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Minnesota Episcopal
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Episcopal Church in Minnesota
Shield of Episcopal Church

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Reflections on Sacred Ground
by the Rev Gene Wahl

It may be asked, "Why are the Boundary Waters alone being proposed as Sacred Ground, and not other places as well?" This is an excellent question, and it gets right to the heart of the matter. The Boundary Waters are not the only place that is sacred; indeed the deeper question is the one which asks, "Where is there a place that is not sacred, not holy, where God is not present?"

We are convinced, through meditation, prayer, the witness of Scripture, and reason that the only full answer to this second question is that there is no place that is not meant by God to be Sacred Ground. We have clearly spoiled many places, on vast and small scales, and we spoil ourselves in the process. But the larger character of Creation remains: God sees it as "very good" (Genesis 1); it is "full of [God's] Glory" (Isaiah 6 and the Sanctus of the Eucharistic Prayers); it is "God's Body" (Dr. Sallie McFague, Vanderbuilt Divinity School, and others, and at least implied in Scripture in many places – notably John 1, Colossians 1, and Ephesians 1).

So, to call the Boundary Waters "Sacred Ground" is appropriate only when coupled with the second part of the declaration. It is appropriate only when we also call this place a "window to the Kingdom of God"; that is, only when we see these lakes, hills, bogs, and all the creatures that live there as declaring the sacredness of all places. The Kingdom must be meant to be everywhere; this we have to say if we really believe in God as the One, "...in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

This is really the reason for this declaration: we need "windows to the Kingdom". The Boundary Waters do not need to be titled in this way. We need to make this claim. We need to recognize and cultivate relationship with special places that focus for us the holiness of all Creation. In this sense, to say the Boundary Waters are Sacred Ground is akin to calling Baptism and Holy Eucharist "sacraments". The sacraments are not somehow more sacred and more holy than all our actions are meant to be, but they are crucial for helping us to focus on the inherent fullness of God's Presence at all times and in all the situations in which we act (cf. Robert Taft, S.J., The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West). The ritual sacraments are also "sacred ground" in this sense, as has been recognized for as long as we can tell into the mists of human consciousness. We need the "windows into the Kingdom" of the sacraments; we need the "windows into the Kingdom" of special places. We are a people of the Incarnation, and it is in the tangible, in the Flesh, that God grows us into temples of the Spirit – so we can be God's Body in the world, to other people, and to the entirety of God's Creation.

To be converted from being mere users (and often gross abusers) of resources to being honorers of God's Presence in our relations with the rest of nature, we need to accept the gifts offered by "Sacred Ground".

 

The Rev Eugene Wahl, the first Chair of the Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship Commission, was an Episcopal priest working on his Ph.D. on the Paleo-climate and vegetation history of southern California at the University of Minnesota when originally wrote this in April 1997. We welcome your comments.   Please address your comments or additional reflections to any MEESC member or write to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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