Thursday, Sept 26 | 1:15-2:25 pm

Relinquishment / Resistance / Story | Room 201

Saying Yes to a No: Relinquishment and Assent in Poetry of Sacralized Nature 

Abraham Heschel writes that the “acceptance of the sacred is an existential paradox: it is saying ‘yes’ to a no; it is the antithesis of the will to power. . . [that entails] not only giving up claims, but also facing a unique dimension of reality.” Reports of escalating environmental crises concomitant with an increasingly globalized techno-economic uptake of the natural world make it clear that the sacred “dimension of reality” has been obscured by the concepts and attitudes implicated in the disenchantment narrative of modernity (Weber et al). Nature is reduced to passive or recalcitrant, meaningless material governed by anthropocentric use-value, not a site of wonder or reverence. In response, environmental literary criticism maintains that textual interpretation focused on representations of relations between human and non-human nature gives opportunity for reflection upon the mutual infusion of “nature” and “culture” and for reconsidering the conceptual framework. In this paper, presupposing that situated poetry of sacralized nature may present an acute angle on these matters, I will explicate samplings from modern and contemporary poets (including Robinson Jeffers and Denise Levertov) who attentively engage with nature in various bioregions of the Pacific coastline.  Particularly, I delineate practices and aesthetics of relinquishment and assent—“saying yes to a no”— conjoined with worldviews or “onto-stories” (Bennett) represented in these texts that creatively reappropriate ancient symbolism of sacred nature.  If, as Simon Schama maintains, there has always been room within “cultural habits” for the sacredness of nature, it is apparent in our technological age that the vital claim of this one cultural habit upon others is not merely given. Rather, as I suggest in my reading of these poets, its resonant power depends in part upon a continuing reevaluation of modernity in tandem with incessant reinterpretation of nature through cultural, embodied practices that relinquish limitless claims upon the earth as they affirm its meaningful and sacred dimensions.


Katharine Bubel is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Victoria. Her dissertation investigates figurations of the sacred arising at the intersections of religious and environmental imaginations in the work of west coast poets Robinson Jeffers, Theodore Roethke, Denise Levertov, Robert Hass, and Jan Zwicky, HerSSHRC-funded project particularly attends to the various spiritual practices and poetic strategies that inform representations of sacralized nature. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century poetry; religion and literature; environmental criticism; phenomenological hermeneutics; theological aesthetics. She holds a Masters in Interdisciplinary Humanities (MAIH) degree from Trinity Western University and has published articles with Renascence, Illumine, and North Wind.

Creating the World – A Story in the Making

Photographs of a stone artwork illustrate this presentation. The carving portrays a bird in flight. The bird embodies a Celtic knot.

A tool moves intentionally across the stone as the story unfolds, transforming the medium into a work of art (image of a hand holidng a tool, working the stone).

History is the story of creating the world as a work of art. The world is not the earth, as an artwork is not the materials from which it is made. The world is everything on earth that shows evidence of human touch.

(Image of the completed artwork) The bird’s flight path is linear, moving through time. The Celtic knot represents the meaning, the timeless messages and lessons conveyed by the story. Every element of an artwork contributes to the whole (images of parts of the artwork). When focused on single elements it is impossible to see the work as a whole. We often focus on our individual stories; yet everyone makes a vital contribution to the cultural narrative. Our personal narratives, our family narratives, the stories of our communities, nations and cultures are fractals of a meta-narrative unfolding through time.

Resistance and conflict have value in the creative process (image of a particular spot where the carver met resistance). Resistance shapes the story. When we meet resistance in creating the world, we seek a different path, another way to reach our goal. Resistance indicates where the story’s meaning is not yet fully revealed and there is more to live and learn.

In meeting resistance we must transcend conflict to listen to what the work is telling us. What are we being called to learn, where does the work want to go, what wants to emerge at this point? How does the story of the world want to unfold now?


Doug Banner is Inquiry Director for The Flow Project. An educator for 30 years, Doug has studied the art and science of storytelling as the core foundation in social and cultural development and positive change. Formerly an elementary school teacher and principal, Doug is now adjunct faculty at Western Washington University and guest faculty at the International YMCA University of Social Sciences. Doug is a sculptor and a professional storyteller and musician. Doug also works internationally with the NuWa International Peace Delegation, in China and is a member of In Claritas, bringing creativity to governance.

Skye Burn is Executive Director of The Flow Project, which applies principles and practices of art-making in resolving social and cultural challenges. An award winning-poet, Skye has also worked professionally as an illustrator and fine-woodworker. Her research interests include the relevance of art-making to leadership and governance. She is an Associate Member of the UNESCO Chair for Comparative Studies of Spiritual Traditions; a community board member for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Sensitive Reporting at the University of Oregon; and Founding Fellow of In Claritas, bringing creativity to governance.

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