“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Habitat”

October 22, 2017


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Oct. 22, 2017

Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Habitat
Psalm 90:1-2

Coronado is believed to have visited what is now the Kansas wilderness in the 1540s during his hunt for the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold.” Inspired by the supposed firsthand account of a Franciscan priest in 1539, Coronado set off with hundreds of Spanish soldiers and native American guides in 1541, covering some 4,000 miles in search of the cities. Not keen to admit defeat, Coronado returned in debt but with claims that he actually found one of the legendary cities, but far from the wild tales that had come before, he reported that all he found there were common native huts.

Looking like the remains of an old fortification, or a small castle, the little stone castle atop the hill at Coronado Heights near Lindsborg, Kansas was built under a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s, marking the spot where Coronado is said to have gazed over the flatlands.

It is fun to go up the hill at Coronado Heights and look out over the prairie. You can have pretend sword fights in the castle, or take a picnic and eat on a stone table. When you are there, it is easy to forget that you are in central Kansas and imagine you are living during the Renaissance! In fact, for years after I played Genevieve in the musical Camelot, I went up to Coronado Heights and pretended it was the sight of King Arthur’s country festival, where Gwenivere sings “The Lusty Month of May”. Standing up on the hill I pretended there were knights and ladies having picnics and games on the grounds all around me and I sang loud to my heart’s content. Oh, and if you ever repeat this, I will deny it!

The point is that ruins – even pretend ruins – are good for the soul. We are continuing on with our series based on Thomas Moore’s book The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life about how we can find deep spiritual renewal in our everyday lives. Today’s theme is about our habitat and what aspects of the places around us can revitalize us. Moore identifies 3 things about habitat that have the potential for spiritual renewal… ruins, gardens, and silence.

Moore identifies old stone walls, junkyards, crumbling buildings, and other abandoned places as ruins and suggests that we need these places so that our imaginations can be enchanted. “When we behold castle ruins, we are looking at old worlds, experiments in life that embrace the whole of human possibility, a chessboard in the form of broken historical remains. In the presence of rocks, decayed roofs, and staircases that en in midair, we are filled with imagination of lives not entirely unlike our own, and maybe we wish for the vitality and containment a castle gives image to.”

Eric and I have always believed in travel as significant to personal development. We made a point to take our children on trips near and far so that they could see and touch history, experience cultures different from their own, and learn. In fact, our now adult children tease us about being in every national park and every museum in the country. They tell us that they never knew a vacation to Disneyland or to a water park – our vacations were always hard work and educational!

At any rate, I remember our youngest son, Ian, going through a phase of awe when we were in a place a person of historical significance lived.
* Paul Revere’s house in Boston: “did he sleep in that very bed?!!”
* Sonny Bono’s restaurant in Palm Springs: “does he eat here?”
And my favorite: at Elvis Presley’s Graceland looking at the stairway banister with awe and amazement in his voice: “Did Elvis touch this?!!”

When we are exposed to decay, memory, traces of the past, and places that are falling apart, we are reminded of the various dimensions of life – the good, bad, and ugly – the holy, profane, and mundane. Our spirits can be bolstered or reminded of the varied aspects of what it is to be human and what lasts after we are gone.

Of course, ancient Egypt comes to mind when talking about ruins. Even in the U.S., we know about the pyramids, the Sphinx, and King Tut. In Rome, the Coliseum and the Roman Forum are required visits. In Turkey, Greece, and Italy are many sites of ruins along ancient roads and towns. I remember walking in Verona, Italy, walking along a modern street and realizing that an excavation was going on 10 feet under me. It was an old city under the new one, being rediscovered right in the middle of the 21st century tourists. In Israel, places where it is believed Jesus did miracles and called disciples, are holy shrines.

From a spiritual point of view, they are irreplaceable containers of the spirit of family, ancestors, and time itself. As we wander around, we can hope for some slight sensation of enchantment of the past souls who lived and walked the same places. Surely their voices whisper with eternal truths we might hear if we listen with our souls.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalm 90:1-2

Moore defines a garden as “the meeting of raw nature and the human imagination, where both seek the fulfillment of their beauty.” Entering a garden is like passing through a mystical gate, he says.

We know that our religious tradition uses a garden as metaphor for the perfection of creation. In fact, all religions have used the power of garden as an image for caring for the soul – like a monk or nun’s cloister, or the Islamic fountain garden. Remember a few years ago, when little boxes of sand and bonsai gardens were for sale in every store? They were marketed as office Zen gardens for professionals who needed a micro-garden?

In a garden we not only find beauty, but contemplative quiet and nature’s mysteries. Moore says that one of the primary benefits of a garden is that it relieves us of ambition, and transforms us to feel the natural rhythms and cycles of a garden.

We are so blessed to have Botanica in Wichita! At every season, it has something special to offer – places to sit and read; children’s play areas; butterfly houses; rose gardens – if you haven’t been lately, perhaps this is an assignment from the minister for the week… go experience a bit of holy dirt, stunning butterflies, and a few divine flowers. It will re-enhance your life.

Noise & Silence.
Sounds and the soul are poignantly intimate with each other. One day last week I was holed up in my office as it rained outside. John Denver music was playing softly and I went barefoot so I could tuck a foot under my other leg in my office chair. My soul needed a bit of comfort.

A wind chime, a harp, a single drum, or a piano can offer notes that speak directly to the soul. Moore writes that the ears are the most intimate organs of the soul… “Sound is at least as intimate as smell, and clearly more intimate than vision,” he writes, “And when I think of sounds that have lodged themselves charmingly in my memory I recall the perfectly intoned opening chord of a magnificent student orchestra … a bell set ringing in a meditation room at a Zen Center… a religious community chanting litanies through the orchards and fields on a cool spring morning… and my daughter at three singing the alphabet song in irreproducible tones.”

Sound is a way we can care for our souls. But too much sound or the wrong sounds can damage the soul. Our world is permeated with sounds. And in our world, silence is rare. Even in the deepest forest are sounds of leaves in the wind. We can understand silence not as an absence of sound, but rather a shifting of attention toward sounds that speak to the soul. You can hear your own heartbeat and your own breathing, for example. And so it is that silent listening is a spiritual activity.

Reading in silence can be a spiritually enriching activity. Meditating and praying in silence can bring peace of mind and heart. Listening to a child’s breath as s/he sleeps can offer solace to a parent who has been surrounded by noise all day. If we cultivated these peaceful quiet moments, along with some soul-fulfilling sounds each day, imagine how free our minds and spirits would feel!

Wallace Stevens wrote,
Music is feeling, then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,
Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music.

Sound is one of the most direct and simple ways we can re-enchant our lives and care for our souls.

My family goes to Tablerock Lake in Missouri each year. A few years ago, I learned that when the lake was created, a small town was evacuated and then flooded and still exists in ruins under the water of Tablerock. Over the years, the town (ironically named Oasis), has deteriorated. However, scuba divers can go down about 100 ft. and swim along silent streets where people once went about their daily lives. Swimming down Main Street, you can see old foundations and some ruins of buildings. The jewel of this underwater town is the church, which still stands, and its bell tower. Skilled divers can actually go into the church building.

Image with me the eerie sounds of a place like this. The sounds of water and the sight of fish swimming along; the thoughts of people who once lived there; the magic of swimming underwater while exploring an old town in ruins. The silence of days gone by.

Sometimes I sit on this lake and I dream about the stories of the people who lived in Oasis and I am enchanted again by ruins, gardens along Main Street, and by silence.

Resources Used:
Moore, Thomas. Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. HarperCollins. 1996.