Los Alamos, N.M. (Oct. 16)--Emily Smith came to the cave because she believes this land is in trauma.

"I want to bring some healing energy," Smith said.

She was one of about 70 people who hiked the Quemason Nature Trail northwest of Los Alamos Sunday afternoon, shimmied down a narrow cave, and listened to four Tibetan monks chant a purifying ceremony in the darkness.

Dubbed "Healing Within a Scorched Earth," the hike and underground chanting was the brainchild of Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev of Santa Fe, and John McLeod of Las Vegas, N.M. The two men were part of a group of religion-minded people from around the region who met earlier to think of ways of showing their children the ecological teachings of their various faiths. They came up with two forums: the first, a talk held Oct. 6 with Tibetan, Christian, Jewish, and Native American religious scholars, and the second, Sunday's in-and-on-the-ground healing ceremony.

According to McLeod, the ceremony was in direct response to two things: the Cerro Grande Fire and the ongoing visit of four monks from Gyumed Monastery in southern India.

"We wanted to discuss the spiritual response to environmental crisis," McLeod said.

Like McLeod, many of the people who came to the chanting say they believe the fire hurt the land when it scorched its way over the mountains into Los Alamos.

"Part of this journey is to restore life back into this land," said Vickie Downey of Tesuque Pueblo. Downey offered prayers for the land in her native language during the ceremony.

The healing is not just for the burned lands of New Mexico, she said, but for the people who came to the ceremony.

"It's very personal," she said.

The hike began at the corner of Trinity and 48th streets in Los Alamos. Winding through areas burned by the fire, the debris-littered trail ended at a canyon overlook. A brief scramble down the canyon wall led the hikers to a small entrance in the rocks. The cave, known as the Cave of the Winds, extended well underground, although the crowd filled most of it, filing past the white bones of a dead deer on the way in.

The monks chanted first, praying to restore ecological balance, said Lobsong Tsering, one of the monks.

"We prayed for enlightenment of every sentient being," he said.

Following the monks, a group of local women led the crowd in a kind of Muslim chanting. A cellist, who somehow managed to get his man-sized instrument down the trail and into the cave, played several dirges. The monks finished the ceremony with more chanting, and the group broke up and scrambled up the canyon side.

Heading back to the trailhead, the group stopped in a burned-out clearing and created a boat of sorts. They wrapped themselves in a painted cloth, raised a makeshift sail, and walked slowly across the meadow while singing, "We are all in the same boat."

"We're bringing healing to the land," Ward-Lev said. "The prayers are for the living system itself."
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