Talk about weird timing.
Months ago, when we scheduled the launch of America’s Sacred Sites: 50 Faithful Reflections on Our National Monuments and Historic Sites, we had no idea a global pandemic would have us sheltering in our homes for weeks on end. We had no idea how a simple trip to the grocery store would feel like such an adventure. We had no idea that armchair travel would be the way most of us would be traveling in the spring of 2020.
Last April, Chalice Press launched America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks just in time for the summer travel season. Coauthors Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer have heard story after story of how their first book enhanced visits to the national parks ever since.
The tone of those stories has changed since the beginning of March. Instead of visits to those parks, readers are taking armchair vacations, remembering their previous visits or planning future trips. While we are not able to travel much right now, our imaginations are free to roam anywhere we want to go.
America’s Sacred Sites follows the pattern Barkhauer and Lyons used in the first book. Each entry is paired with a unique religious or spiritual theme and scripture, then digs into the site’s highlights or special features, and closes with a trio of questions connecting the theme and the site. While the first book focused on nature – the hallmark of most national parks – the new book broadens out to historical sites, artists and their work, human inhabitants and their civilizations, and additional natural wonders.
“We knew readers would want to know about places they think are national parks but actually have a different designation.” Lyons says. “We even had a section in the first book titled, ‘Where’s Mount Rushmore?’ Of the top 50 NPS units, only 15 of them are national parks. For the whole system, almost 73 percent of visits to National Park Service units are to locations that are not national parks. There are so many amazing places to visit, and so many of them are overlooked because they’re small or isolated or focus on a person instead of nature.”
America’s Sacred Sites peeks into the lives of several historical figures whose work shapes our culture today.
“The site focused on Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta takes us to his home and his church, reminders that this mythical figure was a real, honest-to-goodness person,” Barkhauer says. “Visiting the workplaces of Thomas Edison, Frederick Law Olmsted, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, reminds us of our God-given creativity. We travel to Nicodemus, Kansas, where former slaves ventured to create a better life for themselves and their children; to the Selma to Montgomery Trail, where so many put their safety on the line for others; and the Appalachian Trail, a pilgrimage for many who find their own grit along the journey.”
Both authors learned something new with every entry. “I had no idea when I started researching that the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty are linked to the abolitionist movement,” Barkhauer says. “The bell gained fame as part of the anti-slavery movement, and a hard-to-see element of the Statue includes broken shackles around her ankles. Those are the kinds of discoveries that made writing this so much fun.”
Eventually we’ll be able to see these sites and many others again, and our understanding of them can be different. In the meantime, we can take those imaginary trips with America’s Sacred Sites and plan those inspiring adventures with an eye toward the role our faith, our values, and our experiences have played in shaping our country, in both good and bad ways, and ourselves.
(Top photo: Devils Towers National Monument. National Park Service/S. Carter)