Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Today as we hiked I thought about the Center of the World and the connection between Earth and God. I thought of the poteau mitan, the spear, the sacred monoliths pointing to the sky. And I thought about what the mountain means to me and whether or not climbing it is in fact some sort of pilgrimage (I do apparently need to make it every week), or if that was attaching more significance to it than was warranted. Indeed, the mountain is holy to me, and indeed as I stood in a darkening wood, a rain-cloud filling the spaces between the trees, the luminescent shimmery green that glowed brighter in the grey light, I felt, "this is sacred." It was a knowing, a recognition, at least that much can be said.

I have thought so much about all of this before but more words have been put to it since yesterday, when I started reading (finally) Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion." It was one of three books I bought at a new used bookstore we stopped in yesterday. It's a great place. I thought I had a serious disorder - a seeming inability to be in a used bookstore and leave without buying. Well hey, I didn't buy the Hegel I wanted, or the gold copy of the Rig-Veda. Next time. What I did buy, besides "The Sacred and the Profane," was Karen Armstrong's "Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World" and "African Mythology" – a very old book by Geoffrey Parrinder. It had a few mentions of Shango and Olokun and Olorun, so I bought it.

Anyway, I began "The Sacred and the Profane" which is why I was thinking in such terms today.

A beautiful trail. What trail wouldn't I say was beautiful? Just as I found every red eft and brown toad lovable, I'd probably find every trail beautiful. It was quite steep, though with many flat sections at first. The woods were sweet and friendly. There was a waterfall to cross and some good scrambling toward the top. We sat and lunched on couscous at the summit. It was a nice place to be. The rain on the way down didn't bother us; it was refreshing and cool. I was way ahead of the others so I did much hiking alone. I was able to stop and look out and think and just be.

So God is obvious on mountains. Should I be worried that I don't find God so obvious in churches and temples? At least those contemporary ones I have been to. I remember seeing in an issue of National Geographic, this amazing church in Ethiopia constructed so many hundreds of feet up. One must climb with diligence to reach it. And there are others that are carved into the Earth, accessible by winding, descending passageways. Perhaps these places, celebrated with such seriousness and that require an undertaking of body and psyche. Perhaps then. And in their decoration, whether it be somber or joyful, muted or bright - again, celebrated. It is an act ... an act of giving, exchange, true worship and faith.

It may be a stretch to compare the mountain, or it may be a simple truth. It too has its challenge of body and psyche, and in it there is great joy. It is generally not easy. And, what we see from the mountain? What better view, than it all. I am so regularly amazed by the moss covered twenty foot high boulders, the tree roots that reach up from the ground and curl and loop and twist, the hundreds (thousands) of leaves shining and wet with rain, the deep smell of soil that makes one heady and hungry and humbled.

I have not yet seen a better place to find the holy than nature itself; I'm not dismissing the possibility. I just haven't found it.

 ~ Nellie Levine

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