The Sacred in Suburbia – Connecting to Nature

April 5, 2011 by Categorized: The Sacred in Suburbia.

In a perfect world I’d live in a comfortable yet efficient house at the edge of a great forest, surrounded by hills and trees and lakes and streams, distant from the light and noise pollution of cities and highways – but still within broadband and pizza delivery range.

Alas, my world is not perfect: I live in a suburb.

The shortcomings of suburbs are well-documented elsewhere and I don’t intend to rehash them here.  Nor do I intend to refute them.

The reality is that millions of people live in suburbs: some by choice, some by necessity, and some – like me – by a combination of the two.  Some of them are Pagans and/or environmentalists, some share our values even if they don’t share our identity, and still others are sympathetic to our goals.  How can we best include these people in our community, and how can people who live in this kind of place form and maintain a close relationship to Nature and the Spirits of Nature?

This isn’t as easy for suburbanites as it is for those who live in the countryside, but it is possible.  I love the title of this blog: “No Unsacred Place.”  It reminds us that the sacred is everywhere, including suburbia.  It just takes a little more effort and a little more mindfulness find it there.

One of the challenges of suburban living is the ease with which we can become isolated from Nature.  I can go from house to garage to car to garage to office and back, spending the whole day in climate-controlled environments, never touching the ground or getting an unmediated look at the sky.  In the middle of a Texas summer the temptation to do just that is great.  I imagine it’s much the same in the middle of a Minnesota winter.

We humans grew out of Nature.  We are part of Nature.  We are sustained by Nature.  When our connections to Nature are hindered or severed, we suffer.  Maintaining these connections requires work – it requires practice.

This practice doesn’t have to be complicated.  It’s far more helpful to do something simple on a regular basis than to do something elaborate on a haphazard basis.  Anything that will get us outside for a few minutes a day will help.  One of the most effective methods is saluting the Sun and the Moon every day.

Saluting the Sun is easy – it’s there every day (except for winters in the polar regions, but there aren’t many suburbs in the Arctic).  It’s best if you can do this at either Sunrise or Sunset.  The Sun appears larger at these times, plus there’s something magical about dawn and dusk – they’re liminal zones, neither day nor night.  And observing the Sun as it rises or sets allows you to follow its progress through the year.  Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere see the Sun rise in the Southeast at the Winter Solstice, in due East at the Equinoxes, and in the Northeast at the Summer Solstice.

Regardless of the time of day, go outside and look up at the Sun.  You shouldn’t stare into it (your mother was right!) but you can look at it quickly, close your eyes, and feel its rays warming you.  Know that the same Sun shining on your face is also feeding the trees and grass and growing the crops that will feed you.  Remember that without the Sun, life on Earth would end.  Open your arms and raise your hands, invite the Sun to embrace you.  Then slowly bring your hands to your chest, pulling the Sun into your body.  Thank the Sun for its life-giving rays, and if your tradition includes a Sun god, acknowledge him as well.

Saluting the Moon isn’t quite so simple.  It rises and sets about 50 minutes later each day.  It’s visible in the evening when it’s waxing and during the day when it’s waning.  And for about three days each month around the New Moon it isn’t visible at all.  But that just makes following the Moon that much more meaningful.

As with the Sun, go outside and look up.   Unlike the Sun, you can gaze into the Moon as long as you like.  Again, open your arms and raise your hands and invite the Moon to embrace you.  Think back to the times before suburbs and before artificial lighting, when the full Moon was our ancestors’ light by night.  Slowly bring your hands to your chest, pulling the rays of the Moon into your body.  Thank the Moon for its light and inspiration, and if your tradition includes a Moon goddess, acknowledge her as well.

(I know there are some traditions – ancient as well as modern – that have Sun goddesses and/or Moon gods.  If that’s your path then honor the Sun and the Moon in that manner.)

Obviously, saluting the Sun and the Moon is easier if you live someplace where the skies are usually clear and not some place that’s usually overcast.  But even if you can’t see them, they’re still there – salute them anyway.  In addition to getting you outside and building a regular practice, you’ll be reinforcing the idea that there’s more to the Universe than what we can see with our physical eyes.

If you aren’t doing something like this already, try it for the next month.  Experience for yourself how saluting the Sun and the Moon every day can help restore and maintain our connections to Nature.

In a perfect world I wouldn’t live in a suburb.  Maybe you wouldn’t either… or maybe you would.  In any case, let’s not let our yearning for perfection keep us from doing the best we can where we are right now.

The sacred is alive and well in suburbia – you just have to work a little harder and a little more mindfully to find it.

Comment Feed

5 Responses

  1. Hi, John! I’m looking forward to following your column here!

    You remind me of one of the most effective efforts I’ve ever seen to connect sacred community and sacred land within the confines of suburbia, at Touchstone Farm in Easthampton, MA.

    While I’m not a member of that community, my Pagan community is one of many that has used their space over the years, and it is remarkable how much energy and power there is in the gardens there… And then you look over a fence, and there are all the little houses clustered.

    Loving the land where we live–suburb, city, or woods–is such a powerful concept, when we live it out.

  2. “In any case, let’s not let our yearning for perfection keep us from doing the best we can where we are right now.”

    This is such an important reminder! Sometimes I get caught up so much in “ugh, I can’t believe we live in such a small place, or so close to neighbors, etc. etc.”, that I forget to appreciate what we DO have – a beautiful forest behind our house, seeds sprouting in pots in the kitchen, buds pushing up through the flower bed. I will certainly try to take a moment each day to appreciate what we have.

  3. I admit I wasn’t too sure about following No Unsacred Place as it sounded…preachy. I tire of preachy. I live in the historic district of a small town where your neighbors are literally feet away. Suggestions like those contained in this post are what I need. Hopefully I will find the rest of the posts here equally as helpful.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] from our Source.  To repair these connections requires dedicated spiritual practice, such as saluting  the Sun and the Moon or communing with trees.  Over time, these spiritual practices change our mindsets and the changes [...]

  2. [...] get it. I used to write for No Unsacred Place, with a column titled “The Sacred in Suburbia.” I truly believe we can connect to Nature no matter where we are. More than that, I believe we [...]