So Much Sacred In the Land

I was given a great opportunity this year to co-lead the Anderson University Tri-S trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a way to bring people along, and to process my experience I’m planning to blog each night. This is my third trip to Pine Ridge, but it’s the first trip where I will be working with the Wounded Knee Church of God. 

March 18, 2013

Experiencing the Badlands and the Goodness of Creation

A Harsh Beauty

Today we got to experience the Badlands.

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I’ve looked out over the Badlands on my previous trips, and we’ve driven through them. There’s nothing like the Badlands in Ohio or Indiana and they are amazing.

But today we got to experience the Badlands.

After visiting a new outlook, taking a few pictures, and then scurrying back into the van to escape from the cutting wind we made our way to the bottom and ended up at a section where we could hike and climb and get ourselves dirty. I’m not overly adventurous, and climbing and hiking aren’t things I normally do, but I’m trying to approach this trip with a “why not?” attitude (rather than always asking why), so I took to the path.

As I experienced the rock of the Badlands beneath my feet, or as I grabbed for places to steady myself, I learned that I’d misjudged this place. While it looks like its made of these impressive stretches of rock, it’s a fragile rock. It crumbles as you walk on it. It gives way easily to pressure. You can almost imagine that it wouldn’t take much to damage large sections of what had looked so overwhelming from a distance.

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In some ways this adds to my growing appreciation for the Badlands. Not only is this area a place in which it’s nearly impossible to live, not only does nothing grow here, and not to mention the fact that even the water in the Badlands will make you sick, but the stuff the Badlands are made of seem to be a shell of what you expect them to be. In the cold, and the wind, the harshness of the Badlands seems to be a reminder that as beautiful as places a place like this can be, there’s a harshness to the land that even mocks places where at least the bones of creation are sturdy and strong.

In a way, I share a similar understanding of the beauty of the reservation. The prairie is certainly beautiful, but at times I’m reminded that this is some of the most difficult land to try and live on in all the country. I’ve known the pounding heat here, and now I’ve at least tasted the bitterness of winter. The way the seasons seem to offer little promise of renewal or relief seems to mirror many of the struggles people face living out here, and the sense that the cycle will simply continue on, and on, and on. A beautiful people, living harsh and difficult lives.

In the Presence of the Sacred

The harsh beauty of the Reservation land was all I had experienced, until this afternoon. We stopped at a dam near where we were going to have dinner, and what I experienced was nothing short of the presence of God. It was land where trees grew thick, and where there were signs of life.

It wasn’t that you could farm it, because I don’t know how you could.

It wasn’t that the wind was any warmer, because it wasn’t.

It wasn’t even that there was any sense that this place was mystical, or that it was a place where problems could be solved and everything was suddenly ok, because none of that was true.

But as I stood atop one the highest points, and I looked out over the pine trees, it was as if this spot on the reservation told a different story. In its beauty, I felt overcome with a sense of hope. I could envision light in the darkness. I could hear the laughter and the joy of the land. I could feel the nearness of God in this place, as if in this place, the story wasn’t written in stone.

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And the thing is, that’s exactly the story of hope. It is the story that offers us all the opportunity to imagine, even when we can’t give it words, that what we know is not all that there is.

It was a sacred moment, in a beautiful land, and for a brief moment something in me crumbled like the fragile rock of Badlands.

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