To my readers: This post is an updated version of the earlier one from 2019. See below in resources.
It was an unusually warm day, too warm for the first week of April. It was tree planting day at my home in suburban Denver, Colorado. The arduous task before me was to dig three holes deep and wide enough to plant the Aspen tree saplings patiently waiting for their permanent spot in our front yard.
Aspen trees cover the Rocky Mountains in large expanses of color, being most spectacular in the fall when the heart-shaped leaves turn a sunny gold. Also known as Quaking Aspens, the leaves quiver and shake almost constantly. Native Americans believed the leaves trembled like a man in the presence of the Great Spirit.
Rivers of sweat streamed down my back as I toiled in the hot afternoon sun, and then finally, the last hole! After reaching the required depth for the balled roots, I still needed to widen the hole another foot in diameter. Jabbing the spade deep into the ground, I heard a loud clang! I hit something hard. The grating sound of steel against granite was all too familiar. I had already unearthed fist-sized and larger rocks as well as tangled roots, but this new resistance felt ominous. To determine the outermost edges of this boulder, I stabbed the spade in several places but was thwarted each time. I seemed to have exposed a motherlode of bedrock.
Tired, hot, aching, and discouraged, I sank the spade into a mound of soft earth, went inside, and poured myself a large glass of cold lemonade. I then slumped deep into a soft cushiony armchair to gather strength for my next course of action. But soon my mind drifted me back to another time and place when I unearthed bedrock of a different kind.
A Rocky Mountain Climb
I was a few months shy of my thirtieth birthday, a major milestone for anyone facing the loss of youth. I was also pondering existential questions, questions as high and as steep as the 14,000-foot rocky peaks.
A hundred years earlier, it was gold fever that brought thousands to Colorado. For me, it was a different kind of quest. I was lost, spiritually. I questioned everything. Without solid ground under my feet, I was sinking into a quicksand of nothingness. My beliefs were nowhere and everywhere.
Feeling a deep yearning to stretch as tall as the mountains that seemed to touch the endless sky, I moved to Colorado. Here I could find the freedom to breathe new thoughts. A full 2,000 miles from my east coast roots, I contemplated how much my life was determined by geography. Had I been born in other parts of the world, I would have other experiences, a different faith, sculpted by parents from another culture. So, here in my adopted mile-high city, I sought to climb the summit of my own beliefs by wiping the slate clean: a sort of religious do-over, beginning at my spiritual sea level.
I moved into an area of agnosticism. Not stagnant agnosticism, but as a restless sojourner. My search brought me to an assortment of beliefs. Then, on one Palm Sunday morning, I attended a lecture given by a man whose name I do not recall. His thesis was the comparison of the Christ story to fairytales and various mythologies. His intellectual delivery was compelling. Feeling very informed, I walked back to my car and took my place behind the wheel.
But as I turned the key to ignite the engine, I heard another sound. It was a voice resonating from a space deep inside me. Each word was a reverberating chord, and my body was the musical conduit. From my inner core, these simple words rang,
I lived . . .
I died . . .
The force of this voice sank me deep into my seat. The motor was still running, but I was not going anywhere. Rivers of hot tears ran down the sides of my head, forming warm little pools in my ears. I felt a tsunami of love engulf me. And I knew. My restlessness was over. I could stop digging. I found my bedrock.
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. (Joseph Campbell)
My Sacred Space
For decades, I kept the experience to myself, initially because this experience was so profound, so life-changing and so intimate that mere words would somehow sully it. I kept it hidden somewhere deep inside. Then later, I still did not speak of it because, well, we humans have a hard time revealing our inner spiritual selves. But there is undoubtedly a space within me, a sacred space, where my deep personal truths comingle with my heartbeat. Any impulse of doubt, of aimless drifting and I return to that space. And it is as real today as it was almost 40 years ago. Solid. Impermeable. Bedrock.
Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Upon this Rock . . .
I am a Capricorn, an Earth sign, and I come from a long line of farmers. So that might begin to explain my love for the earth and the connectedness I feel to God when digging into rich loamy garden soil. Feng shui practitioners consider the earth to be the most stable of the elements offering firmness, support, and grounding. But what happens when we lose that sense of solid foundation beneath our feet, that sense of grounding?
I hear humanity crying out. I also feel the earth crying out. My country is in turmoil amid uncertainties and civil unrest. Humanity is suffering. We feel tossed around in cyclonic COVID storm without an end in sight. Our national conversation is a shouting match, spiraling down a vortex of fire and anger. Like the Aspen, we find ourselves quaking in the wind. But also like the Aspen, we are undoubtedly rooted in the presence of the Great Spirit.
A Shining Light on the Hill
Referenced by President Ronald Reagan in his 1989 farewell address, is part of John Winthrop’s sermon while aboard a ship sailing to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Reagan uplifts the vision of America as a shining light on the hill.
In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
Carving Our Way
I was troubled. Lost. Adrift. And I kept digging until I found solid rock, my sacred space of revelation, my own monuments of truths. Some monuments of truths are indeed carved in granite or in marble. Artists have ways of revealing them.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. (Michelangelo)
Michelangelo would say, keep carving.
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/artists, accessed on 7.2.20
For more information on the wonderful Aspen trees visit https://www.herbazest.com/herbs/aspen