Barren

This article was written by Bridget Liddell who is serving her second year as an Interfaith Scholar. She is a double major in Philosophy and Theater Studies, with a minor in French. She is active in activism related to women’s rights, specifically this year as a co-director of the Vagina Monologues.
Barren. Even the mountains look like rock piles covered in scrubby, spindly plants that cling to the dirt, as if they are keeping low to the ground to escape some still unseen predator. Far, far away (because in the desert you can see for miles) snow-dusted mountains cut their way into the sky. Dust and sun wear down the rough towns that are determined to remain despite the heat of the summer. A solitary hawk climbs higher, reaching towards a crisp, clear, engulfing blue sky.

But this is the eye of a girl who grew up amongst the shady forests of New England, sheltered by colorful autumns and snow-filled winters. My spiritual style is grounded in the myths and practices of Britain and Ireland, based on the turn of the year and reflected in the land of my childhood.

It is early December, and instead of being in Chicago where the air is frigid, I am in the desert of California. The symbolic stories of this point in the year revolve around snow and darkness, rebirth of the sun and flame. When December 21st arrives (the winter solstice, or Yule), I will be back in the northeast, celebrating the return of the sun after the darkest night of the year, surrounded by symbols of the season — lit trees and cinnamon, snow and candles.

How does a spiritual practice that is so clearly grounded in a particular culture and climate translate to the desert?

The thing is that people have been worshipping that land long before I arrived. I am not an expert to any degree in Native American culture, but I realized as I was standing beneath that stretching, dome-like blue expanse, that the sky must have a central role in an earth spirituality in the desert. If I lived there, I would turn my attention from the trees and rivers to the sky and the will to survive expressed in those shrubby plants. The desert is alive, and the sky the source of life (through rain) and full of enchanting beauty, like the ocean.

Being an earth spiritualist is not about adhering to certain rules or holidays, it is about responding to your environment (whether that is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual) and developing a meaningful existence.”

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