Diane Ackerman laments 'nature deficit disorder' in first Sage Wednesday

"I believe in God, only I spell it nature," said author Diane Ackerman, Ph.D. '97. She spoke Sept. 2, kicking off Sage Chapel's new fall series, Sage Wednesdays, held Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m.

Every other week, the series asks writers to explore the spiritual significance of their labors; it is "not a worship service, [but] more than a lecture." Each gathering will also include music by the Department of Music.

Ackerman, who presented "Coffee with the Muse," was introduced by Rev. Douglas Green, pastor emeritus of the First Congregational Church in Ithaca. Green said, "How do you introduce someone whose two dozen critically acclaimed literary works, whose writing, whose very language has been hailed by critics as groundbreaking, electric, stunning, luminous, dazzling, gorgeous, enchanting?" The crowd got a taste of such language as Ackerman conveyed the importance of routine in her writing process and her views on spirituality.

She said that although she prefers to write while sitting in nature, she is not often afforded that luxury due to frequent travel. On the road, she said, she chooses to work at a location that many a college student is familiar with: a coffee house, where she can feel anonymous.

Ackerman said that to her, the healing power of nature is much more important than a particular God.

"If God exists, that's fine; if not, then that doesn't bother me at all," she said. She identified "nature deficit disorder" as a condition our society faces and said that we shouldn't be surprised that we feel anxious or depressed when we are away from nature. She shared with the audience a hymn she wrote, which can be found in her anthology "I Praise My Destroyer" and is used at some elementary schools.

Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke Sr., director of Cornell United Religious Work, opened the program by reminding the audience of the series' commitment to the intellect and the spirit. The program opened and closed with music by Cornell graduate students Zachary Wadsworth, a tenor, and pianist Tim Pyper.

Sage Wednesdays will alternate writers and midday music for the organ. Schedule: http://www.curw.cornell.edu/sage.html.

Caitlin Krekel '11 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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