I need her– the land– though for a long time I’d forgotten why.
It seems the city lights and sounds, a siren song, called me into an alternate reality.
I stayed there for years, because I didn’t know better, and then she called to me again– the land.
I took my boys to the Indian mounds here in Georgia, where we climbed stairs up to a plateau of grass overlooking the landscape.
We could see factory smoke in the distance, but we could feel the pulse of an old earth beneath us– she remembers.
We sprinkled tobacco over a mound that was used as a gravesite, a place to bury all the people who died of European disease– nearly 90% of the tribe.
We sprinkled tobacco and we prayed, thinking of our own ancestors from a different tribe and a different place. Still, their stories come together and remind us that we belong to this history.
My boys watched as gravity took the thin brown strands from their palms, as the wilderness around them accepted their child-prayers.
I grew up with New Mexico dirt, in poor neighborhoods where we didn’t really realize we were poor– we knew we were children with friends and roofs over our heads, and that’s all we needed to know.
As a preteen living in Missouri, my step-dad took me to American Eagle Outfitters for the first time, and I left with a brand new outfit, never before worn by someone else. I became someone different that day, someone who could see my own reflection in the storefront windows, among the racks of bulk-manufactured items.
It was beautiful while it lasted.
But in living a loud life, I’d forgotten what it means to learn from the quiet, small voice of the land.
So as I get older, I long for the “tonic of wilderness,” as Thoreau called it.
I need the wind to remind me that the world is made up of rustling leaves and carried-away seeds.
I need the open fields to tell the story of the people who lived on the land long before I came here.
If we are to listen to the Creator, do we not also listen to the beauty that is created?
And if we do not journey out of our cities, out past the boundaries, out into the unknown, we will not learn to truly embrace the long-standing Mystery that is gifted to us in creation.
We climbed the stairs of those mounds, we looked across the land, and we asked, for ourselves, what it means to belong.
We have friends who have a farm in Arkansas, and the moment I step across the threshold and into their house, I know it to be a place of peace.
We can see the horizon through the dining room widows, out past the back porch. We watch the horses run through their little field while lambs play across the fence.
They live in the land, and they practice listening.
As with many things, stepping away from the city life we know and into what we don’t gives us a chance to re-evaluate, to re-define, to re-examine. Shopping malls and chain restaurants can’t do that. They don’t understand or heal our ache.
Remember those times Jesus stepped away from his city, from his friends, to meet God in the hillside or the wilderness? Even Jesus learned something in that quiet, learned from the breath of the earth and voice of the wind as it rushed by.
And so we are to learn something in these hillsides that surround us.
The stories are old, and the storytellers are wise, and if we humbly listen to them, we’ll learn our way, past the siren songs of our youth and into an understanding of the sacred-kept truth waiting for us in the wilderness.