The Lakota Indians called it mako sica. French trappers labeled the landscape les mauvaises terres à traverse. Deemed and doomed a literal “bad land,” this devastating terrain made farming and traversing — even existing — a difficult if not impossible feat.
And so the Badlands were born; millenia later, the Badlands remain.
Driving through the endless prairies of southwestern South Dakota, you wouldn’t see a place like the Badlands coming from ten yards away. But then you turn off the freeway and pay the entrance fee to this massive national park and all of a sudden you’re transported to another realm.
The ground cracks.
The rocks mount.
The earth unfolds and drops.
Hiking in the Badlands felt like exploring an elaborate movie set or another planet altogether.
The rocks are crooked and striped red and yellow, the trails littered with mud like caking concrete. You could’ve told me I was on Tatooine, either the fictional desert or Luke Skywalker’s actual home world in that galaxy far, far away, and I’d have believed you.
Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright described South Dakota’s Badlands as “an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.”
This place; that line.
More spiritual than earth
created out of it.
I can’t shake the weightiness of Wright’s words as it pertains to the Badlands, to planet Earth, and to you and I and billions others.
When you’ve lived as a Christian your entire life, you get used to all the cliches and spiritualisms. And yet do we ever stop to ponder the innate weirdness of some of these notions we Christians hold sacred?
The Trinity? Three separate identities of God all somehow equally rolled into One?
Communion? Munching bread and drinking wine, sometimes one after the other and sometimes dunking the former into the latter, and sometimes the wine is actually just grape juice, all because a man who was also God told us to do this regularly? (And the bread and wine may or may not be His actual body and blood, though I don’t want this to get too weird.)
The resurrection? A man who was also God who died yet walked again, rising forever to give hope that those who follow Him might one day do the same?
And then there’s this earth: this spinning sphere amid a big black pool of stars and countless stories unknown.
Having visited numerous national parks across North America these last three months, I’ve heard and seen “millions of years” this and “billions of years” that.
Absurd, I used to think. The earth is only 6,000 years old. Every good Christian knows that.
I do believe God created this complicating universe. I believe such a God could have snapped His metaphorical fingers and formed a planet with oceans and gardens and Badlands all bearing the apparent wear and tear of millions upon billions of years.
For if God created man with the appearance of a teenager, why not an entire planet as an aged grandfather?
But for all I know, the science follows through and these bizarre Badlands are indeed millions upon billions of years old. I don’t doubt that a day to us is as a mere million or billion to a God who exists beyond time’s shackles.
I’m open to both stories for the Badlands, but I honestly don’t care. For all the millions and billions of years we may or may not have been spiraling through space, nothing on all those park pamphlets or informative signs ever answers the eternal longing question of
Why is all this here?
Why does a barren place like the Badlands even exist?
Why does a barren place like the human condition exist?
I keep going back to Frank Lloyd Wright and these Badlands, how this mystical place is more spirit than earth yet fashioned from rock and dust.
And I find myself staking this life on the notion that I too am more spirit than earth, created from the latter yet truly the former, intended to outlast the Badlands and rocks of all shapes and ages in this galaxy and the next.
I believe my life and your life has a why because the finger of God sculpted us onto a canvas with unfathomable colors. This earth, these Badlands are only the beginning.
One day my body will turn to the same coarse dust of these jagged Badlands and perhaps wanderers across the world will tread upon my broken body while basking in the wonder of wherever my physical frame eternally rests.
Meanwhile, I’ll be basking in the beauty of another otherworldly realm altogether.