Last February, I had the opportunity to explore Zion Nation Park in southern Utah. My sister is a park ranger and spent last winter at, what locals simply call “Zions,” and so my wife and I drove down from our home in Washington State to visit. It is truly an amazing place. Towering red sandstone canyon walls. Unimaginably beautiful sunsets that seem to reflect the colors of the rock. The southern Utah desert is majestic and harsh, and staggeringly beautiful. The sense of the divine is palpable, and not only because of the references to biblical names throughout the park. It is one of those liminal spaces, truly sacred ground. God’s red earth.
Early one morning we hiked to Angels Landing, a famously rigorous and scenic hike. As we made our way up the canyon, I found myself pondering all the ancient canyon walls and rock had experienced. Formed by the Virgin river, slowing eroding the sandstone over thousands of years. Zion Canyon is still being formed; it is not yet finished. God’s creativity is still at work on this ever changing landscape. Maybe it was the steadily rising temperature as the sun rose above the canyon walls and we climbed higher, but I wondered if rocks pray, and if they did, what were their prayers? As I pondered this, I swear I could almost hear the rocks speak. Not in some alarming way, in a quiet way, when you can push past your thoughts and settle into a sacred quiet. Tuning out your internal dither and being fully present. Recognizing and accepting your place in the cosmos of things.
Back in our cool hotel room as I recovered from the strenuous 11 miles of hiking, I wrote a psalm of lament from the perspective of the Earth.
A Psalm of the Earth
How long O Creator?
How long will you allow your people to hurt me?
You created me, fashioned me from stardust.
Parting my waters and my lands, proclaiming me good.
Every soaring peak and babbling stream,
Every tumbling sage and towering sequoia,
You proclaimed it good and holy.
In one mighty chorus we praise you,
In the harmony of the songbirds
The rustling of the tree branches
The rumbling of the rocks
And the roaring of the waterfalls.
All is offered in celebration and praise of your wondrous works.
You created humans too,
people of all kinds,
Created in your holy image,
molded out of fertile soil.
You instructed them to take charge and care of me
and all your majestic creation.
But your people forgot.
They have become greedy and forgot the promise they made to you.
My sacred ground and holy waters are poisoned and pillaged.
My tender ecosystem is ruined
And still they persist.
Soon I will have nothing left.
My pristine wilderness is trampled and overrun
My flowing streams run dry to meet their insatiable thirst
Storms rage unrestrained because of my warming oceans.
Do they not care?
Do they not know we are interconnected and interdependent?
Our survival depends on each other,
they cannot live without me.
My future is their future.
O God, remind them of their promise to you and their responsibility to me.
Do not let them destroy me.
Elizabeth “Liz” Ullery Swenson is the Founding Pastor of WildWood Gathering and is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary. She lives in Olympia, Washington with her wife Lucy Jane Swenson. To find out more about WildWood, visit http://wildwoodgathering.org/.
Image Credits: Joe Braun Photography & PCWallArt