What Makes a Place Sacred?

Like the gentle breeze on a perfect sunny day, it tickles my exposed skin urging me to reveal my whole self, to slip off anything extraneous so I can feel its touch. It calls me to authenticity as its perfection and love wash over me with a sense of peace and content. I am in a place of deep acceptance. My blood pressure drops, and my breathing steadies. Sometimes, tears well up in my eyes and flow down my cheek.

This is how I experience sacred ground. Ancient writers described an encounter with God and sacred ground this way: God said [to Moses], “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground! (Exodus 3:5 The Inclusive Bible, p. 120) Like me, there was that sense of removing extraneous items. Removing his sandals, Moses would have been able to feel the holiness between his toes.

But what makes a place holy or sacred? Is its sacredness intrinsic or something we bring to it? Can the sacred be anyplace, or is it reserved for special places? Can the holy be actions or movements, or is it geographic

I think all are true. We can find the sacred anywhere. For example, finding the holy in our daily tasks is possible. If we slow down and choose presence, the sacred is in the mundane tasks of washing dishes or folding laundry. Thích Nhất Hạnh described the sacred in a tangerine. “You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy” (1). We can find the sacred in every moment in the practice of mindfulness. The Psalms remind us to be still to experience the divine (Psalm 46:10). So, yes, I think what we bring to holy ground matters.

However, some places do manifest a spirituality all their own. They are thin places between the seen and the unseen, between what we can touch and the mystical. Yet, I don’t think we can approach one of these places without a willingness to be in a relationship. In other words, if we do not bring ourselves, we can easily miss the holy. But if we risk being in a relationship with the sacred ground, we will be changed. It is only then that we can feel the sacred washing over us.

Of Iona, an island off the western coast of Scotland, John Philip Newell wrote that to say a place is thin “is not to say that every other place is thick. [Sacred sites] are like sacraments or living icons through which we glimpse the Light that is present everywhere. Iona is not a place to cling to, or escape to, but to cherish as a place in which our seeing is renewed, so that when we return to the demanding and conflicted places of our lives and our world we do so with open eyes that have been refreshed” (2).

Though we can encounter the divine any place, I think the earth provides us with places where we can reconnect with God, Mother Gaia, the flow, the ground of all being, the Mysterium Tremendum, or whatever you call the spirit or energy that undergirds and connects all that is. Just as we need sleep every night, we need spiritual renewal. Our essence cries out to experience that which tickles our authentic selves like a breeze on our skin.

We need the sacred ground to renew us, remind us who we are, and enable us to see the grandeur in one another. We will not survive as a species – as Gaia – if we neglect our spiritual health and our relationship with one another.

Hallowed Ground manifests intrinsically but what we bring to it also matters. Spirituality is not something we do alone. It is a relationship between mystery and humanity. While we can encounter the embedded energy doing dishes, there are special places that ease our connection. Movement, such as walking a labyrinth, exercise, dance, prostration, or walking meditation, provides a pathway between the physical and sacred.

The journey itself was sacred on my cross-continental road trip, my pilgrimage to reboot my physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. I ran. I hiked. I meandered. I climbed. I drove. I sat or stood admiring creation. I played games with my grandchildren. I breathed in air in new places and breathed out the toxicity of the last several years. I also intentionally and unintentionally encountered thin places. Some were not as I remembered, and others were unexpected. Some were the result of my own radical openness, while others were despite my closed spirit. All played a crucial role in my healing.

Footnotes

(1) Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

(2) John Philip Newell, They Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, p.32

(3) Gaia refers to the concept that the earth (and all living and nonliving parts) is one organism, interconnected, interdependent, and one.

3 comments

  1. I have enjoyed reading about your journey. I missed your writing while your blog was quiet, and while I recognize that part of what brought you back to writing was pain, I am thankful for it. This particular writing about sacred places particularly spoke to me.

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