In morality befitting the modern Islamic State extremists who have famously destroyed countless antiquities, St. Augustine encouraged Christians to destroy all symbols of ‘paganism’ with the exhortation “that all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims.” Pope Gregory I was credited with the recommendation to “tear down temples and shrines from their foundations.” And last week, a property developer in Albemarle County, less than one mile from my home, likely violated 25 U.S. Code 3001-3013 by bull-dozing and crushing giant quartz mounds which were reportedly the final resting place for First Peoples in what is now called Virginia. In a few short months, half million dollar homes will sit atop the desecrated remains of those who were inhabitants of very different woodlands in very different times.
I took scores of people to the mounds over the past 10 years. Heads of State, scholars, seekers, friends, lovers all took solace in the sanctuary of the giant oak, maple and sycamore trees that were the cathedral befitting those great souls who danced in the light breezes. Late in the night, the starlight piercing the frigid winter would glisten off the quartz as if to provide a homing beacon for the souls who were physically present and whose energy lingered. Peace pipes, prayers, chants and cries all marked this precious spot on earth. The timeless nature of all souls seemed, in a moment, to pause, intermingle and then move on as if to say that WE are all ONE – just inhabiting individual experiences of sense and place which are not ours but ours to share.
The mounds are now gone. As I left the spot, I was perplexed by how mindless and thoughtless one can be when operating a giant Caterpillar earth mover. Did the hollow sound of crushing crystal boulders reverberate in any part of consciousness or was the stereo in the cab on loud enough to deaden the consciousness that has been seared by a few pieces of silver? Which led me to the deeper question: can one desecrate or defile in the physical realm if one is devoid of a sense of the sacred? Can one reverence or ignore what exists beyond the edge of the capacity to comprehend?
As my thorn-torn hands offered blood to the ground that had been ripped open, I reflected on how many places, social institutions, consensus beliefs and other human actions are defiled and desecrated in the minds of one or many only to be seen as land befitting development by another. I know that in my life, I’ve held many things sacred and have stood aghast at the way in which what I valued most evoked indifference or neglect in others. What I thought were some of my most precious attributes were deemed to be utilitarian expectations by others. “Of course Dave does…,” this or that was the justification for many moments of deferred or neglected gratitude for true effort. And I am not alone. I know many healers, carers, stewards, and the like who have become so much an accepted utility as to make them devoid of human interactions in the common realm. Because they don’t articulate their “need”, the logic goes, they must not “need” gratitude, love, care, compassion, companionship, etc. The more one evidences the capacity to “give” or offer service, the less others anticipate the genuine longings of the offeror.
One of the buried chiefs reportedly visited a dear friend of mine. He was buried under one of the mounds that had blood red quartz on it and was covered in beautiful moss. He asked the friend to tell me to make sure that I protect the water here because one day that would be important. I remember that night and that dream. The night was filled with lightning and the ponds swelled to overflowing in the morning. On other occasions, other friends told me of visits from the spirits that were represented in the graves. All of them told me of instructions for me to protect the environment and care for others. I don’t need an explanation for this phenomenon other than to say, on this day when their quartz markers have been desecrated and crushed, I will remember. And I will still walk in the woods listening for the quiet prayers that seek for kindness, stewardship, and love. You are not forgotten. While your physical markers have been erased, your spirit lives in the memories of people from many lands and many nations who once stood in your land and drank from its goodness!