandless believed this, he endeavored to “engage in unconventional living:”

“I now walk into the wild.”

Jon Krakauer wrote,

“At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.”

The following excerpt from Wikipedia tells the result of his encounter with the “raw throb of existence.”

Christopher Johnson McCandless (February 12, 1968 – August 1992) was an American adventurer who adopted the alias Alexander Supertramp and hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in April 1992 with little food and equipment, hoping to live simply for a time in solitude. Almost four months later, McCandless’ remains were found, weighing only 67 pounds (30 kg); he died of starvation near Lake Wentitika in Denali National Park and Preserve.
In January 1993, Jon Krakauer published McCandless’ story in that month’s issue of Outside magazine. Inspired by the details of McCandless’s story, Krakauer wrote and published Into the Wild in 1996 about McCandless’ travels. The book was adapted into a film by Sean Penn in 2007 with Emile Hirsch portraying McCandless.

Sadly, the endeavor of McCandless ended in the loss of his earthly life due to being underprepared for the harsh realities of Nature. Jon Krakauer narrates how he, as a mountain climber, was naive in a similar fashion regarding what he expected versus what he found in nature.

“But then suddenly there was no place higher to go. I felt my cracked lips stretch into a painful grin. I was on top of the Devil’s Thumb. Fittingly, the summit was a surreal, malevolent place, an improbably slender wedge of rock and rime no wider than a file cabinet. It did not encourage loitering. As I straddled the highest point, the south face fell away beneath my right boot for twenty-five hundred feet; beneath my left boot the north face dropped twice that distance.”

“I thought climbing the Devil’s Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams.”

C. S. Lewis wrote of the limitations of Nature for helping us realize our “dreams.”

Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some poky little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End parish. But the love of her has been a valuable and, for some people, an indispensable initiation.”

Lewis also spoke of the importance of realizing our true relationship to nature, given her “darker side” (we must remember, as Lewis did, Nature’s diseases, tsunamis. hurricanes. earthquakes, and other general difficulties she presents to life).

“Nature does not,  in the long run, favour life.”

“Mistaken for our mother, she is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister – if she and we have a common Creator – if she is our sparring partner – then the situation is quite tolerable.”

Lewis thought it would be “terrifying” and “abominable” if Nature was our “mother.” The following quote provides a fuller explanation of our relationship to our “sister” and “sparring partner.”

She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character; not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized. We shall still be  able to recognize our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more herself. and that will be a merry meeting.”

So what are we to think of nature? What do we call her? Is she “mother nature” and we her “son?” Does “joy emanate” from “everything and anything we may experience” in the “raw throb of existence” if we will just walk “into the wild?” These seem to be naive, over-romanticised, and as we have seen potentially dangerous.

C. S. Lewis, in the above quotes, has provided a much more nuanced and balanced view of Nature in the many images and titles he gives “her”:

“sister, sparring partner, old enemy, friend, play-fellow, foster-mother.”

It is interesting that Lewis felt it proper to call Nature our “foster-mother.” And if she is all of these things now, that he called her, what will she be in the redeemed and glorious new creation?

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:18-22)

kilns 2

Clearing in the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve, an enchanting wooded area that was on Lewis’ property and was part of the inspiration for Narnia.

To the reader:

I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!

“Likes” are also much appreciated because it helps me know if I’m posting things of interest.

So, what say ye…? 

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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