Jan 29 2012

The Sacred Earth

When I was in Chaco Canyon early last month I picked up and read my first Tony Hillerman novel.  Later today I will finish reading my fifteenth Hillerman novel.  I quickly fell in love with his writings and have not been able to stop reading the Chee/Leaphorn series.  I typically don’t read these kinds of books but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and learning about Navajo culture and religion. 

In his books Hillerman goes out of his way to note that the Navajo’s consider their land sacred.  They have holy mountains and many rituals that show respect for the earth and nature.  In a way that is foreign to many of us they live close to the earth.  In his essay, “The Navajo Nation,” George Hardeen says the Navajo “made the land their religion.”  You cannot understand Navajo religion apart from the land.

Years ago when I was in seminary I learned that the Jews, likewise, considered their land sacred.  It was viewed as a gift from God.  They, too, had their holy mountain and strong convictions that the ground upon which they stood was holy ground.  Walter Brueggemann, in his classic work The Land, says “The Bible is the story of God’s people with God’s land.”  He even makes the bold statement, “Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith.”  Like the Navajos, it would be hard to understand the Jewish religion apart from the land.  After the Jews were led into exile in distant Babylon this proved to be a great test of their faith.  When the Babylonians asked them to sing “the songs of Zion” they responded, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)  They had trouble separating their faith from the land they held sacred.

Reading Hillerman’s novels and reflecting on the Bible’s strong emphasis on the land has made me wonder why more of us don’t consider the land we live on sacred.  Psalm 24:1 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s.”  Does that not, in itself, make it sacred?  Just recognizing the fact that a holy God created the world should move us to realize that it, too, is holy.

I strongly believe that many of the problems the world faces today are, at least in part, due to our failure to affirm the earth is sacred.  If we truly believed that the earth belonged to God and is holy wouldn’t that cause us to take better care of it?  Wouldn’t that cause us to do a better job of sharing its resources?  Wouldn’t it make a difference in the way we observe and relate to nature?   Will it take a burning bush to make us realize we stand on holy ground?  I hope not.  I fully concur with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.  The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  May God give us all eyes to see that the land we live on truly is holy ground.


(I chose to illustrate this entry with three images I took last month in Tony Hillerman’s beloved New Mexico.)

Jul 12 2009

Trying To Be There

blackberriesOne of the books I am reading right now is a novel by Barbara Kingsolver called Prodigal Summer.  The natural world plays a prominent role in this book, as it  does in most of Kingsolver’s works.  In one chapter she talks about moths and how some creatures are never even seen by humans.  She then writes, “So much detail goes unnoticed in the world.”

There can be no denying that we all miss out on “so much detail” in our everyday world.  Perhaps we move through the day too fast or stressed out to notice.  Maybe we just don’t care.  As Christians we should strive to be more observant because the God we worship is “in the details.”  The Creator has made the world so that we might experience Him in not just the big things but in the little things too.  The key is learning to pay attention.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  It is my fear that there are a lot of us who are missing out on some wonderful things because we are not truly seeing what is going on around us; we are not paying attention.  Instead of taking notice of God’s splendor and glory in Creation we sit around and “pluck blackberries.”

In one of my favorite books, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard notes that in nature “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.”  She then adds, “The least we can do is try to be there.”  Yes, it would seem that is the least we can do.  It might not be a bad idea to begin each day by praying the opening words of the hymn: “Open my eyes that I might see, glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.”  It would be a good start…

–Chuck Summers

p.s. Rob wants everyone to know that it’s still o.k. to pick and eat blackberries!