Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist

Overview


"Everything is connected, and the web is holy.” So wrote Marcus Aurelius, the starting point of Sharman Apt Russell’s wise and haunting new memoir about her life as a pantheist.

In Standing in the Light, Russell explores the history of this tradition from the Stoic philosophers to the Transcendentalists while reflecting on her own life during a year spent in the mountains and desert of southwestern New Mexico. Nature provides the inspiration for meditations on subjects ranging from Buddhist thought to the death ...

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Overview


"Everything is connected, and the web is holy.” So wrote Marcus Aurelius, the starting point of Sharman Apt Russell’s wise and haunting new memoir about her life as a pantheist.

In Standing in the Light, Russell explores the history of this tradition from the Stoic philosophers to the Transcendentalists while reflecting on her own life during a year spent in the mountains and desert of southwestern New Mexico. Nature provides the inspiration for meditations on subjects ranging from Buddhist thought to the death of her father, from global warming to the ineffable loneliness of human experience.

With a humane heart, an inquisitive mind, and an astounding fluency of prose, Sharman Apt Russell invites skeptics, scientists, and seekers everywhere to join her in her exploration of the soul of pantheism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pantheism "is the belief that the universe... is an interconnected whole that we can rightly consider sacred." A Quaker who has studied many philosophies and religions (she was once kicked out of an Indian ashram), Russell has lived for nearly three decades in southwestern New Mexico, writing (Hunger; An Obsession with Butterflies), teaching, banding birds, searching for meaning and hoping to see a sandhill crane dance. A "scientific pantheist," she claims not to be "built for mysticism," though her description of "walking through the Mind and Body of God" might prove otherwise. The uniqueness of this book, however, lies less in its lyrical passages—which sometimes evoke the early Annie Dillard—than in its concise and readable summaries of pantheistic thought, especially that of Marcus Aurelius, Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza and Walt Whitman. Russell's faith is all-embracing but unsentimental. "Pantheism is weak on suffering," she admits, but "what is the alternative? We are braided into pain and joy, darkness and light. We are braided into nature, reflecting the sky." (July)

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Library Journal

Russell (Hunger and Songs of the Fluteplayer) has produced an oblique memoir that is also an apology-in the old, theological sense-for pantheism, the sense that the universe is God and that God is nothing apart from the universe. She finds support for her views in the writings and examples of the likes of Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Walt Whitman, Marcus Aurelius, and D.H. Lawrence. If Russell's prose does not always sing with the fervor she evidently feels for the writers and the landscapes she loves, her book still fills a gap since few contemporary spiritual writings bear witness to an experience of pantheism. For most collections.
—Graham Christian

Kirkus Reviews
The author weaves together an account of a single year in rural New Mexico with a history of the pantheistic tradition from ancient Greece to the present day. Russell (Creative Writing/Western New Mexico Univ.; Hunger: An Unnatural History, 2005, etc.) opens with a quote from Marcus Aurelius: "Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy." This nutshell definition of pantheism is expanded upon but not superseded in the pages that follow. Russell lives in New Mexico's Gila Valley, next to a Nature Conservancy wildlife refuge and near an ecological research center where visiting scientists involve amateur naturalists in research projects along the Gila River. She describes netting and banding birds, hiking the Sacaton Mesa, stargazing, encountering wild javelinas, observing sand hill cranes, butterflies and the native loach minnow. In this setting, she readily imagined that she was walking through the "Mind and Body of God," but that wasn't so easy to do in less felicitous surroundings. Pantheism, Russell found, could be a lonely business; at times she mourned the loss of a personal God and felt envious of those with faith in prayer. Meanwhile, she attended Quaker meetings, where she found a welcoming, comfortable community. With some misgivings, she experienced their hour of silence and pondered her compatibility with the Society of Friends' religious philosophy. Russell weaves into this personal journal a selective history of pantheism in which she examines the writings of Aurelius, Baruch Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers, among others. She also looks at elements of pantheism in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, as well as in the works of contemporary authors whodescribe themselves variously as holistic scientists, religious naturalists or deep ecologists. A deep reverence for nature shines throughout Russell's rich, enjoyable text.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013807
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Sharman Apt Russell is the author of several books of natural history, including An Obsession with Butterflies and Songs of the Fluteplayer, winner of the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award. She has written for publications including Orion and Discover, and currently contributes to OnEarth, the magazine for the National Resource Defense Council. She teaches writing at Western New Mexico University and at Antioch University in Los Angeles, California. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico.
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