Core Decorum: Antiquity

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Patience is one of the most useful virtues to have, but perhaps the most difficult to cultivate. Time is one of the few things that we still cannot control and we often have no choice but to wait for the things we desire.

Impatience manifests itself in a myriad of ways: Children are rarely satisfied to be children, and instead can’t wait to grow up. But waiting has not seemed to get easier with age. Groundhog is a nice respite from having to exercise patience waiting for spring and warmer weather. But Groundhog Day has come and gone, and the famed rodent has seen his shadow, and still we will have to wait for spring.

Perhaps patience could be more easily cultivated with a deeper appreciation of daily, earthly life.

In the modern world, most people no longer think that trees or streams have spirits within them. Few would claim to have come across a nymph or dryad in the countryside, and with good reason. The very idea becomes increasingly ludicrous as scientific and technological developments enable us to understand the natural world more deeply than ever as well as engineer earth’s resources for our own benefit. However, although we have scientific clarity, perhaps we lack some of the imaginative appreciation that those of less-Enlightened times had for the world around them.

In his poem, “The World is Too Much With Us,” the British poet William Wordsworth wrote, “For this, for everything, we are out of tune; / It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be /  A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn.”

Christianity certainly appreciates the natural world as a gift from God. Creation is born out of God’s love. Yet the anthropomorphic quality of nature for which ancient Greek mythology, and the syncretic religion of Rome are famous is much less an aspect of our attitude that is predicated on modern religion and science.

Perhaps we would benefit if we were able to rekindle some of the old awe that the world gave humans before they understood it as fully. Without ever redeveloping our old ignorance, perhaps by embracing the world as powerful, as though it could be the domain of gods and goddesses who embody each substance, but without necessarily believing such a thing, we could increase our reverence and appreciation for the mystery of earthly creation.

Even remaining strictly scientific, we can still be reminded of the marvel that earth is. Life may exist elsewhere in the universe, but for now Earth seems anomalous in a solar system in which many of the other planets are at this time inhospitable to life. Earth is uniquely abundant.

Although it’s probably not a good idea to revert to an artificial reconstruction of a pagan view of nature, as Wordsworth in this poem may prefer, we could still allow ourselves to be inspired by the ancients’ wonder and respect for earth. Then next time we are in the midst of nature, we can embrace the experience more fully, even if we cannot, like Wordsworth wishes, have a “sight of Proteus rising from the sea; / Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

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