THE POWER OF PLACE

There is power in place to move us and feed us spiritually.

My last post talked about a place and its unity with nature. Lots of  places are people made places built especially for worship. Houses of worship with their spires, their domes, their minarets.  Inside, there are altars and private corners, to listen to the word, to light a prayer candle, or unload a sin.  Outside, there may be a shrine to a patron saint where one can may pray, meditate, or plead for personal intercession. These are sanctuaries and sacred spaces. 

There are also the spaces we make for ourselves.  It could be an Adirondack chair we set up purposefully near a shady tree or bird bath.  Writer Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a “meditation table” she set up in her bedroom.  She gathered items that had meaning for her: “a large golden pillar candle, a Victorian lithograph of an angel, a print of the Madonna and Child, pictures of family and pets, a small blue and white vase for fresh flowers….this encourages me to meditate more often.”

We have seen altars of all shapes and sizes.  In the salon where I occasionally go to get a manicure, the Vietnamese women who work there have a shrine in the back room with Buddha statues, incense bowls, bits of food, and photos of loved ones.  Leslie (her American name) told me they each go there in the morning and throughout the day.

Down the main road from me, there is a man who has been building a cairn for several years now.  A cairn (Gaelic, old Scottish) is essentially a pile of stones, sometimes elaborately stacked with smooth and rounded rocks which act as a land marker or as a memorial.  They often appeared inspired, like sculpture, works of art.  This guy down the road… his is a tower.  I don’t know how he does it.  It’s been climbing upwards for several years now.  It’s like the game where you don’t want to be the last person to knock all the marbles down.  Every time I drive by, I think, “How is he doing it”?

Then I found out what this marker is for.  Each rock stands  for each month our country has been in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He wanted to have some tangible way to show how long it’s been, he is keeping watch and  remembering.  Those stones are both marker and memorial.  This cairn is no longer just a thing of beauty, it reminds me in a haunting way that as I run through my busy day, others are in harm’s way. 

Personally, three places come to mind that rarely fail to inspire, heal, and quiet my soul.  The first is the Cape Cod seashore.  There are particular beaches and towns I could mention, but what’s important is the time of day. The early morning and just at dusk, times when the beach is empty or almost so, and I can sit and listen to the promise of each new wave, watch the sandpipers scurry after their infinitesimal food, and become peacefully blurred into the expanse of sea and sky.  As JFK once noted, there is indeed something about the ocean and humans, something about how we are mostly made of water and it may because we all came from it.  I don’t know. I know it’s powerful.

There is a chapel in Sedona, Arizona.  It is built on a twin pinnacled spur 250 ft. high jutting out from a thousand foot red rock wall.  It is magnificent and while all of Sedona is a mecca for a variety of spiritual seekers, The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a palpable oasis.  While affiliated with the Catholic Church, it welcomes every denomination to walk up the steep drive and stay awhile.  You can hear murmurs of many languages as you pray your own way.

Lastly, my antique French pine writing desk with its worn top and soft yellow cabriolet legs .  It’s my sacred menagerie.  There are funky framed  photos of my children (when they were little and sweet!), stacks of favorite, dog eared books, watercolors by my artist daughter, always a brightly colored coffee mug, and a giant jar filled with writing utensils where I have taped a poem by William Henry Channing.  Outside my window is a very old apple tree (now blossoming) and birds of all sorts stop by to delight.  

Where are your places?  What is it that moves you about them?  Is is time for you to create your own space?  Or is time to return a place that perhaps is a long overdue visit? 

Professor Joseph Campbell (another folk hero of mine) spoke many times about the importance of finding or creating a sacred space: Quote of the Day: “You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so where you do no know what was in the morning paper…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are, and what you might be…At first you may find nothing’s happening…But if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.”

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