History of The Land
Last Wednesday, in our small morning group, we asked the quick and easy to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?”
For inspiration, we referenced an article written just after the beginning of the pandemic by cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram. In his Op-ed piece, Abrams describes a future marked by the “elemental friendships and alliances that we choose to sustain us, by our full-bodied capacity for earthly compassion and dark wonder, by our ability to listen, attentive and at ease, within the forest of our unknowing.” In short, Abram’s describes a future defined by our reconciliation to creation through a worldview of interconnectedness.
Abram begins his op-ed referencing early pandemic reports regarding an abundance of fish returning to the canals in Venice. Abram explained that the reality was not that the fish was suddenly returning but that as the water in the canal cleared, it was possible to see the fish had been swimming around all along. Where most writers would have determined this an appropriate place for a conclusion, Abram continues, “But if we can see those fish in the long quiet of these days, then those finned beings can also see us, can see the sun and the gleaming moon in ways they’ve not been able to for decades.”
I realize I have told the story of The Land from my perspective so many times its white noise to most of us, myself included. Last Saturday, driving home from The Land, I imagined the possibilities of telling the story of The Land from the perspective of The Land.
At first, The Land’s story was a story of waiting. The Land cast as an actor without lines, waiting for our creative visions to enliven a blank canvas present for our collective imaginations. This character casting is a pragmatic and purposeful perspective for a stewardship campaign, particularly if we consider that our arrival brings the work of feeding people, conserving the prairie, sharing sacred space, and redefining worship.
In 2021, redefining worship looks like the addition of a third canopy structure, a celebratory addition to the expansion preceded by the purchase of a new sound system. A new podcast on Spotify, a vibrant YouTube Channel, and a new Livestream option for those who are unable to be physically present are just a few examples of how The Land is reaching further with its mission and message.
To manifest our focus on sharing sacred space, we are currently drafting rental policies so that in 2021, The Land can be a site for memorial services, weddings, tent camping, and community gatherings.
Conservation of the Prairie continues to demand creativity and patience as we strive to live peacefully with the prairie dogs who are finding this a hospitable place for homebuilding.
The expansion of garden beds and the formation of a financially subsidized CSA program in 2021 are examples of how feeding people reflects the growing momentum of our mission.
The promise of our prairie school, the special events, and the educational opportunities that fill our calendar and elongate our weekly emails continue to attract new participants to an organization defined by connecting with and caring for Creation.
These four focus areas wrapped into the story of saving an abandoned plot of the property so that we can save people who need our help is a heavy-hitting pitch for a non-profit.
There is a small (and inadequately persuasive) part of me that would like to leave this pitch alone. Except, if The Land is the narrator of our story as opposed to our story becoming The Land’s, passivity is an illogical starting point. And, if The Land is not a silent partner in our work, but a partner speaking a language we have yet to translate, concisely communicating that The Land is worthy of financial investment becomes more challenging.
I’ve been wondering about this curious relationship between American churchgoers and The Land, which drives us to see buildings as worthy investments. It seems counterproductive, the rush to purchase and possess, followed by the push to build and disconnect.
Why do we consume Land with such an insatiable appetite, if its consumption is to construct buildings removing us from the beat of her heart and her lessons? Is it not The Land itself that provides us shelter and food and oxygen to breathe? In this case, wouldn’t we want to crawl into her arms and surround ourselves in the blessing of her sanctuary?
With the pandemic pushing people out of their buildings and the people panicking about when they can go back inside, I have struggled to make sense of this institutionalized detachment.
Then I began learning and listening to The Land. Understanding the history and imagining the experiences from her perspective. Involuntarily maintaining the awareness of my placement in her pain. I began to dig deep enough to reach the bubbling grief of a Land unheard, unseen and unknown, and, I too, crave a building to rescue me from the connection to The Land.
To hear The Land’s story is both a lesson in humility and an invitation into the deep pain accompanying true interconnectedness.
The practice of humility is a posture of confession.
We are not the inception of the animation of this living, breathing life pulsing beneath our bodies. The Land has not been awaiting conquest or colonialization. The Land is not an object to be manipulated and manicured into something productive and presentable.
The exercise of interconnectedness is a labor of selfless love.
We see and redact humancentric narrations blinding us to the darkness our self-centeredness casts on creation. We dig with bare hands into a living history that stings us in the present. We rest on a Land that weeps for the presence of fellow creatures violently removed or tragically extinct from a Land that knew them as her own.
The Land is in a geological region called the Denver Basin. Beyond the ground visible to us, The Land keeps secret stories sealed in ocean fossils, dinosaur bones, and ancient, human-made tools. This Land was submerged by water, trampled on by dinosaurs, and grazed on by Western camels, Columbia mammoth, and giant ancient bison. This Land curates one hundred million years of death and rebirth, tragedy, and transformation.
As infants in her narration, humans appear to occupy a substantial and traumatic role. This Land has witnessed the evolution of the human species in ways that are both impressive and repulsive. From the first feet of the Paleoindians, who held simple tools and hunted mammoth, to the Archaic Indigenous peoples who passed by to gather and track across a borderless, rich prairie ecosystem. People who walked alongside her grasses as guests and others who stayed without invitation. Ute, Pawnee, Comanche, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiowa tread lightly with an understanding of The Land’s autonomous life and their dependence on her health and happiness. Cheyenne and Arapaho communities were willing to fight for her when Europeans stopped passing by and decided they wanted to stay.
When Europeans discovered gold hidden in this Land, a treaty that had legally granted this Land to the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and other tribes became null and void. At the center of the violent assault on the tribes to remove them from their Land was the Sand Creek Massacre. Hundreds of indigenous women and children were massacred in a surprise attack led by a Methodist preacher. Six hundred and seventy-five soldiers making up the Colorado Volunteer Calvary followed his lead. The trauma of wars, broken promises, and massacres by Europeans on the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes saturate the soil we now tend for squash, carrots, and sweet peas.
And, I imagine, in this harsh, unforgiving climate of the Colorado Plains, the fertility of this soil requires the presence of our tears. Perhaps this is why we distance ourselves from the darkness of the waters, the reason we cringe at the thought of gathering without a concrete foundation.
Compassionate cohabitation exists as a relentless desire to discover the creation and creatures around us because we realize we too are a creature of divine design. Living in a cycle of generous reciprocity is a determination that favors neither pain nor pleasure but exists purely for the dream of a reconciled relationship with all of creation.
In Making Peace with The Land, Norman Wirzba explains that this reconciled, reciprocal relationship is more than the absence of violence. Reconciliation with The Land, Wirzba writes, “takes us to a physical place-a plot of land-that puts down roots, produces food, provides stability and hospitality, fosters healthy relationships, and inspires joy.” The gift of this reconciliation is mutual. It is the presence of Shalom and a reflection of “God’s reconciling vision that results in the safe settlement of people who have been planted by God in the soil and who honor God in all that they do.”
Reconciliation with The Land illustrates that God’s vision for creation is concretely countercultural. In digging into The Land’s story, we slowly learn that reconciliation with The Land is much more than a reconciliation with the sentient beings held in this place now. Reconciliation with The Land introduces interconnectedness as a liminal space, a way of seeing that cuts across time and space. This liminal location informs and integrates the story of the past and the future into the present moment.
Reconciliation trains us not only to see through the eyes of the creatures here but to look into the darkness of the past and see a view of a future that is determined to be different. From where we sit, we hold the pain of a Land violently stolen in the past while envisioning healing and wholeness in the future. From the perspective of reconciliation, there is no such thing as Land wasted until developed or divided for purchase. In the framework of reconciliation, we are The Land and The Land is us, and together, we exist as an interconnected web strengthening the ground that feels our presence and responds with the gift of life.
As we begin our season of stewardship at The Land, may we start with hearts rooted in the reality that The Land has a purpose, a story, outside of us. May we take up the cross of the post-consumer and collaborate with that passion, even as we acknowledge the reflex to conquer The Land for our purpose, for our gain. Let us be stewards of peace, and let us begin this stewardship by falling in love with The Land.