The Warm Blood of God: John Muir’s Reflections on God and Nature

November 7, 2016

A review of The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography by Steven J. Holmes (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999)

holmesMy interest in John Muir began in 1953, soon after we moved to California, when I read his book, My First Summer in the Sierra. One reason why the book interested me was that some of Muir’s sensations during his early months in that state were echoed in my own experience eighty-five years later. I became aware of a second crossing of my life with Muir’s in the 1980s when I had been living in Indianapolis for nearly two decades. Reading his book, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, I learned that he was living in Indianapolis in 1867 when he began the itinerary that was the turning point in his life.

In 2009 I discovered a third crossing point. Donald Worster’s 2008 biography of John Muir filled in much of the detail of the explicitly religious aspects of Muir’s early life. Although other writers had explored Muir’s religious pilgrimage, Worster’s book was where I learned that during his first two decades of life, Muir was identified with the same religious tradition as I, the Disciples of Christ, an American denomination that looks to Alexander Campbell as one of its spiritual founders.

During his brief time in Indianapolis, the congregation with which Muir was associated was located at the corner of Ohio and Delaware Streets near the city’s center and carried the name Christian Chapel. When the building was constructed (in 1857, a decade prior to Muir’s arrival) it was reported to be the largest church house in the city. The congregation changed its name to Central Christian Church in 1879 and four years later moved to a new building, which it still occupies, a few blocks to the north at Delaware and Walnut Streets. Muir’s name does not appear in church records, but Levi and Susan N. Sutherland, with whom he lived during his time in Indianapolis, are listed in the membership roll. Their address at 59 East McCarty Street was just a mile south of the church’s location.

My interest in the religious aspects of Muir’s early life is heightened and informed by Steven J. Holmes’ 1999 book, The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography, which I recently found at the Indianapolis Public Library. The book began as a dissertation at Harvard University where Holmes had studied in programs (at the university and at the divinity school) in American Civilization and History and Literature. Read more . . . holmes-the-young-john-muir