Review of Nature

Mysticism (1913).

If you're the sort of person who has no use for traditional spiritual systems of any sort and hope that somehow, someday, you can find spiritual meaning in the natural world around you, this book is for you.

J. Edward Mercer was a late 19th century Anglican bishop who lived on the island of Tasmania, or, as he puts it, "the antipodes". Very little information about him is available; he seems to have been almost completely forgotten. Yet it is obvious that he was a well-educated man who had read deeply, thought deeply, and paid close attention to everything he could see and hear in the natural world. He understood very well that the essential core of nature mysticism is to enter into a "direct communion with the objects in [the] physical environment." It is very clear that he was able not only to succeed in this kind of communion, but to communicate his experiences with such clarity that all his insights are revelatory.

It is interesting to note that apart from a few mentions of Daoism and other eastern systems of thought, Mercer approaches the natural world from a distinctly western perspective. The writers who have shown him how to find spiritual truth in nature are the great poets and philosophers of the western canon, not the eastern. I am also impressed with his insightful discussion of the pre-Socratic elements of earth, air, fire and water. The concept of the four elements, of course, are no longer part of the official scientific world view, but human beings throughout history have tended to perceive their physical reality through these four types of energies. Mercer was sensitive enough to realize that the four elements are as much a part of the natural world as the stars and the wind and the trees and deserve our careful attention.

In short, this is a profoundly beautiful book. It will make you think, enrich your perceptions, and give you all sorts of pointers about what you can discover in the world around you. It is a book to be reread several times.