Holy Ground

Holy Ground
Lent 12

Sometimes we stand on firm ground. Sometimes we stand on shaky ground. Sometimes we stand up in the trees or swing suspended in air. Wherever we are, though is where we are. Wherever that is becomes the foundation of our sacred being, the set for our sacred living. From time to time that setting may be in a brick and mortar cathedral. Occasionally it is in a tree house that springs out of nature to celebrate nature. More often than not, the place of our living is the everyday locale of our being. The steps we walk become the holy ground of our living, whether they are on the beaten path of concrete walked by thousands in a large metropolis, up a mountainside dating back eight thousand years, off the beaten path on a plateau in northern Laos or right around the corner from where you live.

The Nasca Lines in Peru are located in one of earth’s driest climates. There are a geoglyph – a drawing or design in the earth made either by natural materials on top of the earth or by removing the top layers of dirt to reveal a design. Designated as a World Heritage Site over twenty years ago, the Nasca Lines are a gallery of the animals known to their makers and date back to between 400 and 650 ACE. While most are of animals, there are some of trees and flowers. This gallery of drawings is representative of respect given to these objects as a sacred remembrance of worship.

Another World Heritage Site is Cusco. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, it also contains geoglyphs and these are older than the Nasca Lines. Also known as Qusqu, Cuzco, and Cozco, it is thought that the city that legend says was claimed by a large bird, was built in effigy to honor the puma, an animal considered sacred to the Incans. The geoglyph of Cusco is in the shape of a puma. Even older than the Cusco geoglyph are the Desert Kites.

The Desert Kites are locally known by the Arabian Bedouin as the “Words of the Old Men”. Located across the deserts of Syria, Jordan, southern Israel, and Saudi Arabia, these standing geoglyphs have been scientifically dated to be three to five thousand years old. One explorer who wondered at their existence was T. E. Lawrence. He described them in 1913: “Starting above this Byzantine village, and running eastward along the hill-top, there is one of the long and puzzling walls which, like those elsewhere in the Negeb, appear to start and go on and end so aimlessly. It is a wall of dry stone, perhaps three-quarters of a mile long in all, and still perfectly preserved. It has been piled up very carelessly, from two to three feet thick, and from three to five feet high. It runs reasonably directly along the hill, never at the crest, but always a little way down the valley slope; it crosses gullies on the hill-side, without varying its height or taking any regard of them; in one place it is broken by plain openings, flanked internally by a square enclosure, a few feet each way, like a pound, or a temporary shelter. Its purpose is mysterious.”

New and more such discoveries are being made about what might be holy earth every day. In the summer of 2014, several craters were discovered in Siberia. The find sparked claims of aliens, meteorites, and other science fiction fantasies and the talk has not stopped. More crater have been discovered with one surrounded by twenty or more mini craters. Two of the original craters are now lakes. Many scientists believe the craters to be the result of underground explosions of air pressure resulting from the melting of the ground and ice. As the permafrost melts from under the soil level upward, natural gasses get trapped. Calling it a result of global warming, scientists predict more of these craters and the likelihood of erupting fires from them. The fact that we can explain part of their origin should not detract from their commemoration of their creation, though, nor the mystical reminders they serve in our acknowledgement of further mysteries of our being and lives.

Not all geoglyphs date back to antiquity. A movement known as the Land Art Movement is creating new geoglyphs. One well-known modern one was created by Robert Smithson. Built out of mud, salt crystals, basalt rock and water, the earthen sculpture was built in 1970 on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA. The fifteen hundred foot long counterclockwise coil is fifteen feet wide and, like the holy ground structures of the past, is sometimes visible and sometimes submerged when the lake water is high. The black basalt rock is now pink due to salt encrustation, serving as an excellent reminder that life changes us as we act and react to it.

Andrew Rogers, an Australian sculpture, has created a series of geoglyphs around the world entitled ”The Rhythms of Life”. One is located in You Yangs National Park to celebrate and recognize the area’s indigenous people. “Bunjil”, a mythical creature of the Wautharong aborigines, is now a modern geoglyph which represents sacred ground and beliefs.

The reality is that every building we construct and every cave or lovely natural meditation spot we discover is sacred ground in some manner of being. It is imperative that we not only recognize this but respect what that means. We, like the basalt rock in Utah that once was black but now is pink, change and are changed by the ground upon which we stand. We cannot simply erect what we want wherever we want it. We must be respectful and listen to the environment so that “we build with it and not simply on it”, as treehouse builder Pete Nelson describes. After all, this world is our home, or past and our future, and our being depends on the reverence we afford it. When we stand with utmost respect, we will stand firm, regardless of where we are.


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