from Jane Everham
“Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the scared circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
In the Black Forest of Pikes Peak region of Colorado, one finds oddly formed Ponderosa Pines that look to have suffered harsh winters, intense winds or even viruses. Turns out they are Ute Prayer Trees. Ute Prayer Trees (UPT) are a unique variety of culturally modified trees that were skillfully cultivated by the Ute Indians throughout much of Colorado. They began modifying trees for navigational, medicinal, nutritional, educational, burial or spiritual purposes. UPT can still be found today and are believed to have been cultivated between 150 – 450 years ago. The Ute, like many other Native Americans, believe all living things have a spirit and the majority of the UPTs discovered in El Paso, Teller and Custer Counties appear to point towards Pikes Peak and other sacred places of the Ute people.
“I think Ute Indian Prayer Trees are living Native American artifacts that offer us an intriguing link back in time to a deeply spiritual people with rich culture and long history in the Pikes Peak Region,” explains Anderson. *
Earth-centered traditions have been around as long as humans, thousands of years. And many different living traditions are offered for UUs to practice and incorporate into our faith, be it Pagan, Christian, Native American or more.
At the Western Unitarian Universalist Life Festival, the UU family camp at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, we have a tradition of celebrating the Solstice at Echo Amphitheater. Our Pagan UUs craft a ceremony which includes interfaith readings, we honor the Four Directions and the Earth Elements, a teacher from Albuquerque sings a heart-stopping Ave Maria into the echo canyon wall, and then everyone – all ages – dances, drums, waves ribbons, wands and engages in all kinds of spiritual joyousness. It is a complete religious and spiritual stew – a glorious stew honoring the earth.
Here in Northern Colorado, we have a vibrant land to protect. “We can’t make new rivers” said a recent Facebook post from the Save Our Poudre folks. Keeping earth-centered traditions alive in all forms is work we can engage in, especially on days when the news has us holding our heads crying, “What can we do?” In a sermon back in June, Gretchen counseled us to stay alert to and embrace joy where we find it. If tending the earth physically, monetarily, or politically brings you joy then dig in and get your hands dirty, or pull out your wallet, or put pen to paper with a rousing Letter to the Editor. Our natural environment needs our ongoing service and our Sixth Source of Earth-centered tradition calls us to keep up the effort.
This is the last Blog in my series on our Six UU Sources – there are surely other perspectives on these Sources, and you are invited to join the Foothills Bloggers and share yours. All Six UU Sources acknowledge the gifts we have received from other faiths, voices, and traditions. It is up to us to honor them and make them vibrant in gratitude. We hear every week that our worship is on Sunday, but our service is every day, and we continue to respond.
*Culturally Modified Ute Prayer Trees by John W, Anderson – A side note, the La Foret Retreat Center often visited by UUs is in this Black Forest with its Ute Prayer Trees. Some of you may remember seeing these peculiar trees.