As a child in the late 1970s I saw a sea lion clubbed to death on a PBS television nature show. Years later, after writing about this memory in a letter to my mother, I learned that she too remembered the episode. We must have watched it together.
In ways perhaps they weren’t aware of, my parents guided my love and respect for nature. My family often camped and hiked. We owned forested land in southeast Indiana, where we cut our own trails and collected water from a spring. We had several family dogs. I was fond of animal stories like Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows.
On the way to an evening band meeting in fifth grade I saw a dog get hit by an oncoming pickup truck. As we passed, my mom slowed down our car to look at the accident. I leaned over from the passenger seat, and seeing that the dog was dead, I burst into tears.
I was a sensitive child, although whether my reactions to these events were the cause or result of my sensitivity I cannot say. They did, however, reveal the direction of my deepest values.
That is why today, as an adult, I believe in the Force. Yes, that Force. As in Yoda, lightsabers and Luke Skywalker. In a way that Catholicism never could, my sensibilities were captured by Star Wars. The Jedi religion reflected my growing respect for and relationship with nature.
“The Force is what gives the Jedi his power,” said Obi-wan Kenobi. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
I am a hiker and backpacker, an environmentalist. Hiking is meditation. This guides me toward a Jedi’s clarity, humility and compassion. In natural settings I find God, peace and revitalization. Overwhelmed once during a visit to New York City, I took refuge in Central Park. Calm and joyful again I told myself, “I could live here.” Reconsideration told me that here meant Central Park itself, not the city.
Yoda lived on remote Dagobah, a primitive and wild planet. If I were one of the last hunted Jedi I too would have chosen Dagobah, not just for its location, but for its astounding, as Luke says, “massive life-form readings.” Where else could a Jedi practicing the Force better mature spiritually? “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”
I see God and myself in the uncomplicated complexity of natural ecosystems. My temptations come from urban life. “Quicker, easier, more seductive,” warned Yoda.
Luke asked, “How will I know the good side from the bad?”
“You will know. When you mind is calm, at peace. Passive.”
Upon arrival at any vacation destination, however remote, my parents consulted a local directory. Even if Sunday Mass was very early and very far away, we went. My mother also allowed my sister and me to skip school when Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi opened in Cincinnati.
Now, to my parents’ dismay, I won’t visit the nearby church, but I will drive two hours to hike. Or take a day’s vacation from work to see one of the prequels opening day.
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