Embraced by the Earth

Today’s post is by Anita Davidson

Memories of my childhood are very incomplete and foggy, except for a few. As Earth Day approaches, one of them keeps recurring and the memory isn’t just in my mind. It’s deeply visceral. So much so that I feel compelled to write it down.

I was born and raised in Iowa, though not on a farm as most people assume. I was a “city girl” having never even had the common summer job of de-tasseling corn. Our yard was very small and our home faced our large Catholic church, my elementary school and the parking lot in between. Lots of concrete and brick. The neighborhood was old and so had many large trees that burst into flames of brilliant color every autumn – my favorite season. The city in which I grew up is located in the east central part of the state, far from the magnificent hills and bluffs carved out by the Missouri River on the state’s western border and the Mississippi River on the eastern border. Flat corn and soybean fields surrounded the town but my family’s world was very small. We rarely ventured into the country so my experience with nature was mostly limited to city parks.

When I was about 10 years old, my sister, 13 years my senior, moved to Beckley, West Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, to be a public health nurse. It was a big deal for my parents to pack up and make a journey of 750 miles to visit her there, but pack up we did and off we went. I’d seen rolling hills a few times on short visits to northeastern Iowa, so the foothills of the Appalachians felt a bit familiar, but as we moved into the real mountains, I was awestruck. The moment came when we were completely surrounded by mountains. We were driving on a road made by blasting through, leaving rock faces looming on either side of the car; ahead of us another peak filled the windshield; and behind us was the mountain we just drove around. I was moved deeply by this experience, feeling as if the earth was embracing us, and for the first time in my short life, I had the profound awareness of being part of something much bigger than myself or my family or even my planet. At the same time I was keenly aware of the magnificence of the Creator of all this beauty and felt as if it had been made just for me, just for this moment.  Even as I write this I am transported into the back seat of the car and can feel overwhelming awe all over again. There are no words…

I had been a very pious child, no doubt trying to impress the parish priests as well as the religious sisters who were my teachers.  I knew the right answers to the Baltimore Catechism questions and I did all the right things, but truthfully it was all for show and mostly meaningless.  What the mountains of West Virginia revealed to me was the divine reality behind all of the words and rituals.  That “earth embrace” changed my whole perception and experience of life and faith and God.  I had heard the stories about God all my life and I had participated in all of the liturgical celebrations of God, but it wasn’t until the mountains enfolded me in their sacredness that I actually came to know God in my own experience.  The Appalachians have become for me a “thin place” and with them, all of creation really. On the shores of Lake Superior, through the Great Plains of Kansas, in the swamps and marshes of Louisiana, on The Burren in Ireland I have come to know God in new and deeper ways. Every place on earth (and outside of earth, too, I imagine!) can reveal more of God to us, if only we are open and receptive.  I look forward to continuing my exploration and discovery of it all and in the meantime, for me every day is Earth Day!

As Earth Day approaches this year (April 22), consider increasing your Contemplative Earth Awareness in our online retreat day with Ann Dean, or going on Pilgrimage to the Pacific NW to connect to Earth’s rhythm.

April 04, 2018 by Anita Davidson
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Our mission is to nurture contemplative living and leadership.


In 2025, Shalem will be a dynamic and inclusive community, empowered by the Spirit, where seekers engage in transformation of themselves, their communities, and the world through spiritual growth, deep connection, and courageous action.