God In Your Backyard

by Rev. Raymond Petrucci

I can introduce you to a sacred place. The first thing you have to do is to find some time to relax. You might think that leisure would be rather simple to attain. It has been over ten thousand years since humans began domesticating plants and animals and generally leaving behind the continuously active life of the nomadic hunter-gather. Yet, our modern "labor saving" devices have led to the development of new technologies begetting new forms of labor. Leisure has been assaulted by beepers, cell phones, and laptop computers. Currently, there is a television advertisement that illustrates my point. The setting is a beautiful beach on a tropical island. The scene consists of a table placed between a couple lying on chaise lounges facing a stretch of white sand and aquamarine water. The man is skipping stones across the waves. Then a cell phone on the table rings. He picks it up - a short pause - and then you see the cell phone splashing over the waves. How elusive tranquility has become, but, when captured, it may contain the experience of the holy.

"Could you feel the spirituality of the area?", was the question asked by a local jeweler on the Hawaiian island of Kauai to a husband and wife who had just returned from a helicopter tour of the Na Pali coast. The sightseeing venture included breathtaking views of Waimea Canyon - called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific by Mark Twain - with its gorges that descend nearly three thousand feet; Spouting Canyon that was named after a feature that produces a geyser-like spray and a moaning sound that legend ascribes to a lizard beneath the lava. The flight crossed over the Wailua River wending its way through verdant valleys and rain forests occasionally delighting the tourists with views of its magnificent waterfalls and also the land of Hanalei with its cragged mountains resembling a sleeping dragon which inspired the song, Puff the Magic Dragon. In this "Garden Isle" of Kauai, people subordinate themselves to nature and the islanders use terms such as "sacred" and "heavenly" to describe their bucolic wonderland. Perhaps the most striking image of the spiritual impact of Kauai is the ocean which surrounds the island in its awe inspiring majesty and dominion. God makes us humble in the presence of its power and yet esteemed by our value before its creator.

On the island of Maui, the crater of the Halleakela volcano is known as the House of the Sun. In the native religious beliefs, the god Maui lassoed the sun and stored its rays in the mountain where they would be used as needed by the local farmers and fishermen. The link between the soul and the land was not lost on the newcomer. The famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who is buried on this island, said: "I'd rather spend one day in Hawaii than thirty days in New York." The people, the government, the spirit of this land declare its natural beauty to be sacred.

Those whom we may consider primitive, or even savage, seem to possess a higher degree of sophistication in appreciating the importance and the meaning of God's handiwork than we do. The Native Americans indicted the white settlers usurping their land in these words: "We treat everything as if it were alive. The white man treats everything as if it were dead." Something to ponder. Remember! The question the man asked my friends was not about the beauty of the island, but about the spirituality of the island.

This brings me to my backyard. Okay, it's not Hawaii, but I would ask the same question: "Could you feel the spirituality of the area?" For me the deep woods reveal God's presence. The way the golden sunlight streaks through the lush greens and browns of a summer wood is nothing short of divine. In the fall the profusion of colors make every leaf a prayer. Winter's snow transforms the woods into a cathedral. Even the dark, drab hues of the woods in early spring speak of hope and resurrection. It is a place where I can be on a spiritual retreat. This is not pantheism, but the evidence of the hand of God: "As the rising sun is clear to all, the glory of the Lord fills all his works." (Sirach 42:17.) I agree!

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