by Fr. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“The earth does not belong to us,” Chief Seattle once wrote. “We belong to the earth.” That wisdom hit me again this week as I looked out over the spectacular, wild desert landscape of southern Utah.
After visiting friends at the Tuesday afternoon peace prayer group in Salt Lake City, I drove down to Moab to spend a few days in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Those majestic desert vistas and massive orange rock formations reveal Mother Earth at her most astonishing. The endless vistas, orange cliffs, red boulders and canyons — the fruit of 300 million years of erosion — seem to bear the fingerprints of the Creator. They provide an up-close encounter with the Great Mystery. If we listen closely, they offer an ancient wisdom: the way of peace.
Some 2,300 natural rock arches are spread throughout the massive orange rock formations, cliffs, boulders and mountains of Arches National Park. Nothing can prepare you for these strange, inspiring orange and red rocks and arches set against the blue sky. At the entrance, you drive high up into the mountains along the sheer orange cliffs and arrive first at “Park Avenue,” a narrow valley of sagebush, low pine trees, cactus and dead wood lying between 10-story brown and orange cliffs and rocks. It feels like you’re walking between New York’s skyscrapers, except that they’re infinitely more beautiful. Then you drive on to Windows, Delicate Arch, and eventually Devil’s Garden, with its bizarre red and orange cliffs sticking up like fins out of the earth. In the distance, a hundred miles of desert spreads out around you, and massive mountains rise on the horizon — the distant Rockies.
Before such beauty I found myself reduced to silence. It was like standing before the Grand Canyon or the ocean or looking up at the night sky and seeing a million stars and the Milky Way. Suddenly, you find that you are very small and quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Mother Earth can be humbling…