About five years ago, I began a sabbatical with a compelling charge from the congregation I served: “Go and find stories and bring them back to us!” I took that charge seriously. I traveled by car the length of the Mississippi River and around Lakes Huron and Superior. I wanted to know how the stories of each place were layered one on top of another, how the land and waters formed, how each succeeding group of people came to live in each place, and what stories they left behind. Five years later, I’m still unpacking all that I learned.
I came to appreciate small towns with little, historical museums that told a story which began with the land on which the current residents live, often starting with the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. I spent time chatting with local historians, staff at small colleges, clergy, Canadian and U.S. National Park Service people, and anyone else eager to share what they knew about their particular place. I learned how much the land and the water of each place shaped the histories and unfolding stories of the people who lived there. I learned about successes and failures, conquest and resilience, betrayal and oppression, creativity and the will to survive. I discovered deep layering and interconnectedness in these stories of place. Some stories fascinated and delighted me; others broke my heart, and called out for truth-telling and reconciliation.
How do we as Unitarian Universalists connect our stories with the land on which we live? Do we—and our children—know how the mountains, desert, lakes, or prairies of our local area came to be formed? What do we know about the first inhabitants of the land on which we live? Their descendants? How does our own family story and heritage fit into the larger story of the place? What do we know about waves of people who came and moved on, or came and stayed, and how contact between the groups unfolded? How do we understand ourselves as part of the unfolding story of a small corner of the earth?
I’d love to learn how you, your family, and/or your congregation have rooted yourself in the story of your place. What programs, field trips, conversations, or rituals have brought forth the layered stories of the land and people that shape who you are today? How do you tell and share the heartbreaking and hopeful tales of contact between peoples, over time, in your place?
Let us know what you are doing and how it’s going. Perhaps we can gather a larger conversation.