I feel that the small, sacred places need more attention. They often get overlooked because they aren’t great wildernesses or national parks or miles-long lengths of trail. They’re often the most vulnerable to development because who’s going to protect a half acre of grass and poison ivy in the middle of a suburb? Put a house or business there instead, or turn it into a carefully manicured park or community garden. While a home can give shelter and a garden can provide food, neither of these provide the same diversity of disorganized, beautifully independent life that the untamed scrub and trees can.
More importantly, they’re often the most accessible natural spots for children who are still developing their relationships with the nonhuman world. Most children can’t just go wandering into a state forest or desert trail, especially not on their own.
Sarah sent me the above article and call for blog contributions about small sacred places and I connected with it very much, knowing instantly the small sacred place in my own life. Eleven years ago when we were choosing between two pieces of land to buy to build our home, one of the deciding factors was the cool big rocks on the hillside behind where we imagined building our house. Over the years, we would go out and walk through the woods and stand on the rocks and I often said that I wanted to create a sacred space down there to visit regularly. As I realized later, there was no need to “create” the sacred space, it was already there! Following two miscarriages, I would often go to the woods to sit on a chair-shaped rock and connect with nature and my body. During my subsequent pregnancy with my daughter, I would return to this place to sit and connect with my baby and prepare for her birth. After she was born, I brought her to these rocks and these woods to “introduce” her to the planet. It was at some point at the end of 2010, that I suddenly “heard” the words priestess rocks when I was standing out on the large flat stones that look out over the horizon. It felt like their name, I suddenly knew it…
So, in July of 2012 when I became ordained as a priestess, the priestess rocks felt like the absolutely perfect place to bear witness to my ceremony of ordination. They called me. They named me priestess first.
In late December 2012, I decided to begin a year-long spiritual practice of “checking in” every day at the priestess rocks in my woods. I committed to spending at least a few minutes there every day, rain or sleet or shine, with children or without, and whether day or night throughout 2013. I also decided to take a daily picture. My idea was to really, really get to know this space deeply. To notice that which changes and evolves on a daily basis, to see what shares the space with me, to watch and listen and learn from and interact with the same patch of ground every day and see what I learn about it and about myself. I want to really come into a relationship with the land I live on, rather than remain caught up in my head and my ideas and also the sometimes-frantic feeling hum of every day life as a parent and teacher. When I went down to the woods to “listen” to this idea, I spoke a poem that included the word “woodspriestess,” and I thought…hmm. Maybe this is what I’m doing. As I planned, I started this practice on January first and have not yet missed a day, except while traveling (and, then I bring a small rock from the woods with me so that I can still “check in” with them). In March 2013, I decided to do a thirty-day experiment in which I made a daily post/picture about my “woodspriestess” experiences. It was a rich experience in many ways. (The daily practice will continue through 2013, even though I have not continued writing on a daily basis after the March experiment).
When I go to the woods, I often have what I think of as a “theapoetical” experience. I explained my theory and experiences of theapoetics in one of my early posts for the Feminism and Religion project:
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as theapoetics—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”
“Rocks are very slow and have sat around from the beginning, developing powers…Rocks can show you what you are going to become. They show you lost and forgotten things.”
–Agnes Whistling Elk to Lynn Andrews (quoted in Carol Christ’s essay in Reweaving the World, pg. 69)