SACRED DIRT: ON REVERENCE

WORDS: LILY MYERS

IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Lily Myers of the holistic feminism blog Shapes We Make talks about making room in our lives for reverence.

 

I’ve never been religious. Synagogue never did much for me when I was little; I

didn’t connect any sense of purpose to the songs and speeches that I heard there.

But I’ve always imbued my own meaning into seemingly random things: books, a

certain scarf, a haunting song. When I was younger, I didn’t use the words sacred

and meaning. But making my way in the world as an adult now, choosing how I want

to live, I find that it becomes necessary to intentionally seek out and celebrate these

things that, for whatever reason, feel sacred.

 

The nature of the sacred, of course, is that you can’t describe why something feels

special. So much of sacredness is the feeling of mystery, of wonder. Reverence is not

rational. It is a mode of feeling, not thinking. So when the feeling arises, it is one I

simply sink into. I explore it, generating more questions than answers—and this is a

good thing. It keeps the mystery alive.

 

When I first began to be intensely attracted to the crescent moon a year and a half

ago, I had no idea why. I only knew that its shape felt intriguing and somehow

important. This led me to researching the Roman goddess of the moon, Diana, with

whom I soon became obsessed. Something about her image, her strength, her

commitment to solitary hunting; these things fascinated me. There it was again: the

mysterious sense of meaning.

 

I can tell you why the moon is amazing: its ever-changing phases, its pull on the

tides, its effect on our behavior (did you know that emergency room admittance

rates increase significantly on the full moon?!) but I can’t tell you the reason that the

moon feels so sacred to me specifically. It simply does. It fills me with awe when I

look up at the sky. It both comforts and excites me. It feels massive; evidence of an

enormous world that I can only barely begin to understand.

 

Spirituality is largely an individual process. However, there is something widely

shared about a reverence for the natural world. There’s a reason that so many

people love to stargaze, stare at the ocean, and exclaim over changing leaves in the

fall. Not only are these things beautiful to our senses, but they are evidence of the

enormous world that we all share. The seasons are a cyclical rhythm that we all

must follow, year in and year out. Whether you look at the stars with a scientist’s

curiosity or a mystic’s wonder, you cannot be unimpressed by them. They are

massive, mysterious, ancient, and so, so much bigger than us.

 

Several things in recent years have pulled me toward the world of neo-Paganism: its

emphasis on mythology and archetypes, its nonhierarchical structures, its reverence

for the female. But perhaps even more appealing than these is Paganism’s reverence

for nature. This is a consistent theme in nearly all Pagan circles: a recognition of the

divine in the natural world. Paganism has the utmost respect for the season’s cycles,

animal and plant life, the sun, moon, planets, rocks, logs… it’s certainly the most eco-

friendly religion that exists. And I can’t help but think that, in our current climate

predicament, a little reverence for our burning earth might be just what we need.

I fear that many write this off as unimportant. True, spiritually worshipping trees is

not the same as direct action to stop deforestation. But we cannot truly save

anything that we do not respect. And to have so many people who not only respect

nature, but revere it—and there are estimated to be 1 million practicing Pagans in

America today—is no small impact. This enormous reservoir of reverence is a

resource, and we need all the resources we can get. The scientists and the mystics.

The poets, the activists, the dreamers, the pragmatists.

 

Reverence is not a passive or useless state. It is a motivator, both to your internal

state and your external action. I feel deep reverence for the tree trunk I see outside

my fire escape when I wake up. I feel love for the yellow leaves that litter the city

sidewalk on my way to work. I feel gratitude to the ground for holding my feet

steady. This constant noticing and thanking of the natural world not only lifts my

emotional state, but it reminds me what an incredibly complex and intricate

universe we live in. We are so easily desensitized to our surroundings. Awe re-

sensitizes us. It places us consciously once again into our setting: the earth.

I cannot imagine a life without this reverence. It imbues meaning into otherwise

random objects and events; it fills me with purpose and emotion. Reverence has

taught me the crucial lesson of constant, deep gratitude for life’s routine moments.

Reverence takes the mundane and makes it sacred. Reverence turns a falling leaf

into an epiphany, rainfall into meditation, a thunderstorm into euphoria. Reverence

turns this earth from a mass of rock and lava into our home. And when we treat our

home with reverence, we protect it, and fortify ourselves.