One of my spiritual values is maintaining a connection to the natural world, and I believe this embodied spiritual practice played a major role in helping me accept my LGBTQ identity. Learning to accept ourselves and celebrating our uniqueness are key to thriving as an LGBTQ person. For some, the path to this acceptance is long, winding and all uphill. Along the way, we may stumble painfully over spirituality or religion. Some LGBTQ folks speak of “searching for my tribe,” and when we find this welcoming tribe or community, it feels like a spiritual homecoming. I suggest that there’s one spiritual tribe right under our noses that we often overlook — the natural world.
When I talk about the natural world, I include everything from trees and the ocean to our household pets and even un-pleasant critters like snakes and spiders. But how do birds and bees or flowers and trees connect to the LGBTQ community? Easily — as individuals or communities, we are interconnected to everything else in this world, and I believe we can find valuable spiritual lessons there. Sun and water support the plants or animals we eat.
Nature provides the basic elements for our clothing (drag included!). The homes in which we live, the cars we drive and the microchips that power our technology — they’re all based in nature, as is the very air we breathe. Despite how it appears on the surface, we’re deeply interconnected. And there are many examples of sexual and gender diversity in nature. Some animals exhibit homosexual behavior, some same-gendered animals couple up to raise offspring together, and other animals could easily be called gender-fluid. We like to say, “Representation matters,” in our search for it, we can simply look to nature.
So how does this all connect spiritually? To answer that, I’ll share a little about my childhood connection to nature and how it has sustained me throughout my life. Some of my earliest memories are of playing in the wooded areas near my home just outside Winston-Salem, N.C. When I walked beneath the towering trees and listened to the birds and insects, I always felt safe and secure. When my parents argued, I took refuge in those woods. When the bullies at school called me a sissy, the trees and birds still welcomed me. While in that tiny patch of nature, I stood tall, I felt accepted and my imagination flowered. The spark that ignited my first impulse to write happened in those woods while playing with friends. My intuition urged me to write down the stories we created as we played. That spark eventually grew to a 20-year career in publishing. But nature provided more than a way to earn a living.
Well into adulthood, whenever I felt sad, angry or had to make difficult decisions, I sought out nature. I’d drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and find a picturesque overlook so my spirit could sort out what it meant to be gay in a world that refused to accept me. Or I’d lie flat on my back at night and ponder the twinkling stars, feeling peaceful and contemplating that if stardust from a Big Bang could eventually clump together to make my gay self and all the diversity I saw in my little world, then maybe I should trust that truth over anything else. Sure, maybe God fit in there somewhere, but the Divinity I knew and experienced was more diverse and welcoming than anything being forced on me.
Not long ago, I felt I had lost this connection, and I felt it as a spiritual void. To reconnect, I began walking in the woods again, learning the trails in a Greensboro city park. I began reconnecting to the seasonal changes in nature and in my own life, and developing rituals to mark those changes. I rediscovered my intuition and followed wherever it led, eventually to a Pagan spiritual practice and community. Taking inspiration from nature is integral to my spiritual path, and that well is deep, diverse and inexhaustible. Just like I did as a child, I found welcome, acceptance — and I found my tribe. In your own search for acceptance and celebration, you don’t have to look far. Nature has always reflected diversity and LGBTQ folks. Remembering that is as simple as stepping outdoors.
Rev. Wes Isley, MDiv, is a chaplain and Pagan minister living in Charlotte with his husband and black lab, Harley.
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