Oak Flat is Sacred… and not only to the San Carlos Apache!

At the entrance to the womblike valley of Oak Flat, near the deeply rooted ancient oaks, Wendsler Noisie, San Carlos Apache leader, talked with me about about questions raised by a U.S. Forestry official. He asked why did they included non-Apache/settlers who also said that Oak Flat is sacred among the responses of the Environmental Impact Statement. The perspective of the Forestry official was apparently that only spiritualities indigenous to this land can hold any part of this land as sacred. Wendsler challenged me to think about how this government position colonizes and limits the faiths of people, like me, whose ancestors are from other places. My Christian faith understands the whole earth and all living beings as holy. And, my European ancestors also passed down the spiritual understanding that there are “thin places” on earth where that holiness is easier for humans to connect with. Those places often are chosen as places of worship and prayer and pilgrimage and service to others. Those faith-filled responses within the holy “thin places” function to deepen, strengthen and tend to the connection to God and to all that is holy in those places. The places are actually holy. We encounter God in those places. And more spiritual power becomes accessible over time through spiritual work of God’s people in those places. This is one way we partner with the Creator.When I hear that the San Carlos Apache (or any other Nation or people) understand that a place is sacred, I believe them. I have no reason to question their spiritual discernment. When I hear that they have held ceremony in a place since time immemorial, I understand that the holiness of the place itself has been deepened over time by their spiritual practice. Ideally before coming to another people’s sacred place, I am invited, prepare and prayerfully show up in a way that honors the land and the people who have spiritually tended that place. Wendsler suggested to me that, when heading towards a sacred place, we do well to stop each time the land changes and ask permission to enter that different space, ask each ecosystem bless us as we travel with good intention. Unfortunately, many people arrive in sacred places like Oak Flat without any reverence or care. Protocols and opportunities for deep connection are missed. But the land is still sacred. Whether I arrive well or badly, I may experience the holiness of a place, even though it is far from where my ancestors lived. My spirit has been nurtured by God in and through Oak Flat. I experience Oak Flat as sacred for me because, existentially, it is sacred. I recently talked on Zoom with a powerfully spiritual friend about Oak Flat and asked her to pray. She was willing. I showed her a picture of Oak Flat, and she gasped. I heard her connect with the holiness of Oak Flat over great distance in space and in spiritual tradition. She prayed binding the spirit of greed that is attacking Oak Flat. She continues to pray with us. Oak Flat is holy. I thank God that the San Carlos Apache tend it and have a particularly strong relationship with Oak Flat. And, the holiness of Oak Flat is not a thing that is true only for one people. Holiness cannot be limited by government policy. But it should be respected, even by governments. What is sacred cannot be captured or controled by colonial perspectives that continue to genocide the people who are connected to land, and to distance and deaden the faith of others, lest we stand for and with the land and the people of the land.- Carol Rose, Co-Pastor, Shalom Mennonite Church196People Reached22EngagementsBoost Post

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