This reflection was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree on Oct. 24th for the national Presbyterians for Earth Day newsletter.
In my work, I often speak to congregations about the importance of creation care. The beginning of the talk I give is the beginning of my story. Before I get into what creation care is and ways we can practice love for all beings, I talk a bit about why I do what I do and how I came to feel called to environmental ministry. That story is centered in place.
Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I understood the world as sacred from a young age. How could I not? My pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me about God’s love, and I felt God’s love outdoors. The sun, rain, and wind offered me the sense of wonder associated with my experience of the Divine. My backyard wildflower garden, and the woods behind my neighbor’s house, provided space for me to connect with God and the deep well of love that’s available to us when we are present. I found God with the birds singing outside my window and under rocks where my brother and I looked for salamanders… God was all around me in the mountains of my upbringing. But no place served as such a conduit for God’s presence as Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob was, and continues to be, my “thin place.”
Frequently referenced in Celtic spirituality, “thin places” are locations where the veil between this world and the eternal is thin. Waterrock Knob, the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and 16th highest in the eastern United States, has long been that for me. It’s hard to say precisely why, but that craggy mountaintop with its stunning views and steep trail has always caused me to feel as though my eyes were newly opened. There in that place, I feel simultaneously small and connected to all of life’s largeness. I feel like the world just began and like it is the most ancient thing in the universe. The strangeness of living is put into perspective, and I am free to breathe and be. God is with me.
I have many special memories at Waterrock Knob. It is a place I often visited with my family as a child, and it’s a place I continue to go with my husband and our friends. I know it well. For instance, I know that if you go off the trail to the left about a third of the way up, there is a tree with a knot in it where I once found a bouncy ball. The ball had a smiley face on it, and underneath it, there was a note that said, “have a great day.” I know that when you reach the summit, you can go through the trees to the right and find the perfect rocky perch to watch cars twist up the parkway. I know that the mountain oscillates between smelling of evergreens and skunk—due to an unknown-by-me high elevation plant that I’ve come to associate with this place and this place only.
I know the mountain. I am also surprised by it. Every time I’m there, something “new” shows its face: a flower I’ve never seen before, a mammoth tree I hadn’t noticed in visits past, or light playing off fragments of mica along the forest floor. Perhaps this is a part of Waterrock Knob’s “thinness.” In this place, I am comforted by the familiar and gifted with mystery. I am shown that there is more than I can know, and I get to marvel at all I can see. The opportunity to experience the love I’ve known for years while glimpsing the love that exists beyond all I could ever imagine—it feels like God.
What “thin place” has touched your spirit? How does that place offer you inspiration? Hope? How might that place aid you in your Earth care? This coming week, I will go to Waterrock Knob with members of the Creation Care Alliance community to contemplate our callings to creation care. I hope you will also sojourn to a sacred place and consider how God is speaking in your life. May we all find strength, joy, mystery, connection, and conviction in the world that God made and calls good.