And just what is a sacred place?
What do you see when you hear those words? Standing stones raised by ancient peoples upon a windy plain? Dark caverns where the ancient Mother was first honored? Towering pyramids? Ruined temples to forgotten deities?
Perhaps you think of the dim vastness of a famous cathedral, candles flickering in front of the Torah, or images of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Or maybe the sacred is a small church on a village green, or the many-pillared splendor of a Hindu shrine.
Our images of the sacred vary with our experiences and our upbringing. What we share is the idea that some places bring us more closely into connection with the Divine, by whatever name we know it.
Certainly there are places upon this earth that seem to reach out to something at the core of our being and to connect us with the Divine energies around us. We actively seek them out, going on long pilgrimages of faith to spend a few moments or hours in these ancient precincts. We leave our offerings, take our pictures, gather our memories… and then we go back into the mundane, every day world.
But wait a moment… Aren’t we forgetting something here? Aren’t we missing out on an important idea?
Isn’t one of our shared beliefs that of the immanence of Divinity? Do we not believe that the Divine energy permeates the entire Universe, all of creation, all of the earth around us? Well, if that’s the case, then all places are sacred, not just the places we see on the cover of National Geographic or those to which the Guru of the moment is leading this year’s pilgrimage.
Certainly it is more difficult to see an urban city block covered in trash and human refuse as sacred. It may be more difficult to think of your own backyard as anything other than something which constantly needs to be mowed or weeded. And where is the sacred in the chemical tainted marshes surrounding many of our polluted waterways? And herein lies the problem.When we begin to think about things and places as being either “mundane” or “sacred” we are taking a giant step away from our core belief in the immanence of Divinity. We begin to lose the sense of being a caretaker for the Earth and the creatures that share it with us, unless they are confined to certain specific places that we identify as “sacred:. And from this isolation from Divinity around us come all of those things which we as fellow humans visit on the Earth that continue to do it harm.
Our failure to connect to the Divine right beneath our feet often blinds us to those things we could be doing to save the world around us. And when we do manage to give a thought to what we might do, we are often overwhelmed by the massiveness of the task we face, and hence we are held motionless when action is needed. Yet each of us holds in our own hands the ability to turn around the damage humans have done to the natural world and to begin to restore the Sacred to all places.
The first step in making a world in which all places are again sacred is to turn our thinking around on what is sacred and what is mundane, to remember that Deity is immanent. Do we have to look upon ancient monuments to find the Divine? Is it not even a more powerful image of the power of life and creation to contemplate the common weed forcing its way through a crack in the city sidewalk?
Every one of us is a child of this planet and dependent upon it for our very lives. It doesn’t matter what color we might be, what religion we may choose to follow, whether we are gay or straight, male or female. None of us can survive if we destroy the Earth that surrounds us. And perhaps in working together to restore the planet, to understand that it is sacred space we can find common ground that will help us build other bridges…bridges that might also show us that the Divine is not only within the physical creation, but also in each and every one of us.
So I ask you again…. What is a sacred place?