Monuments nurture our inner well-being
July Fourth brings fireworks, barbecues, and an opportunity to enjoy sunny trails, refreshing rivers and sparkling lakes. As a hiker, outdoorsman and retired pastor, I am committed to protecting the wild and scenic places in the natural world found in our national monuments.
America’s national monuments, which here in Washington include a stretch of the Columbia River at Hanford Reach near the Tri-Cities, historical trails in the San Juan Islands and Mount St. Helens, are places where we can unwind from daily stresses and reconnect with ourselves, each other and our deepest values.
As we celebrate what is good in our country this Independence Day weekend, I am grateful to President Barack Obama for recently designating Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico, and for proposing an expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument originally created by President George W. Bush.
Sixteen U.S. presidents – eight Republican, eight Democrat – have named national monuments under the Antiquities Act, a law that allows the president to protect iconic wild and scenic places for future generations. These are places where the distractions of our daily life are minimal and opportunities for connecting with the heart of all life abound.
In our plugged-in world, disturbances are constant. A 24/7 lifestyle keeps us from recognizing the brevity of our time on earth. The chance to experience wilderness, historic sites and pleasant recreation on public lands allows us to focus on things that really matter, things that endure: our spiritual journey, connection to ourselves and connection to the land, water and air that sustain us.
I have served churches from the Olympic Peninsula to Spokane and have witnessed firsthand how preserving parks and recreation areas can nurture resilient spiritual values a healthy environment, and a productive tourism economy.
In recent years, many bills to weaken the Antiquities Act have been introduced in Congress. These attempts clearly are contrary to the American value of conservation and our search for a way of life that supports a sustainable economy and leaves our children with vibrant public lands and strong rural communities.
As a person of faith, I think our elected leaders have a moral responsibility to protect the natural sites that are unique to each region of the country. I commend Sen. Patty Murray for her leadership in opposing congressional blocks/attacks on the president’s authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act, and I call on our entire Washington congressional delegation to stand with Murray and the American people in support of protecting public lands.
I have a photograph above my desk of some words of John Muir that I found inscribed on a plaque in the Saguaro National Park. It reminds me daily of my connection to the natural world: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” Our national monuments protected under the Antiquities Act are uniquely important places where we are reminded of our essential spiritual connection to the land and to the ground of all being.
The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner is a retired Lutheran pastor from Spokane.