GNL number 22


a report of doings at meeting #22, Sunday, May 10, 2009
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


Where I sit is holy.
Holy is the ground.
Forest, mountain, river,
Listen to the sound.
Great Spirit Circle
All around me.


This morning, before we dug into the topic, there was a special feature: we all brought old family photos, especially of ourselves as kids and of our moms. What an absolutely wonderful show-and-tell, with fascinating family resemblances! (And we had not only our photos, but the presence of Gail’s dear grandgirl Virginia who shared her pictures too.) We could have spent the whole time on this, and some said we should, another day.

Gail opened today’s conversation on SACRED GROUND by reading a note for us from her mom, Ginny, describing a place in her home state at the end of the Florida Keys that she realized had held this feeling for her. (See AFTERWORDS, page 2.) Gail said soon after they moved up to their land from Florida, she missed the long sunny days and found a special high place, a rock where she could follow the sun westward, and this became her sacred space. She also found a book online, Open Spaces, Sacred Spaces, which she recommended. Notes and quotes on this in After Words.

Though Anna grew up in the city, she said sacred space for her is no longer to be found in man-made cities, but in wild nature so abundant in Schoharie County, and in her own backyard, where at any time of day or night she can watch the little players in the outdoor drama. (Some of the scenes she witnesses through her deckdoors feature not only assorted feral cats but skunks with highly individualized coloration, possums and a variety of small rodents!)

Nancy said her first thought about this topic was an image of the Earth, beautiful blue marble in black space, as Whitman said, so full everywhere with miracles. Then: anywhere you/I/we truly are. Then: special places each of us has stumbled on where there was a special feeling of connection with something very basic, like Life, Truth. One struck her years ago walking near her house, when she discovered a place just above Sue’s house on Quarry St., an opening up where there comes a Quiet that’s palpable. Some other examples, quotes in After Words.

Sue noted experiences of sacred ground on camping trips out west as a child and as an adult with Jay, but also for many years right at home, every time she goes into her garden. (And she again invited us to come dig perennials she’d like to share.) She spoke too of the writing of Terry Tempest Williams, whose studies of gopher life led this writer a microcosmic route to macrocosmic awe, something Sue the gardener could appreciate. She quoted Williams, Susan Griffin, and Vincent Van Gogh, which we include in AFTERWORDS along with her notes.

Though Jack has traveled widely in the world—exotic places like Turkey, Iran, even Gandhi’s birthplace—the place he was remembering most today was closer to home. This was a lovely brook and waterfall, very peaceful, in the Keene Valley of the Adirondacks where he and Louise spent a week in the 60’s, a place lent to them by two Quaker ladies. It’s a scene he has preserved in watercolor, one of several paintings reproduced in notecard form last year as a fundraiser for the local high school’s ACCORD Peace Fund started by him and Louise. (We also sang Jack a big Happy Birthday for his 93rd on May 16!)

Adair had had a waterfall experience of her own, citing the falls on her property as one of her main reasons for buying it, and inviting us to make a visit to it some meeting in the near future, before she sells it. She had several beautifully illustrated books about special places to show us: Nature’s Chaos (commentary by James Gleick and stunning photographs by Eliot Porter), and two others, The World, and Haiku, and also referred us to a memoir which she personally loved, by the naturalist/writer Edwin Way Teale: A Naturalist Buys An Old Farm.

Chris had suggested we bring the old photos today, and hers of herself and her mother also evoked the place she spoke of. She carefully described a sense of sacred about the place where her mother is buried, and the sense of her she feels there. And when we were appreciating the wonderful, church-like feeling of our meeting site, Adair’s home, Chris offered the services of her grant-writer husband to develop a grant to buy it for the Church of Skippy. Paul was also instrumental in helping Jack into the car for today’s festivities, and CoS blesses him.

We knew that the Mohawk River in a kayak was a special, peaceful kind of place for Ann, but she also raised some other aspects of sacred space: First, she told a pretty hilarious family story about her brother and the Sacred Heart Academy (for which see AW). She also invoked the image of the sacred planet, and then raised other ideas of sacredness, such as patriotism/nationalism, for some a source of exclusivity and even war. And she added some 6-wordies of course, like: Running scared; seek your sacred place. For the rest, and her notes, see AW.


I do not have to go
to Sacred Places
in far-off lands.
The ground I stand on
is holy.
Here, in this little garden
I tend,
my pilgrimage ends.
The wild honeybees,
the hummingbird moths,
the flickering fireflies at dusk
are a microcosm
of the universe.
Each seed that grows,
each spade of soil
is full of miracles.
And I toil and sweat
and watch and wonder
and am full of love.
Living in place
in this place.
For truth and beauty
dwell here.

—–Mary de la Vallette, from A Pilgrim’s Progress

NEXT TIME: Sunday, June 14, 2009 (1030), at Ann and Elliott Adams’ house on Pavilion Ave., Sharon Springs. The topic is SUCCESS/FAILURE.

(And how about we bring or email a recipe or 2 of dishes we’ve brought for that Cookbook? Fans and France are waiting.)


  • from Gail’s mom, Ginny:

    An historical Fort, long of no practical use other than to be noted as the biggest masonry structure in the United States. Perched as a lonely sentinel on the isolated group of keys called Dry Tortugas; tucked down at the end of the Florida Keys. This is the unlikely place that comes to mind when I hear, “What does Sacred Ground make you think of?”

    I was lucky enough to spend a number of weeks for four consecutive summers camping in a second story casement in Fort Jefferson. One end on the open area faced the no longer used parade ground, the other open end facing the Gulf of Mexico. Lying on a cot during the dark quiet nights, the calls of the parent Sooty Terns in constant flight like a highway back and forth to sea was a sound that the birds made for eons combined with the sounds of the moving water, this really was a Sacred Ground. And do you know I never thought of it as this till just now, I just accepted it as being there, going on before and after we were here.

  • from Gail:

    About Open Spaces Sacred Places, By Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp:
Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, said, “The healing power of nature–so important to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and so undervalued in contemporary medicine–is the central theme of this wonderful book. The authors show us how people everywhere can work to create public green spaces that soothe and refresh and help heal communities and the world.” Open Spaces, Sacred Places is a book that dramatically demonstrates how nature has the power to heal and unify in our increasing frantic 21st century sacred places, including a meditation garden inside prison walls, a sculpture garden built by at risk youth of inner city, and a healing garden at a rehabilitation center.

  • from Nancy:

    Every day, millions of people find themselves deepened and dignified by their encounters with particular places. Most of these places, however, are not marked as special on any map. They become special by personal acquaintance. A bend in a river, the junction of four fields, a climbing tree, a stretch of old hedgerow, or a ftagment of woodland glimpsed from a road regularly driven along—these might be enough. Or fleeting experiences, transitory, but still site-specific; a sparrow hawk sculling low over a garden or street, or a fall of evening light caught on a strand of spider’s sillk, twirling in midair like a magic trick. Daily, people are brought to sudden states of awe by encounters such as these: encounters whose power to move us is beyond expression but also beyond denial.

    It seems to me that these nameless places might in fact be more important than the grandest wild lands that for so many years have gripped my imagination. Taken together, the little places would make a map that could never be drawn by anyone, but which nevertheless exists in the experience of countless people. I recall what Ishmael said in Moby-Dick about the island of Kokovoko: “It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
    —–Robert McFarlane, from Going to Ground (an essay about the hidden world of “holloways”, ancient paths worn down to bedrock), in Orion magazine, May/June 2009

    When I see the first light
    touch treetops on the far shore
    I launch my canoe without a sound
    and float into perfect calm.
    Not till the lake floor disappears
    do I dip my paddle
    and begin without a sound
    for the other side.
    Not a drip or a ripple
    I go so slow.
    When I reach the cnter of the lake
    the sun is up enough
    the far shore glows.
    Soon I’m paddling in sunlight,
    mist rises in wraiths.
    On seeing the bottom
    as I near the other side
    I stop paddling and glide,
    not a breath of wind.
    Bird sings. Fish jumps.
    Looking back where I came from
    I can see the trees at my camp
    begin to be touched by the sun.
    —-Antler, in the anthology, The Soul Unearthed
    (edited by Cass Adams)

    Another strong image, among many in the above collection, is given by Dolores La Chappelle, who worked and camped for many summers in the Olympic Mountains of Washington state. She describes a gleaming pond she discovered in an unlikely place in blue glacier country on Mt. Olympus, which with difficulty she visited with her 6-year-old son. When they approached, she and even the normally ebullient boy were caught by a “heart-stopping hush”; then, stepping onto the unbroken 10-inch-deep star moss around the pond, she realized no person had been there before and probably not even any large mammal in a long time. She says, “For years, I had no words for the experience. Finally, a couple years ago, reading David Abram’s “Notes From Thami Valley”, I found some words. He writes: ‘I want to ask, finally, if it is possible that our ecstatic or mystical experiences grow precisely out of our receptivity to solicitations not from some other non-material world but from the rest of this world, from that part of our own sphere which our linguistic prejudices keep us from really seeing, hearing, and feeling—from, that is, the entire nonhuman world of life and awareness.’

    The sun
    is setting
    in the tall grass
    beneath the pines

    where the heart
    one with the land

    where the mule deer
    their antlers raised

    where with palms
    we pray.
    —–Charlie Mehrhoff, in the anthology, Earth Prayers
    (edited by Roberts and Amidon)

  • from Sue:

    Place where I had 1st “Sacred ground” experience—Wilderness camping as kid in Rockies with my family, age 12—an expanding feeling in the center of the body as I take in beauty-awesome wonder of tall trees, rocky mountains, a feeling of union with the centered body of the universe.

    Idea: That when we live too much in our buildings, malls, looking into our computer screens, ipods-etc, we cut ourselves off from the larger world—which is the world of the natural rhythms, the cosmos—we’re out of balance—too self-centered, getting lost in a limited world. The gates that open onto all being and connect us to all being get closed.

    Jay and I seek out that wonder of wilderness again and again in hiking trips to National Parks in West & Southwest—Talk about Experience in little canyon in Zion National Park where we sat beneath a gnarled tree beside a streambed, water flowing—two deer—mother and fawn came grazing near us, not afraid, in a wonderful hush, then a Raven flew down with its wonderful harsh cry, landed at top of tree right next to us and began eating a fruit up there—then took off again-crying out and we heard the wind in its wings.—Both of us came out of that feeling blessed, souls expanded.

    Gardening—how it nourishes me—my writing. playing in dirt, digging, uprooting, planting, the delight of surrendering to chance, digging—I figure out how to deal with troubles in the world—digging rooting about I’m a much less angry, opinionated, bent out of shape person.


    • “To hear an echo, one must be at least ….56 feet away from the reflecting surface. Echoes are real—not imaginary. We call out—and the land calls back. It is our interaction with the ecosystem: the Echo System.”
      ~Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger, “Yellowstone: The Erotics of Place,” p.82
    • “Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out.”
      Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beatuy In A Broken World,” Pantheon, 2008, p.75
    • “We know ourselves to be made from this earth.
      We know this earth is made from our bodies.
      For we see ourselves.
      And we are nature.
      We are nature seeing nature.
      We are nature with a concept of nature.
      Nature weeping.
      Nature speaking of nature to nature.”
      —-Susan Griffin
    • If you study Japanese art, you see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time how? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying the policy of Bismarck? No. He studies a single blade of grass. But this blade of grass leads him to draw every plant and then the seasons, the wide aspects of the countryside, then animals, then the human figure. So he passes his life, and life is too short to do the whole.”
      ~Vincent Van Gogh, The Little Zen Companion, compiled by David Schiller, Workman Publishing, 1994
  • from Ann:

    The word sacred has always been problematic for me because of my family. The story goes that my mother noticed that my brother, a young fellow still in the learning to read stage seemed to be upset and sad whenever they passed a Catholic school in the small suburb near Boston where we used to live. A large sign with the portrait of the Virgin Mary, palms outward and a large colorful almost pulsating heart in the center of her chest was erected in front of the school. Mom watched Dave’s behavior for a while, and after a week or two finally asked him what his problem was. He answered that he was pretty sure that the kids that went to that school were never going to be happy. Mom asked why and Dave replied that he felt very sorry for anyone who went to a school named Scared Heart Academy.

    Sacred places, sacred ground, sacred behaviors, sacred thoughts, ideals, connections, bonds.

    Start with the sacred planet with its natural resources. The resources are to sustain life, not just human life; the resources are to be husbanded for survival, not used and used up to make money to provide a “better” life for a few humans.

    The sacred place of the mind, not to be assaulted with unnatural substances (like pollution), although mind altering substances have been used by humans forever and are considered sacred in themselves in some if not all religious enterprises for the out of body experiences they may provide.

    The sacred bond of communities, for survival, for enjoyment and pleasure, for study and education, for help and nurturing, for self esteem.

    Inviolate, unassailable, as each person/community perceives the sacred place. Central Park is sacred to a whole bunch of people who use it in a variety of ways, it is not sacred to oil interests except for those who stand to make money from the exploitation of the oil regardless of how it effects all the other uses of the ground, money is sacred to them. Is it a matter of who gets there first? Who is the strongest to protect their uncompromiseable use and/or ideals (resulting in wars)? Is it a matter of degree – the measure of “sacridity” which anyone or a group is willing to fight for and protect? Or to take away, take back?

    Sacrosanct – untouchable, holy. Pagan rituals and events had sacred places and practices related to holy/hallowed ground or areas. Native Americans considered burial grounds as sacred, not to be disturbed, but white men did anyway, not abiding by different cultural sacridities.

    National flags are sacred artifacts; in most countries it is a crime to desecrate the flag, huh? It is the idea of what the flag represents that is sacred and the flag is just shorthand for all those lofty ideals and sacrifices. So parks and wildlife sanctuaries, churches and other consecrated edifices, constitutions, libraries/books, gravesites/burial grounds, etc. are all shorthand for?????

    I need to back up, sidestep to, and go further into “holy” because it seems to generate the underlying parameters of the term sacred.

    What makes something sacred is a personal determination involving personal choices. As a member of a group participating in sacred rituals, practices and places it is still personal but also historical and cultural, unless perhaps it becomes a cult thing with brainwashing.

    Six Wordies

    • Running scared, seek your sacred place.
    • Holy, holey, holy – mackerel, socks, cow!
    • So green, so alive, so spring.
    • Here it comes… ready… set… SPRING!
    • Go ahead, smile, grin, chuckle, laugh.
    • Feel good about it, we do.
    • Some people I just don’t understand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: