Protecting the Thin Places
Dear Alibi ,
I remember growing up in the Midwest surrounded by tall pine trees, getting lost (and found) with my brothers, and playing on wild vines as if they were our personal jungle gyms. I remember staring up at some of the oldest trees or catching crawdads in the creek and knowing that God was there. The forest is now a place for me to go when I need to be humbled, to slow down and to be reminded that He is the priority.
The Celtic Christians called places like my backyard wood the “thin places” where the wall that separates God from humanity is somehow thinner and the presence of God is more powerful. Wilderness reminds us about humility and pride through the huge expanse of the night sky, which scripture tells us is declaring the glory of God. The bigness of the wilderness makes us small before God. It teaches us and reminds us that humans are not the only part of creation that God loves or that loves God back.
Moving to the Southwest has given me the pleasure of climbing diverse mountains, taking early morning hikes through the cacti, painted-desert views and the biggest beautiful skies I have ever seen. The desert provides such a diverse and beautiful landscape.
Otero Mesa is a unique example of diversity in New Mexico. It is home to over 1,000 native wildlife species, including black-tailed prairie dogs, desert mule deer, mountain lions, golden and bald eagles, and over 250 species of songbirds. It also boasts the state’s healthiest and only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope. Not only is this area of the state home to diverse species, there is evidence that the Salt Basin aquifer, which originates in Otero Mesa and travels south into Texas, is the largest untapped fresh water resource remaining in New Mexico.
Otero Mesa is worthy of protection for these ecological reasons alone, but as Christians, we know there are additional reasons for us to support designating this area as a national monument. This type of designation will protect this amazing place from the ravages of industrial oil, gas and mineral exploitation, and preserve a piece of creation for people to experience God’s glory for years to come. By preserving this place as a monument, we make a declaration that some things in America are not for sale. Profit is important to the extent that we don’t destroy the beauty and wonder of creation in the process.
Job 12: 7-10 says “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all [humanity].”
The earth can teach us about systems and webs that are naturally found in every biological community from the forest to the sea. These systems and their connections remind us of why as humans, we are called to love our neighbors.
Wild places awaken our awareness to questions of life and death, spiritual formation, right relationships, and religious values. In wilderness we are almost required to reflect upon the pulses of life, to the ebb and flow of cycles, to the rhythms and songs of creation. Here we discern our Maker reflected. When we are in remembrance of our Creator, we are uplifted and creation itself then provides inspiration for our minds, healing for our spirits, and release from incorrect and false notion.
There is a holy relationship found in wild places, one that invites prayer, reflection and wonder, and that gives back in proportion to our capacity to appreciate, enjoy and find thanksgiving for the Lord’s untrammeled earth. Otero Mesa should not only be designated as a national monument to protect such a valuable ecosystem, but as a testament to the wisdom that each one of us can see in creation.