Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Body of God

The Salton Sea

This past Sunday we packed up the dogs and drove down to the Salton Sea- about 45 minutes from where we live. I'd guess that most people have never even heard about the Salton Sea, even though it is the biggest lake in the State of California (35 miles long and 15 miles wide). 

The"sea" was created by floodwaters back 100 years ago. The Colorado river overflowed its banks and its waters ended up in an enormous basin, creating a breathtakingly beautiful lake in the middle of a desert.

Fifty years ago, the Salton Sea was a popular tourist destination. It had been stocked with fish and it attracted bird life from all over the planet. It was a hotspot for speed boaters, campers, and vacationers. Its shores were dotted with restaurants and hotels often visited by Hollywood celebrities.  At the height of its popularity, the Salton Sea State Park was visited by more people than Yosemite.

But the sea gradually started to die from an imbalance of salt and major problems with water intake and flow.  Now, dead fish line the shores. The birds are going away.  The water is murky and it smells horrible. All the hotels and restaurants have closed and only a handful of people live nearby (even fewer come to visit). 

Our trip down to the Salton Sea last Sunday was heartbreaking. There was only one other car in a vast parking lot of the once populated visitor center. We  walked along the shore, stepping on dead fish, assaulted by the odor. As we looked out at the incredible beauty of a sea on the desert floor, I felt tears welling up in me. I have visited many sickbeds before - held the hands of many who were dying, and it felt like that as I stood on that shore.  I was at the sick bed holding the hand of a living, breathing, profoundly beautiful organism that was dying -  alone and abandoned.  

When we came back home, I looked up something I once read - remarks made by Chief Seattle (1894) as he explained how Native American people understood the natural environment. 

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, the sap which courses through the trees, every clearing and humming insect is holy.  The rivers are our brothers. The air is precious for all things share the same breath. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. 

When the European Christian missionaries came to America to "convert" the Indian "savages," they found that when the native people prayed, they set their gaze upon the sand and the rivers, the trees and mountains. They were praying to the God who flowed in and through it all, connecting it all together. 

The missionaries chastised the native people for praying in this way. They taught them to look up into the heavens when they prayed, for that is where God lived - up above and beyond, looking down from a distance. I think maybe it was the missionaries who were the savages. The Indians had it right all along. 

As I stood at the Salton Sea last Sunday, I realized that I was standing on Holy Ground. Everything and everyone IS the "Body of God." Everything and everyone is connected with the energy of divine and holy presence. 

As I stood at the abandoned and suffering Salton Sea, my tears flowed because the "Body of God" is being crucified. 

Chief Seattle also said:

Man did not weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

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