Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malay and 15 million years old. it's regarded as sacred by the Kadazan Dusun tribe who live in the area. The Kadazan believe that the souls of their ancestors rest on the peak of Kinabalu awaiting emancipation before their final destiny at peace with the creator in the sky, Kinohiringan. It's a kind of purgatory and purification rituals are performed by priests and priestesses to help souls on their journey to the sky. It's also a kind of temple. Whether or not one believes in this creation myth it's a holy place to be respected and treated with reverence and respect. Nearly all religions have holy places, mountains, wells, rivers which inspire a sense of awe, are what George McLeod called thin places where the curtain between the temporal and eternal is very thin. It's important to approach them with reverance if we are to experience this awe and to treat them with respect is to realise that the ground on which we walk is holy.
But would treating this holy place with disrespect actually cause an earthquake? It's certainly true that we humans often disturb the processes of nature and we now know that has consequences for our planet. But it's not likely that the earthquake was caused because the ancestors and gods were displeased and now need to be appeased. The story reminded me of the people of Pompey who thought the gods were displeased when Vesuvius began rumbling and that redoubled efforts to please the gods would keep the people safe. Deep within religious traditions there is a primitive instinct that wants to control life in the face of a mystery we know is ultimately uncontrollable. If we pray, if we carry out the correct rituals, if we do the right visualisation and have positive thoughts then we can be safe, healthy, happy, secure with everything going our way. It's easy for religion to become superstition and to enter into practices and rituals in the hope of overturning or influencing reality can seem very much like this. It's not been unknown in religion to focus on the correct performance of ritual in the belief that it influences God and affects reality . Such a tendency can lead to those who perform the rituals being given a power and importance which can be inflexible and abusive. Bad things happen to good people and that's a reality. What religion is about is to help us cope with these not necessarily change them.
This means that prayer and religious practice are important, not in the sense of managing God but in helping individuals be open to the courage and strength, wisdom and insight necessary to live out our day to day reality. For some religions this comes from God, from God dwelling within each one of us. For those religions that are less theistic, It comes from the spark of the divine, the spark of wisdom and courage in the heart of everyone but which can lie dormant until liberated through prayer and practice. It's this kind of prayer that helps us realise that life is not for us but we are for life. Once we realise that we can live life fully, treating it as a gift but also treating it with revernce and respect.