Squirrels as Spiritual Icons

A warm welcome to photographer/theologian
Thomas Jay Oord.
Thank you for your guest post!

As far as I know, no scripture or great piece of spiritual literature praises the squirrel.

We find references to foxes, eagles, snakes, and locusts. Judah is a lion. Doves are harmless. Sparrows have value, even though not much. But nothing on the squirrel.

It’s not that squirrels are rare. They live on every inhabitable continent, except Australia. They existed in parts of the world inhabited by the writers of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scriptures, but they get no mention in Holy Writ. And they receive little notice today, at least as inspiration for spiritual insight.

We’re more likely to think of squirrels in negative terms. We say, for instance, that a rambunctious child is acting “squirrely.” These children need to calm down, control their excess energy and excited twitches. Squirrels are too impulsive, too jittery, too much energy in action.

I’ve been thinking about squirrels while also pondering the spiritual value of outdoor experiences. It’s well known that nearly all of us need the therapy that time in the natural world can provide. We’re too “plugged in” and need time away. Whether couch potatoes or cubical cucumbers, we’re settled into sedentary life.

Of course, nearly every theist – Christian, Jewish, Muslim or something else — understands the power of periodic spiritual retreats. These exits from the ordinary may be organized events away from the humdrum or hectic. Or they may be spontaneous withdrawals from routine.

Many who care about the health of the whole person are now warning us about Nature Deficit Disorder. The idea is that humans have a natural need for nature experiences. We need to get outdoors. As E. O. Wilson put it, humans innately feel biophilia and need nature outlets for such love.

A whole field of literature and research has emerged in recent decades on the need children and adults have for spending time outdoors. More research than ever suggests that children benefit from unplugging and going natural. Some are even calling for outdoor educational experiences: No Child Left Inside.

Deep in my bones, I know the call of the wild, nature, and wilderness. I feel often feel the urge to adventure in the outdoors. In fact, sometimes the urge is overpowering! And I see the psychological, physiological, and even spiritual benefits that come from hiking in green spaces.

All of this makes me wonder if the squirrel can become a spiritual icon in the 21st century. Perhaps when we’re getting a little “squirrely,” the squirrels can call us to curb our nature deficit disorder by getting outdoors.

For those of us who believe in God, a Higher Power, or something More, squirrels can become spiritual reminders to spend some time in nature. Squirrels may become a window to glimpse a bit of the divine.

Thomas Jay Oord

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