Thursday, October 04, 2012

Faith Works 10-6

Faith Works 10-6-12

Jeff Gill


Faith walking, prayer talking




While I'm probably the last person who should be surprised by this, the spiritual side of our walks around ancient earthworks this summer has left me both amazed and delighted.


For those who aren't aware of it, I spend a fair amount of time (too much, my spouse might say) leading hikes and walks and rambles around and along our local earthworks and ancient mounds.


This summer has given me a chance to branch out a bit, not just across the expanses of Licking County, but along our newly developed Ancient Ohio Trail, an idea and a website which is a production of the Newark Earthworks Center with Ohio State, and the University of Cincinnati's Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (or CERHAS, for obvious reasons).


With a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ohio Humanities Council, and support from the Ohio Historical Society (OHS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Licking County Convention and Visitors Bureau, we've tied together 2,000 year old culture and architecture from Cincinnati to Coshocton. I've gotten to be part of interpretive hikes since last November from Hopeton Works across the Scioto River from Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Spruce Hill up the Paint Creek valley from Chillicothe (managed by NPS and the Arc of Appalachia), down at legendary Fort Ancient, the first site OHS took under care in 1885, and of course around our own Newark Earthworks . . . and many more.


My hat on these walks and tours is one of guide, with an emphasis on the historical and archaeological, but we are getting better at adding the cultural aspect of these engineering achievements, with the involvement of more and more Native American folk. The Newark Earthworks Center has been pioneering efforts to make contact with and renew connections between Indian tribes with historic connections to Ohio before 1832 and "the removal period," along with other Native nations whose people show in DNA and oral tradition that their heritage runs back through these valleys as well.


But the pastor hat is in my pocket, I have to admit. And occasionally, quietly, it goes on my head. When people talk about their own now deceased relatives, and their ties to these sites through memory and affection; when visitors ask "do you believe that there is a curse here?" as we journey through areas of destruction or loss; when a group stops at a point where hundreds, likely thousands of burials once were placed and are mostly still in the ground beneath our feet, and we struggle to find the words and sense to honor what the place means today.


And joyfully so, I feel the pastoral role as I've gotten the chance to walk along where ancient avenues once led, and hear a man talk about his own alienation from his Native traditions and customs, and his sense of renewal in a sweat lodge ceremony, and how our stories here about what Native Americans achieved in this place has changed how he raises his children.


This isn't all about book learning. It's about heart shaping, and story telling. We have facts, we have theories, we have legends and traditions, and we have the quiet steady certainty of the sun's rising and moon's setting, and the seasons within that cosmic frame.


So I invite you, as this long Ancient Ohio Summer comes to an end next weekend, to meet at the Great Circle Museum off Rt. 79, next Saturday, Oct. 13th at 9:00 am. Come walk three miles and change, spend a couple of hours seeing some of the hidden remnants of the Newark Earthworks. Or travel down to Chillicothe on Saturday if you've already journeyed with us on one of the local walks, and participate in the NPS Discovery Day down there (see for details).


Then come out to 33rd St. and Parkview on Sunday, Oct. 14th to experience the last Octagon Open House of 2012, one of four this year, when you can ramble the 50+ acre Octagon or 20 acres of the Observatory Circle. Some of us will be there to provide tours, but you may just want to experience the site, and consider the past, and the peoples then and now on the landscape.


Is it a spiritual or historical experience? My thought is, why choose?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; he's delighted to show you around next Sunday at the Octagon Earthworks. Let him know where you've been inspired in Ohio at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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