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The Lake is my Greenbelt Cathedral

posted in: Outdoors, Environment
Robin and Cocoa

by Rev. Dr. Robin Hawley Gorsline 

I have been blessed to be in some glorious worship spaces, including not only National Cathedral in D.C. but also grand spaces in New York, Boston, Detroit, and Rome. But none has had the impact on me like the one right here in Greenbelt. Of course, many of us know that our fair city is a great place to live. My husband and I moved here six years ago and are so glad we did.

But little did I know then—indeed not until summer 2020—that I am blessed with a spiritual space, what I have come to understand as our own local cathedral.

I visit this cathedral every morning, walking to it and through it with our standard poodle, Cocoa. It is about three miles round trip from our home on Southway down to and around the Cathedral (otherwise known as Buddy Attick Park) and back.

I do not mean to take away the honor due Buddy Attick for his service to our community but I have come to understand that though the space may be dedicated to him, I am entering Greenbelt Cathedral as I take the first steps beyond the volleyball court into the East Entrance. I am there each morning in a form of worship, witnessing to and giving thanks for the holiness of life.

As is often true when going to church or synagogue, there is a musical prelude—sometimes water running into the brook, often the rustle of the breeze, songs of birds, all that spiritual music graced by the tall trees, bushes, vines, flowers. Of course, the music continues from time to time, sort of like singing hymns during the service. No stained glass windows ever looked so grand to me, no organ playing sacred music ever moved me more. Also, I am greeted by two ushers, trees named Brando and Jack, near the entrance.

As I cross the little bridge near the entrance I am moving into a magical world where I give thanks, greet some of the trees and bushes by name (both their common names and in some cases special friend names I give them), acknowledge the stumps and logs as blessed memories still giving life as they decompose, as well as dogs and their human companions and even people without dogs. It is the same as greeting friends, old and new, when I attend more conventional worship gatherings.

Indeed, this is a living cathedral, a thriving holy space that testifies to what I believe is God’s never-ending blessing of life, what I experience as a divine call to be in mutual relation with all beings, not just humans but all beings.

This includes everyone living below the surface as well as above. Earth is not only our home but also our mother, not only a plane to walk on but also the source without whom none of us would survive—and I mean none of us, human and non-human.

I am grateful to city crews that do weekly clean-ups, as well as periodic care for ailing trees—like ushers and cleaning crews who pick up items left behind and put the hymnals back in place after service. I am sad that some people discard their trash along the path; obviously this is not good for the environment but for me it feels so disrespectful as to be sacrilegious. I join others who collect the debris, disposing of it in the waste cans provided.

I also recognize that as in any congregation, people come with their own life situations, needs, and beliefs. Thus, although I find it puzzling how many people have ear buds and are unable to hear the music in the space, as well as those who do not greet others with a wave or a smile, I also know that my experience is mine and is not universal. I am sure many find it healing for a wound or worry just to be able to be present.

Still I love the ecumenism of the space—everybody gathered, whatever their station in life, whatever their sentience or lack thereof—all gathered as fellow, equal, and necessary citizens not only of Greenbelt but the universe.

I give thanks regularly for those who make it their home and welcome me and others, as well as those who care for the Cathedral, and those who had the foresight to set it aside as communal space for all, forever.

Rev. Dr. Robin Hawley Gorsline is a Lover of All * Queer Public Theologian * Writer/Poet/ Teacher * AntiRacist/AntiCapitalist/Pro-Palestinian Advocate, Writer-Theologian in Residence at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Top two photos by Susan Harris. Lower photo by Raven Eyes Cagle.

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