Finding holiness at Ghost Ranch
Essayist Colleen Anderson explains how she found the divine at this New Mexico retreat
September 4, 2009 ·
Once a year, if I’m lucky, I get to spend a week at Ghost Ranch, an arts center in northern New Mexico where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.
Ghost Ranch is a sacred place for me – and not only because its current caretaker is the Presbyterian Church. I find holiness in its history.
Before the Presbyterians, before Georgia O’Keeffe, before the cattle rustlers who gave the ranch its name, there were dinosaurs.
As it happens, Ghost Ranch is the site of one of the richest dinosaur fossil quarries in the world. I love walking where those great Triassic reptiles roamed. And I find holiness in the dinosaurs’ descendants – in the whirr of hummingbird wings, in the quick flick of a striped lizard’s tail.
I find holiness in the golden buttes and mesas, in the canyons and chimney spires. In the cactus and cottonwood and chamisa, and in the vast and always changing sky above.
Most of all, I find holiness in my students – in their songs and poems and essays, in their laughing and crying and singing together.
The last time I visited Ghost Ranch, I brought along a new toy, a digital recorder I had never even taken out of the box. When I did, I discovered that it was way more complicated than I imagined, and I almost put it back.
But I managed to turn it on and found a button that turned red when I pushed it. I set it on a table in the corner of the room.
Someone volunteered to share a Native American song. Another person taught us a Hebrew round. Someone else said, “What if we sang those two songs together?”
We’d never met one another before that day. We were young and old, male and female, gay and straight, from opposite coasts of a big, big country. We were Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, and yes, even one Presbyterian.
And later, when I listened to what we made together, I found holiness.