October 15, 2007

Holy places

I have been to Arizona for the first time in my life. It is almost impossible to believe that it is the same earth as the place where I live. For one thing, there is more sky than one can take in. The first time my brother visited, he described it as feeling naked, and I know what he meant. There is something about it that strips you down, makes you feel bare and small, exposed. But exposed to what?

We went to Sedona, a place of red rocks and light so lovely it is almost tangible. There are locations there that people call vortexes, and we bought a little booklet that described them. They are energy fields, spiritual places where one can tap into some kind of inner wisdom or special revelation. It is the kind of thing that New Age spirituality embraces – and so to be pooh-poohed by traditional faith, I suppose.

But it seemed to me to be a lot like the same kind of thing I heard described when I visited Wales, only there it was not vortexes but rather thin places. In Sedona, it is buttes carved from red rock; in Wales, it is holy wells.

And the question that I debate with myself is whether one has to go somewhere special to find the Holy. Do you have to meditate on a mountain in Arizona, or wash in the icy water of a Welsh spring? Do you have to be in a sanctuary on Sunday? Does God live in a particular kind of place? I want to say no, but at the same time, I cannot discount the stories of connection to the Other in these thin places. And I have to say that something about the air and the light and the rocks in Sedona – and being on holiday with people that I love – did seem somehow sacred. I know that God is everywhere, and I also know that a lot of the time I do not pay attention. But there are places and times where the barrier between me and my Maker is thin, almost transparent, and I see with clearer vision.

I brought home a little bottle of water from Holywell in Wales, and I brought home a vial of red sand from Sedona. God is not in the water and God is not in the sand. But the Holy is in the memory of those places where people have prayed and worshiped and had the eyes of their hearts enlightened over the eons. And the water and the dirt remind me of my own exposure to the Spirit.

1 comment:

David said...

I imagine we all have stories and memories of similar places, and each of us may call them by different names, but if we could be bold or honest enough to admit it, they could also be the same as the places you descirbe and have similar meaning of connectedness.
I don't know that I'll add anything to your thoughts, but to second and share the connectedness of having similar felings about places in my life.
If we identify those places as others we could be labeled a humanist, and if a natural environment then a naturalist, etc. etc.
It is intersting that the two places you mentioned could be labeled natural.
It is that way for me, there are places where I have felt the "nakednes' , the awareness of something greater, a feeling of being a part of where I was or even more. There many spots on Mohegan island of the coast of Maine, and then there was the time a few weeks ago when I was alone on a lake in a canoe surrounded by fog in utter silence whe I felt it. I could have stayed all day.
I have felt it just floating on my back in water, being near water - ocean or lake or river. Water gives to me.
There is one story I still can't explain or undertsand. We were traveling in Switzerland and one day we took a hike along a trail to see a waterfall. The trail took us along through woods and we knew we were high up but couldn't see much because of the trees. Then we came into an open clearing and I literally froze in my tracks because I knew absolutely and clearly in my mind that I had been there before. It was familiar to me, everything, everything in detail in its place. It had the feeling of being home, of comfort. I can't remember the waterfall or whatelse we dd that day, but that experience still haunts me.
Now that is not the same a your Sedona or Wales experiences, but it is an experience of finding a strong connection to a place, often unextected, but soulfully moving, and meaningful to each of us in our own ways.
I understand your brothers feeling of nakedness, and would suppose that becasue we clothe ourselves not only with blinders, hats with brims, sungalsses, styles, all manner of garb, but also with agendas, schedules, routines, strategies, compensations, hurry, even boxes - vehicles, etc. that we thereby block our own ability to see and feel and be aware of the connections to mystery and the holy that is all around us, wherever we are, all the time.
We are so good at covering (protecting) that we need to practice awareness, to shed, to open, to stop, look & listen.