Mountaintop Removal: A Desecration Of The Sacred?
Mountains figure pretty prominently in most faith traditions. Yahweh revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. Muhammad encountered the angel Gabriel on Mount Hira. And, as I learned from Native American author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn back in the 90s, the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota Sioux… but, ironically, one of them is still being carved up to create a sculpture of Crazy Horse. The technology for us to literally move mountains is relatively new, and perhaps deserves some spiritual consideration as we put it into use.
With all of that in mind, I was moved in my reading of Jordan Trumble’s sermon “Strip Mining God’s Mountain.” As an Episcopalian who also once spent several summers as a camp counselor, I found an immediate kinship with Trumble. Those roles also played into my own sense of sacred spaces: just as she’s reminded of the Trinity in the mountain view from the West Virginia camp of her childhood and college years, I hold the forests, ponds, and fields around Camp Hardtner in central Louisiana sacred (as do many others…. I know this for a fact). And I remember feeling not just that something had been lost, but that a desecration had occurred when land around the camp was clear-cut at one point. So, I’m pretty sure I understand what Trumble’s feeling when she recounts:
A couple of years ago, though, I was back at camp and as I looked out over my beloved mountains, I noticed that there was something new. While the forest of trees had once completely covered those three mountains, there was now a dirt road carved into one of them and, as I looked closely, I could see giant trucks moving up and down the road. I later was told that there was a mining operation on the other side of the mountain.
Such a reminder that the some see the spaces we hold sacred merely as economic resources to be exploited is challenging. Trumble reminds her readers/listeners that mountaintop removal mining isn’t just immensely destructive environmentally, but also permanently scars something that others may consider especially holy. As she points out, mountains are places where God/gods choose to reveal themselves; that’s what such practices desecrate.
I don’t expect mining companies to dedicate a lot of time to considering the spiritual ramifications of their work, I like having my lights and heat as much as anyone, and am well aware that coal powers nearly all of that here in Eastern Missouri. But I do hope that every time a charge is set, someone’s pointing out, or remembering, that there’s no going back on the change made. Those ecosystems are gone. That natural control of storm water is no longer working. And a place where someone may have experienced the sacred has disappeared. All of those things make such spaces meaningful.
Take a few minutes to read Jordan’s sermon, and then feel free to share your own thoughts…