Retreat And Renewal...The Sacred Earthworks...
The traditions of many, if not virtually all modern and ancient religious faiths, include a time of retreat and renewal. Archeologists and theologians will tell us that the practice of re-charging and renewing our spiritual batteries is not a new one. Sometimes, the re-charging and renewal process takes the form of celebrating special days in a calendar year. Summer Solstice, for example, was one such date when many ancient peoples paused to reflect upon their place in the greater scheme of things. These days, even many people having no particular religious affilitiation will set aside special days or times for retreat and renewal.
Why the need for such times? That's hard to say, but indeed, it seems to be a universal need. Over the course of our busy lives, sometimes a good night's sleep is simply not enough. Reserving a special time and place for retreat and renewal beyond the normal resting period seems to have been recognized by more and more people these days as being an essential component of our overall health.
Of course, what we do in order to retreat and renew can vary, according to our religious, spiritual, or emotional backgrounds, and what might mean a great deal to me, might not to you. A friend of mine and I were driving through the Rocky River Metroparks when the subject of church-going came up. My friend had some experiences that, early on, had alienated him from traditional religion. That said, he was a very strong man of faith. "Look around," he said (referring to the park), "This is my cathedral;" and so it was for him.
There is also a part of our Metroparks system that is my "cathedral," and it's in such a secret place that it's no secret at all. It is however, a very sacred and special place to me, and I would suspect, for many others. It's located on top of a high plateau behind the Rocky River Nature Center, and it's called Fort Hill. Many years ago, Native Americans occupied that land, constructing earthworks there for uncertain purposes. Specifically, there are three visible parallel ridges to see, (each about 3 feet in height) when you get to the top of the plateau, and, as they say, getting there is half the fun. You can go right up to the top of that 90 foot cliff by a long, (make that VERY long) stairway, or you can make a roundabout journey around the back side of the hill where there are fewer steps at a time to climb, but to say that the journey would be equally, if not more arduous that way, would probably be an understatement; at least for many of us. On my recent journey to the top of Fort Hill on the long steps, I ran into two people; a young apparently college-aged gal, who passed me going up and down a number of times. Then there was this guy, WAY older than I was, doing the same exercise! With my handicapped and unsteady legs, every step was an adventure, but that's the way it can be with a spiritual exercise. Those long steps were, at least for me, very much a metaphor for life. Would I make it all the way up this time? Could I then make it back down? Halfway up, I reflected: Should I, COULD I go ahead-- or turn back? Had the time in life come for me to stop doing this sort of thing?
No. Onward. Hang the consequences. Those steps, to me, were very much like life itself. They arise before you and challenge you, so you climb them; all of them that you can, that is...until you can climb no more.
At the top, there is a view that is likely the best view of Rocky River you will ever see, and a few feet farther along the pathway will bring you to the mounds. (Or earthworks, as the Metroparks refers to them.) Our Metroparks have very carefully and respectfully preserved those ancient Native American earthworks, even providing a small platform overlooking them, and surrounding them with a low fence.
Now this is where some of you, maybe even most of you (and particularly the kids) will say, "Is that all there is to see?" True, the earthworks aren't decorated in tinsel, and illuminated with holiday lights, nor is there an ice cream stand anywhere in sight, nor in fact, is there an end to the trail anywhere close by. In fact, your journey is just beginning. If you wish, you can return down the steps from whence you came. If you have the energy, and you are strong, wise, and VERY careful, you can, after a period of quiet reflection and respect for all that those earthworks represent, proceed along the trail and return by the other way, as I did. (The visitors center has trail maps.) I said "careful" because parts of the trail are along a cliffside without railings, and roots and pathway obstacles can cause falls. On that woodland journey, however, you will likely discover many things about this place, and perhaps, about yourself, as well. You are, after all, traversing sacred ground on a sacred hilltop homeland for peoples who were here quite likely, thousands of years before you, and believe me, they will once again be traveling with you. Watch and listen well, for they are there. Trust me on this.
Much of my own childhood was spent in the woods and wilds of rural Pennsylvania. I was therefore as much at home on that woodland hilltop as I would be in my living room. It is indeed my cathedral, and in that cathedral, I have celebrated the cherished memories of friends and family members now passed on, as well as celebrating the Creator, and what plans might be in store for my future. It is indeed a retreat for me, and a sacred place of renewal. Best of all, it can be shared by anyone willing and able to make the journey. Just do so as you would in any journey in life...with determination, respect, caution, and hope.