Last week, Gloria and I hiked Muir Woods, a forest of redwoods nestled in a quiet valley north of downtown San Francisco. The giant trees – some have lived for more than a thousand years — stretch 250 feet into the sky.
One of the most famous stands of redwoods is known as Cathedral Grove, a space so breathtaking that you can’t help but sense the Creator’s presence.
A sign asks visitors to “enter quietly.” Most people talk in subdued voice and walk through the area with a sense of reverence, treating it as a sacred place.
We know instinctively when we’re standing on holy ground.
A day later, we visited Golden Gate Park and ate lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant in the busy city. We encountered people of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and religious affiliations.
We heard more than a half-dozen languages spoken. We watched people zoom past on bicycles, skateboards and scooters – it reminded me of a scene from a Dr. Seuss book. People exchanged smiles and kind words as they waited on a street corner for the light to change.
The same spirit that blew through the sacred woods was blowing through this place as well. This, too, is a holy place.
Not everyone sees it this way, of course. Our society is sharply divided over how we view the world and each other.
Take the redwoods, for instance. Some people walk among them, feel God’s presence, and intuitively understand our responsibility to be caretakers of creation. Others look at the redwoods and see nothing more than a chance for financial gain.
Cut them down, pave paradise, put up a parking lot and charge exorbitant hourly rates. Who needs trees when you can make money?
Likewise, some people are awestruck by the gorgeous and divine diversity within humanity – different faces, different voices, different customs. Others are frightened by differences and want to create a more homogeneous society in which people look how they look, talk how they talk, and believe how they believe.
Yet others see the diversity among us as a means of dividing and exploiting us. They know from experience that they can gain influence and control when we’re busy walling ourselves off from one another.
A people divided is easily exploited.
We hear this debate conducted daily. It’s easy to get caught up in it and make the mistake of failing to see what’s right in front of us — right there in the redwood grove and also right there on the street corner, reminding us of who we are.
Divided and exploited
As we sat at the Mediterranean restaurant, we watched people approach the corner and pause, waiting for the light to change. During the brief delay, others would join them and form a crowd. For a minute, each person became part of a diverse group that was more beautiful than them alone.
The traffic light would change and the group would cross the street safely together. Everyone then headed off in their own direction, off to the next thing they needed to do in their daily life.
Off to join yet another group, and then another _ even as we follow our own course, none of us ever travels alone.
Our lives always intersect with so many others and depend upon one another. We’re animated and united by the same Spirit that blows through those giant redwoods, none of which lives by themselves, either.
We occupy this holy space together – God’s cathedral. Everyone has a place within it. Everything is sacred.
The appropriate response? Deep reverence, determined love and an outstretched hand.