Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Enfaithed in RiverSpirit

Swathed within the river valley I watch as high in the sky the Brahminy Kites circle on the eddies, coming lower and lower over their old nesting site. My heart bleeds with the memory of the day I saw Currawongs and Ravens continually dive-bombing the kites' perfect home site, a messy twiggy nest overlooking the water. As one Kite sat on the nest guarding either eggs or tiny offspring, the other Kite was in the air, trying to chase the birds away. Not long after this occurred, the Kites abandoned their nest.

Being part of the ecosystem, part of the changing patterns of bird fight and flight, and being witness to these events in the wild are sacred acts. As I get to know more about this place I begin to feel not only 'enswathed' within the valley's ecological processes but also 'enfaithed' within the lived and living river-spirit.

The meaning manifested through river connecting in a spiritual sense is reflective of the concept of 'lived religion'. Religion theorist Robert Orsi (2003) questions whether the study of lived religion is relevant 'to the world we live in'. He suggests that oft made distinctions in mainline religion between the sacred and the profane are blurred within the practice of lived religion, where everyday experience is celebrated as religious experience.

To explore this notion further, and to question the dynamics of river spirituality as a lived and living religion, I turn to an article titled 'The Literature of Nature and the Quest for the Sacred' included in the lusciously edited volume 'The Sacred Place: Witnessing the Holy in the Physical World' (Olson and Cairns, 1996). Writer Douglas Burton-Christie teases apart notions of spirituality and religion as they relate to the natural world. Using a framework developed by Bernard McGinn (1993), Burton-Christie explains McGinn's three main approaches to spirituality - 'historical-contextual', 'theological' and 'anthropological', where the latter fits the concept of 'enfaithment' within riverspirit.

Burton-Christie (1996:169) says that the 'anthropological or hermeneutic approach ... seeks to understand spirituality as a fundamental element in human experience', while 'historical-contextual' refers to 'spirituality rooted in a particular community's experience rather than a dimension of human existence as such' (168).

For McGinn and Burton-Christie, the community being referred to is solely human, but here along the river the community means more than that. The Brahminy Kites wheeling through the treetops and swooping along the water-land interface display in 'awe-some' terms the more-than-human nature of this very special place. Proposing an alternative reading of McGinn's spirituality concepts, the river offers a spiritual experience rooted amongst the community of nature - human and other-than-human. It blends the historical-contextual with the anthropological and is intensely theological. RiverSpirit is a lived and living sacred place and practice.

Burton-Christie D, 1996, 'The Literature of Nature and the Quest for the Sacred,' in Olson WS and S Cairns, Eds, The Sacred Place: Witnessing the Holy in the Physical World, Salt Lake City, The University of Utah Press.
McGinn B, 1993, 'The Letter and the Spirit" Spirituality as an Academic Discipline,' Christian Spirituality Bulletiin, 1, 2, Fall, 6.
Orsi RA, 2003, 'Is the Study of Lived Religion Irrelevant to the World Today: Special Presidential Plenary Address, Society for the Scientific Study Study of Religion, Salt Lake City, Nov 2, 2002,' Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42, 2, 169-174.