Friday, August 5, 2016

Sacred Places

"Energy and Life"
- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -

On our recent vacation to Alaska we had a wonderful opportunity to journey into the incredibly beautiful wilderness of Denali National Park. As we looked out into the expansive sub-artic tundra with the tallest mountain of North America towering in the distance, we observed moose and caribou roaming in the wild and listened to a young woman who accompanied us –a woman who belonged to a tribe of people who had inhabited that land since ancient, pre-historic times.

Our “tribal” guide explained that, to this very day, her people live in a village that has no electricity or running water.  They are sustained by living off the land and depending upon one another in the harsh climate of the land of the “midnight sun.” Then, in her native tongue, the young woman sang a song honoring the land on which we stood, praising it as a sacred space.  Like many native peoples, the hymn she sang expressed an ancient belief that all creation was alive with energy, brimming with a holy presence flowing in and dynamically connecting everything and everyone that exists.

I have been in many sacred places in my life - great cathedrals, historic churches, beautiful mosques and holy temples; and indeed, as we stood in there in the tundra beneath the shadow of the great mountain, it was as sacred as any space I have ever been in.

I am reminded of something priest and author Richard Rohr once said:

Before 800 BC, the thinking on the whole planet, no matter what the continent
was invariably tribal, cosmic, mystic.
Simply by watching the sky, birds and trees, the seasons, darkness and light,
people knew they belonged.
They lived in an inherently enchanted universe
where everything belonged, including themselves.

As a “sophisticated “Westerner” I may be prone to think of people who live without electricity or running water as “primitive;” but as I listened to that young woman in Alaska singing about the sacred place in which we stood, I began to wonder if I was the “primitive” one?  

Perhaps the real problem in our contemporary Western culture is that we suffer from the fallacy of a “dualistic” worldview. We think of each person as an isolated individual separated from other individuals. We imagine the world of nature as being distinct from us and we suppose somehow that “nature” belongs to us, serving as a resource to gratify our human needs. We even imagine “God” as some sort of “super-being” apart from us who lives out there and up there.

Ancient people didn’t suffer from “dualism,” they knew that everyone and everything belonged - all woven together into one dynamic web of life, energized and connected by a power greater than any single individual. That young woman singing her song about the sacred earth was hardly “primitive,’” she was part of a venerable and wise “ancient” tradition.

Last week as I stood there in the midst of the Alaskan wilderness listening to the haunting hymn of that young but very wise tribal woman, I silently recited the words from a hymn often used in the Christian liturgy. I have sung this hymn all my life but it never rang as true as it did out there in the tundra:

Holy holy holy, Lord God of hosts,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Now that I am back home, I appreciate my own desert wilderness of Southern California all the more. This morning as I watched the sun rise over the eastern mountains, I once again sang that hymn about heaven and earth brimming with the energy of “God.”

No matter where we live we are in a sacred place, always walking on holy ground – such an enchanted universe.

1 comment:

  1. Wise words to ponder and beautifully written. Thank you.