Recently we toured the Cahokia Mounds Historic Site. As the largest prehistoric Native American site north of Mexico it once covered about 4,000 acres and included 120 mounds. Today 2,200 acres and 70 of the remaining mounds are protected as a World Heritage Site. It is estimated that during years 1,050 to 1,200 A.D. there were between 10,000 to 20,000 people living in the area.
By the late 1,300s Cahokia was essentially abandoned. Much is lost to history of the peoples and why they left. Ironically the name Cahokia is even a misnomer. The Cahokia Tribe were late arrivals and did not build the mounds. The Mississippian Culture actually built and populated the site during its greatest peak of civilization.
But what of its demise? Why did the peoples leave? Where did they go? Depletion of natural resources; climate change; political unrest are all hypotheses.
Climbing Monks Mound, the largest manmade mound in the Americas (named after French Trappist monks from the 19th century who had absolutely nothing to do with its creation) one experiences the vastness of the site. I couldn’t help but be in awe of what the Mississippians had built. It’s beautiful and at the same time heartbreaking to think that this civilization which must have been so important during its existence has essentially vanished.
I couldn’t help but think about the year we lived in England and toured what seemed like countless abbeys, cathedrals and churches that were essentially abandoned. Most were tourist attractions with little or no worship taking place. Will our churches, mosques and synagogues someday become ruins that future peoples view with mixed feelings of confusion and curiosity?
It’s easy to discount the Mississippians as primitives who had no understanding of God (at least the God of my beliefs) but what of our (my) legacy? Empty churches? Grand buildings with no purpose? Icons and statues to a God who is removed from daily life?
I need to stop only looking for God in institutions and sanctuaries. I need to stop just searching for faith in buildings and books. I find comfort in my traditions and in those comfortable places and in those inspired writings but that is not enough. I must look at my neighbor with compassion. I must look at my loved ones with mercy and forgiveness. I must face myself and embrace my fears and my failures. And love. Above all I must love.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13