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.