Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A holy place

If I wouldn't have had a guide, if I wouldn't have known ahead of time that the Sioux quartzite out there was full of ancient etchings, I swear I could easily have missed them, even though I walked right over them. Of course, I visited the Jeffers Petroglyphs in the middle of the day, and I was told that when you're there determines their relative visibility--just exactly how the sun hits them makes for significant differences. Nonetheless, I must admit that some of them I simply didn't see.

But they're there, and about that there is no doubt. Nobody knows who did them, which is to say nobody knows much about just exactly what kind of tribe and culture was here. The pictures themselves tell us just about all we know. They were hunter/gatherers who ate and drank, loved and died, and, unless our speculation is silly, they had rituals, which implies some kind of faith. The Red Rock Ridge--what locals call the site--has likely been, and still is today, a holy place.

Which is, to my estimation, understandable. When you stand beside ancient etchings that are, anthropologists suggest, at least 10,000 years old, when you see striations carved into the surface by a glacier that was here even before that, even the arrogant have to grab a breath. Almost all faiths, or so it seems to me, begin on the knees with a volley of stuttered breaths.

To some, I suppose, it might be tough to see a place like the Jeffers Petroglyphs as a holy place. If you stand up on the highest red rock there, you're no more than twenty feet above the lowest place within miles. Red Rock Ridge is a prairie high, really, and hardly a "ridge" at all. It's not the Royal Gorge or the Grand Canyon. There's no risk from that strange instinct some of us feel when we stand up at a precipice, an oddly suicidal urge to jump. Nope. Leap from the Sioux quartzite at the Jeffers site, and even the aged would have trouble breaking a bone.

But if you've lived out here for awhile, it's perfectly understandable how--way back when, and even today--people continue to wander out to the site to sit and meditate. I wish it were closer to home. If you sit on that stone, surrounded by the emerald prairie, miles of open land yawning out in every direction, and realize that, long ago, men and women in bison skins sat here too, inscribing their visions in the pink rock, you'd have to say, in the parlance of the young, "whoa."

"I'm like, 'whoa.'"

That's really where faith begins--"like 'whoa.'" I like that.

I'm not sure a church can do that--or wants to. Some of the old cathedrals?--maybe; but today's more contemporary spaces? ex-shopping centers? new churches created to resemble skating rinks? Nah.

No matter, I suppose--as long as somehow, at some place in the liturgy we can't help ourselves from muttering, "like, 'whoa.'"

You know what I like best about Jeffers Petroglyphs? You can go there anytime. There's no fence. There's a wonderful little visitor's center, there's miles of native prairie, but there's no fence, which means, hard as it to believe in this day and age, it's always open, as a holy place should be. I'm not kidding. You could go there tonight, late, when there is nothing but moon and stars, and sit on the ridge. You could. No one would mind.

Like, "whoa."

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