ABIQUIU, N.M. -- In her book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, what my friend Kathleen Norris says of the Dakotas can be said also of northern New Mexico: "The region requires that you wrestle with it before it bestows a blessing."
In stark land like this -- land that's often brown for lack of moisture, that supports brush and tumble weeds much more than trees or grass -- it is easier to think about a theology of place. In these red rock hills, which artist Georgia O'Keeffe painted so often and so enticingly, one imagines the early moments of creation, one senses the presence of a creative spirit, a playful, provisional spirit willing to experiment.
But for some reason that's hard to explain, the land here -- where I come each summer to teach at Ghost Ranch, a national Presbyterian education and retreat center -- envelopes people, provides an insistent context. Yes, you can pass through this land but not without it also passing through you.
So just for a change today, I want to share with you a few photos I took here last week. And if you've not been here, consider this an invitation to come and see a land that matches Kathleen's description of Dakota: lands "that now seem bountiful in their emptiness, offering solitude and room to grow."
(In the top photo, you see the Chama River running through the land between Ghost Ranch and the nearby village of Abiquiu. The photo on the left shows some of the hills on the Ghost Ranch campus. At right you see some of the colorful plants that this thirsty land somehow nourishes. And the bottom photo offers a hint of the changing and amazing skies of northern New Mexico.)
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PART OF THE PROBLEM?
New research suggests that Americans are less and less likely to believe that religious institutions are effective in working against social ills. As the article to which I've linked you notes, "America’s nascent pessimism about religious institutions is troubling. Eight years ago, three-quarters of the country believed churches, synagogues, and mosques had important roles to play in the broader society. Now, little more than a majority holds that view." It would help, of course, if fewer religious institutions weren't contributing to the social problems of racism, homophobia, sexism and others that need fixing.