I have been traveling through New Mexico and the edges of the Four Corners region with my husband and we were privileged to visit a kiva, discovered in the 1930s and rebuilt using the old techniques. We were allowed to descend into the kiva, but not to take photos — although it is no longer used for ceremonial purposes — because it is considered sacred ground.
During this same trip, we also visited two of the religious sites of our own tradition: the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Santa Fe and the Loretto Chapel which abuts the Cathedral. Both stand on what is considered sacred ground.
Over the course of almost forty years, I have been intentionally visiting holy sites: churches, stone circles, labyrinths, wells and springs, rivers, temples, sacred oak groves. I go to stand on sacred ground. I have discovered that many such places of worship sit atop nodes where ley lines cross. They are places of discernible power…and I pay attention to that power, but…but…
…but the challenging question that has been haunting me since I climbed down the ladder into that kiva is, Isn’t it all sacred ground? the whole earth?
Isn’t the earth around the kiva sacred? and the parking lot? and the stone over there? and the mud-brick wall? and the garden and the ditch? the shaggy juniper and the shy pinon? Isn’t that true of any church, temple, mosque, stone circle, sacred spring? Isn’t it all sacred because it is all the body and face of G-d?
Yes, I do understand that we build places where we can focus on the Holy more fully and we bless them and note that they are sacred, but are they more sacred than any other inch of this beloved planet? Truly? We have come to believe that we build such places for G-d’s benefit. Do we? Part of the faith story of those I call my religious ancestors tells me that G-d did not want a temple; G-d, in fact, said, “No” to settling in one place. G-d was quite content with a tent, so that G-d could travel freely with the people. So, I suspect that building “special places” is really for our benefit. Because it gives us tacit permission to freely desecrate every other place on earth. All the places we have not specifically blessed and set aside.
Beltane is a holy time of witness on behalf of the environment. It is a time of furrowing, planting, and nurturing an earth that is sacred in every place because the Holy One called it good. This week, I invite your reflection and your prayer. I invite you to find a picture of some plot of land that has been abused — I am sorry to say that this will be an easy task. I invite you to bring it to your meditation space and to consider what part of this destruction is yours to own and to repent. Is it a barren and littered urban block which you or I abandoned by moving to a more upscale neighborhood? Is it a strip-mined mountain top that provided coal to light or heat your home or mine? Is it trees dead from acid rain caused by fossil fuels?
I ask us both to do this not so that we can wallow in guilt, but so that we can realize how much power we have and how many opportunities we have for witness, how many ways we can act to re-establish the health of the environment. Witness is not only carrying picket signs; it is also taking the bus or participating in a carpool rather than driving our cars everywhere in solitary splendor. It may be buying organic food so that farmers who keep the land clear of pesticides can survive. It may be joining with others in an urban garden project. It may be choosing to leave the driveway unpaved. It may be planting something other than grass on the lawn so that we don’t use fossil fuels to run a lawn-mower.
I invite you to choose some witness — some further witness — for the rest of the Beltane season. If you already buy organic food, join a carpool. If you already carpool, pick up the litter for a block around your house. If your creaky knees or back make it impossible to garden, buy ethically-raised meat so that you are not supporting the intensive animal farms that are poisoning whole communities in the midwest of the United States. Or stop eating meat altogether.
I invite you to pray for or to enfold in love not only the wounded place you have chosen as your icon, but all damaged places. Perhaps you want to use this prayer or perhaps you will write your own.
I have been called out of the earth to walk in beauty.
I have been commissioned a steward of the bounty and beauty of creation.
I am nurtured by the gift of lives given to sustain my life.
With the whole cosmos I dance the great cycle of life:
womb-dark to light to tomb-dark,
birth to death to birth,
sustainer and sustained,
receiver then giver then receiver again.
In these days of breathing air, walking in sunlight, drinking water,
may I be the power of healing,
may I be blessing and hope,
may I be a vision of future glory,
may I be gentleness in the present.
May I be so. May I be so.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2012, 2014 Immram Chara, LLC