Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Land and Spirit

I think a lot about what the connection is between place, land, and Spirit.

How does a certain sense of place inform one's spiritual development?
Why do some places seem charged with the presence of God, and others seem devoid of it?
Are there some common things with land that touch people's Spirit more than others?

If you look through the Old Testament especially, much of thier spirituality was connected to land and to place. Some of these places had monuments or markers. Others did not. Some had a sense of collective memory/history. But some had a name, but even today we cannot pin down where they are for sure (Sinai for instance).

Part of what I believe is that every part of creation is charged with the presence and power of God, but that it takes us a while to become attune to it.

One example for me is the desert. The desert between Winnemucca and Reno in Nevada. The desert between Pheonix and Winslow in Arizona. At times it seems desolate. Devoid of blessing. Devoid of presence. Devoid of beauty. But after a while you begin to sense the wonder, the beauty, the God-shapedness of the place and it moves you.

Other places for me feel spiritual the moment I enter them. The Black Hills and the Badlands both speak to me this way in South Dakota. The Gallatin and Bitteroot Valleys also speak to me powerfully of a spirtitual reality. Especially when sitting under the half-light of the canyon. As do some of the beaches in Oregon when the waves come crashing hard into all the rocks. Or the simple expanse of beauty I see when flying over Alaska, or floating down the Kenai River or in the Katchemak Bay there. And the Panhandle of Idaho has a noticable effect on me the minute I enter it, but the opposite happens in Southern Idaho.

And there are still places I struggle to find a sense of spirit, of comfort, and of God's presence in. Like most suburban places, although I find a sense a peace in most urban centers. Certain parts of the plains, especially in Iowa and Illinois, and a little in Kansas, seem places of spiritual heaviness for me. Why is that?

What is it that makes some places have a more palpable sense of the presence of God and the spiritual, while others do not?

What are your thoughts?


Brea said...

I personally think it has nothing to do with the place but with the individual - just as a certain song may speak to me and say nothing to you. Next time you visit a dessert, watch the sunset - I guarantee it won't take you longer than a second to see the beauty in that place.

Kim Traynor said...

Intersting post! We spent the last couple weeks traveling around Massachusets and up state New York. Very different places with very different "spirits." In the Boston area, especially the outlaying towns, there is a palpable (sometimes opressive; salem) sense of the men and women who have gone before. Their acheivements and their sins have left such a distinct mark on the land and there is this open question; what is our legacy and what should we do with it?

Up-state New York is a different place altogether. Rolling blue hills and the faint (when you're lucky) aroma of cow manure create a bucolic feel. Abandoned trailers and decrepit victorian houses speak of a sometimes sad history, but one that is humble in it's tragedies and not nearly as likely to leave lingering ghosts as old Boston.

ps Thanks for sharing the pictures from your mission trip!