John Muir and Earth Day


Today, on this Earth Day, we honor John Muir, the greatest modern prophet of environmental consciousness and action. Earth Day – April 22 – is wonderfully twinned with John Muir Day – April 21 – a day designated to recognize this great teacher who comes to us in a stream of  Celtic guides who celebrated the sacredness of the Earth.

John Philip Newell fondly calls John Muir [1838-1914] “an American Celt” for though he spent most of his life in the United States, he was born and spent his boyhood in Scotland. In a recent lecture at the University of Edinburgh, John Philip Newell examined the Celtic roots of John Muir. Click on the link below to hear is an audio clip from that lecture. There is also a transcript below.

Audio Clip from John Philip Newell Lecture “John Muir: Celtic Prophet of Ecological Consciousness”

Prayer for the Life of the World

For everything that emerges from the earth
thanks be to you, O God,
Holy Root of being
Sacred Sap that rises
Full-bodied Fragrance of earth’s unfolding form.
May we know that we are of You
may we know that we are in You
may we know that we are one with You
together one.
Guide us as nations to what is deepest
open us as peoples to what is first
lead us as a world to what is dearest
that we may know the holiness of wholeness
that we may learn the strength of humility
that together we may live close to the earth
and grow in grounded glory.

John Philip Newell | Praying with the Earth | Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash



Something of the ancient Celtic strand comes to Muir through his grandfather, David Gilrye, who lived across the street from him in Dunbar, and who encouraged in the boy an open-eyed wonder at nature and his expeditions along the coastline.

“When I was a boy in Scotland,” wrote Muir, “I was fond of everything that was wild and all my life, I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures. And best of all as a boy in Dunbar I loved to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of Dunbar castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.”

In Muir’s later unfolding, he says, “All terrestrial things are essentially celestial.” All terrestrial things are essentially celestial. That is, everything on earth is essentially of heaven. At the heart of all matter is spirit.

“The earth,” he said, “is a divine incarnation.” He uses this word ‘incarnation’ which in religion has tended only to be referred to Jesus in the context of… For Muir it is not just Jesus. It is not just humanity or the creatures. It is even the geological foundations of the earth that he sees as sacred. Playfully he calls them the ‘in-stone-ations’ of God.

Everything is essentially spirit, he says, clothed upon with flesh, with leaves, with water, or that harder substance called rock. All these buried forms of matter are simply portions of God. They are all of the God essence.