Seeing Your Life As SacredNov 30, 2021
Last month I turned forty-four years old, and as a birthday getaway my wife and I traveled to the Wisconsin-Iowa border for a few days of coffee shops and hiking. As is my personal emotional tradition in that birth month of October, I wanted to be somewhere reflective. I wanted to be reminded of the consequence and history and depth of life. I wanted to be reminded that my life was about more than just a stressful passing of the years on a transitory planet, and being out in nature—especially among the Native American effigy mounds of the area— seemed to fit that bill.
Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa is really a series of nature trails that wind around a treasure trove of over 200 Native American effigy mounds. These effigy (sculpture) structures never cease to inspire awe in me when I’m near them. Dating back to the first millennium AD, these earth formations were meticulously crafted into fantastic and often animal shapes by indigenous, pre-Columbian peoples, and they were used as territory markers, burial sites, and places of ceremony that marked celestial wonders and the changing of the seasons.
If you plan to hike these mound trails at the National Monument park, be prepared for an extreme glute workout, as the initial ascent at each of the two sites is steep. The mounds are found atop elevated places deep in the woods and overlooking the Mississippi River, a location choice that might reflect strategic purposes, but to me one that speaks of a people who were trying to get “closer to God.”
The effigy mound formations are considered sacred: places where the sanctity of life is recognized; places where life and death alike are recognized as gifts from a higher power; and places where a connection to that higher power is acknowledged and harnessed.
It isn’t always easy to find sacred ideas and places nowadays. It seems that the more political and literal our society gets, and the more technologically advanced, the greater the erosion of an assumed or desired connection to God.
How novel, and how peaceful and powerful it is then, to find sacred places in the midst of our modern hustle bustle.
I always love walking through the secluded forest areas and up the elevations to arrive at the effigy mound groupings in Iowa. There are so many sounds and emotions and views that capture my heart and imagination as I do this: the way the tall trees creak and speak in the autumn breeze; the way a person feels excited and eerie as he is transported back in time and space; and the way a solitary deer locks eyes with you for a second before jumping back into his playground in the woods.
The sun from above, the mighty river below, and the way that nature converges to keep the bear and eagle mounds breathing: the sights are inspiring. But one view in particular always makes me stop to ponder.
Alongside the hiking trails, there is a simple sign that pays homage to the sacred intention and protected nature of the effigy formations.
It reads: Out of Respect, Please Do Not Walk on the Mounds.
Think about that idea for a second. The sign is basically saying: This area is too precious to be cheapened by careless steps.
What can we learn from that idea?
How could we each transfer the value of that idea into our own lives?
The effigy mounds are recognized as sacred—as areas to be carefully protected—by the many hikers who pass by them each year. But I wonder if these same hikers recognize how their own lives are similarly sacred? And do they aim to protect and nurture them accordingly?
Do you, each day, recognize how your life is sacred, and how it ought to be protected and nurtured accordingly?
I think that we each ought to carry around a slightly altered version of the above sign, one that says: Out of Respect, Please Do Not Walk on My Life.
Don’t tread on my dreams, my memories, my humor, my pain, my values, my soul.
In this modern era of technology worship, big government, disposable income, endless entertainment, news propaganda, big pharma, and never-ending stress and striving, how can we ensure that we remain focused on our souls—on the sacred nature of our existence—rather than on shallow and fleeting concerns?
How can we ensure that our every day and every action—from working to healing to cooking to interacting to relaxing—pays homage to something deeper, to the loving life force from which we came? To the eternal reality that is being prepared for us and awaits our dutiful arrival?
In my coming blog posts I will focus on several different ways in which we can make our daily lives more soulful in this holiday season and beyond, but in this post I would like us to focus on one realization: the realization that each of us is one-of-a-kind, and that our lives are as epic and beautiful and meaningful—both in joy and pain—as that of any hero’s past or present.
Jeremiah 1 verse 5 says: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
And Luke 12 verses 6 and 7 say: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Your life is an evolving treasure that was breathed by God and that needs His daily breath to be sustained and polished.
Too many people—after years of focusing on school, grades, professional life, salaries, mortgages, investments, alarm clocks, bills, traffic jams, social expectations, social media, and the pagan concerns the mass media disseminates—might begin to feel that life is robotic and soulless.
Life can begin to feel like a chore. It can begin to feel empty. Or worse yet, it can begin to feel like a prison.
And when life begins to feel like an empty series of chores or a jail cell, then that, my friends, is when it is time to really, really time to get back to a spiritual focus as the center of everything. As the center of meaning, as the center of joy, and as the center of coping. As the center of strength, as the center of protection, and as the center of personal peace.
This way, even our pains and challenges can be seen as sacred, as ways in which we can connect to God.
And when a spiritual focus is at the center of all we do, then we are able to transcend the choppy waters of what “happiness” might mean for the rest of the world, and instead we are able to find “joy and contentment,” things with deep roots that give us nourishment in times both good and bad.
Psalm 1 verse 3 says: “But that person (who delights in the Lord and meditates on His laws) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
Keep the Lord near you in all you do, and you will not wither. Even if the current season of your life is difficult, hold on. You will once again prosper and yield fruit in due time.
No matter what you are going through right now—no matter what you might have lost, no matter how frightened you might be, no matter how difficult daily life can get, no matter how empty things might seem sometimes—remember that there is great meaning to all of it.
Even your struggles have meaning, and eventually the purpose will show itself.
Invite God into each step of your day, both at work and home, and allow Him to peel back layers of monotony so that you can begin to see endless pools of beauty and connection in the “little things.”
Invite God into your ups and downs, into your joy and laughter, into your anger and tears, into your pain and fears, into your fatigue, and into your goals.
Invite Him in so that He can give you shelter now and prepare your brighter future. Invite Him to protect you—every part of your experience—each and every day, so that your hope and imagination don’t get trampled by the careless steps of the world.
Recognize that your life is sacred—something from God that is to be nurtured—and treat it as such.
If you need rest, then rest.
If you need to change jobs, begin looking.
If you need forgiveness, ask for it.
If you need love, look for it.
If you need to feel better about yourself, then be more gentle with yourself and encouraging of yourself.
If you need adventure, plan it.
If you need healing, pursue it.
If you need to be more creative, then start writing or painting or crafting or taking pictures.
If you need to make some changes to feel better—to feel more soulful and connected and vibrant—then begin to think about how you can make them, even if they seem “impossible.”
If you feel afraid, then know that God will provide you with the refuge you need during storms and the strength you need to move forward afterward.
Psalm 46 says: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
And Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”
Your life is a Divine gift, a gift that holds fantastic potential. Do what you need to do to honor that fact.
Do what you need to do to honor the idea that your very life, and your journey through this God-given existence, is sacred. It is not a race. It doesn’t have to look any one particular way. It is about more than just keeping up appearances. It is about more than just making money or running around feeling stressed or unworthy or confused. It is about finding peace and deep meaning, and it is about finding beauty and wisdom and simplicity.
It is about finding God. It is sacred.
The next time that you are tempted to get down on yourself, or to write off your life as disposable or as meaningless, please remember to tell the rest of the world (and any negative voices in your own head) the following:
Out of Respect, Please Do Not Walk on My Life. Don’t trample on my soul. These things are precious. They are created and protected by God, and I will take care of them accordingly.
This holiday season, in the midst of responsibilities, worries, and stress, take time to focus on how valuable your life is, and begin to think of ways—large and small—to honor it as such.
Have a very blessed Thanksgiving.
Until next time,
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