This letter is a rebuttal to the Sierra Club’s odious attempt to besmirch the legacy and writing of John Muir, their legendary founder. It is my contention that, like every human on Earth, Muir was imperfect yet he achieved the status of two world-renown spiritual paragons.
St. Francis of Assisi
Indulged by his parents, Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man. He was handsome, witty, gallant, and delighted in fine clothes. He spent money lavishly until a chance encounter with a beggar. The encounter transformed every fiber of his being and led to him taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Francis preached the Christian doctrine that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of human sin. As someone who saw God reflected in nature, St. Francis was a great lover of God’s creation. In the Canticle of the Sun he gives God thanks for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth, all of which he sees as rendering praise to God. (adapted from Wikipedia)
The spirit of St. Francis is alive and well with over 1,000 friars and over 40 Franciscan colleges or universities throughout the US.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
There are accounts of Ignatius of Loyola being a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, and a womanizer. However, during a religious awakening the writing that most particularly struck him was the De Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony. This book would influence his whole life, inspiring him to devote himself to God and follow the example of Francis of Assisi and other great monks.
After his conversion he created the brotherhood of Jesuits and sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries. Currently there are 189 universities around the world that are dedicated to his values.
The spirit of Ignatius is alive and thrives in the hearts and minds of millions of teachers, students and followers throughout the world.
John of the Mountains
John Muir was born into a poor Scottish family with a father who brutally mistreated him ostensibly for religious reasons. As a young man he no doubt carried his youth-born scars to Yosemite where he underwent a transcending healing experience. Although most followers of Muir’s life and legacy tacitly understand that some of his descriptions of non-Caucasians were the result of using the vernacular of the times, they understand that historical context is often as important as anecdotal evidence.
Although Muir was mostly self-taught, he was highly educated. He would have known about brilliant scientists Galileo and Newton. He would have been familiar with great musicians such as Bach and Beethoven. He would have known great artists like Michelangelo and Rembrandt and he often carried a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost and The New Testament with him. Robert Burns was his favorite poet and he knew many Shakespeare passages by heart. In that time period, knowing what he did, it would have been illogical for him to regard people who could not read or write or add a column of numbers as equals.
Muir went on to arguably become the greatest Naturalist in the world, whose life and legacy have inspired, guided, and encouraged countless millions to become “baptized in Nature.”
“John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.”
For many extended periods in his adult life, Muir lived alone, in the wilderness, sustained by dried bread balls and tea. This is a life-style that is practiced only in some of the most austere monasteries and it should not be surprising that his writings often convey a message of holiness.
His vision of “eco-spirituality” and preserving natural wonderlands as places to “play and pray” has spread globally. Before Muir’s time there were zero national parks in the world; today there are over 4,000. In the US, there are 62 designated National Parks and 559 National Monuments, Preserves and historical sites with 327 million annual visitors. State Parks in the US number over 10,000 with more visitors than the USNPS.
So the Sierra Club has proclaimed that Muir’s life and legacy encourage racism and white supremacy. In a profound irony, if he were alive today, I submit that he would be the first to agree that some of his vernacular would not be appropriate. However, the president of The Sierra Club has exercised his God-given right of free will in a cowardly act of casting the first stone. He may have his 5-minutes of fame, but Muir will maintain his saintly aura in the hearts of millions of devoted followers long after “what’s-his-name?” has left the planet.