The Poetry of Red Rocks

March 7, 2007 | 15 comments
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I am currently doing some research on Mormon legal history, and earlier today found myself reading through an old issue of Western Humanties Review from 1951. Among other bits of intellectual flotsam and jetsam, I came across a rather forgettable page of verse by Jon Beck Shank under the title “From O Deseret!” I was caught by the following line, however:

In Zion the physical wall of theology awes and dwarfs him.

Sitting in the pale sunlight of my office, contemplating the churned mud of a tidewater stream at low tide in the cold of early spring, there is something within me that feels deeply out of place and hankers for mountains and canyons, for walls of theology.

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15 Responses to The Poetry of Red Rocks

  1. Todd Wood on March 7, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    As an evangelical rooted in biblical fundamentalism, I say right on. Nate, the canyons and mountains and trees and climate of the intermountain West speak to me of grand theology. God is vast, mighty, and untameable.

    Beautiful pic.

  2. greenfrog on March 7, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Magnificent.

    My soul doth magnify the Lord…

  3. Time Fortimer on March 7, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I hanker for a hunk of cheese.

  4. Seth R. on March 7, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I grew up in the faith among those “walls of theology.”

    Even today, Southern Utah still calls to me. Whatever gripes I had with the people there, however much my own sense of identity struggled with the society, they’re still my people and that’s still my homeland.

    For me, it’s always going to be aspens and redrock.

  5. Lamonte on March 7, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Nate – having grown up along the Wasatch front and spending the first 34 years of my life in the mountain west I certainly agree with your thoughts about the majesty of mountains and canyons and their images of God’s grandeur. But having been transplanted to the east coast almost 19 years ago, I have seen the hand of God in the gentle rolling hills of the Blue Ridge, in the power and peacefulness of the ocean and in the magnificent beauty of an Appalachian spring and autumn (especially autumn.) It all speaks to me as a testimony of God’s love for us all.

    “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
    For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.
    Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” Psalms 8:4-6

  6. Costanza on March 7, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    It reminds me of another bit of verse by a Mormon poet:
    “sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live…when you were young.”

  7. Nate Oman on March 7, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    I have basically been on the east coast since 1998, and I have blogged before about finding God in the beauty of the Tidewater. There is just some part of me that feels rooted in mountains and canyons and always feels slightly foreign in the East, despite coming on ten years of residence. It is not beauty that I lack (although despite her glorius springs, summers, and falls, the winters of the Old Dominion are horribly dreary). Rather, it is a sense of rooted belonging. Atop the Wasatch or amidst the redrock I feel like my roots sink down generations. Not so in Virginia.

    It is part of what makes Todd’s comment jarring to me. It is not anything that he said. Rather, it was his recasting of my longing in purely universal and theological terms, so that it speaks to a biblical fundamentalist Christian. Part of my longing, however, comes from not only the western beauty that I don’t have in the East, but also the ties of Mormon and family history to the geography. Hence, the retelling of the longing in purely theological and universal terms robs it of the historical and personal particularity that makes it so haunting for me.

  8. mpb on March 7, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    The geography of the West conveys a sense of time, a sense of the Earth’s age, that is much more abrupt and convincing than that of the East (though it can certainly be found there as well). Buried in that sense, I feel a reassurance of God’s wisdom, and a reminder of the insignificance of whatever momentary worry I seem to be struggling with.

  9. Ryan S. on March 7, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Great thoughts.

    I feel lucky that when we load the kids into the car for a sunday drive, that this is the scenery at which we marvel.

  10. Ian R. on March 7, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Maybe it is a premonition that you will be leaving W&M and heading west.

  11. Nate Oman on March 7, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    I doubt it. I also hope not. I love my job and where I live. Having a longing is not quite the same thing as having a desire to change.

  12. Susan M on March 7, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    I love your nature posts. Thanks for this one.

  13. cliff kemple on March 7, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Being from Southern Utah these lines all really touch my heart and also remind me of the M. Robins song \” The Red Hills of Utah.\”

  14. Ardis Parshall on March 7, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    We moved around so often when I was growing up that I don’t really feel like I have a hometown. Except for a few surviving relatives, I have little personal contact with anybody I met more than about 15 years ago, and most of those connections were originally made via Internet discussions (I’ve had the same email address longer than I’ve had any postal mailing address, ever). I’ve always lacked and longed for a sense of place. I think that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to historical and genealogical work — I could create an emotional sense of belonging to one place, even if my physical history there had been lacking. Because of all that, when I finally moved to Salt Lake two years ago, I felt like I had finally come home. Long way of saying, yeah, Nate, I think I understand what you mean.

  15. Harold Curtis on March 9, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Observations on Nates “Wall of Theology” picture

    1. Trees growing out of rock
    2. Earth and sky dance
    3. Erruption
    4. Whats on the other side
    5. Wrinkles
    6. Falling heavenward
    7. How do you move this mountain
    8. Lets climb
    9. Temple

    What hand hath wrought it all
    With grand design brought
    Heaven and earth to dance betwixt

    We climb to heaven dangling from pitons
    To rise or fall on a summer aft
    Willing in it all to rise of fall

    Pressed upon the face of wrinkled
    Ageless stone and seek atone
    By salvations Rock

    Ancient Stone
    Crested trees atop
    A plated crown of Thorns….For Me