Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
―Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
I believe in the grounding, nourishing power of the earth beneath my feet, wherever I may be. My fast and dirty way of grounding and centering involves simply noticing the sensation of my feet touching the ground, breathing deeply, and silently affirming, By breathing deeply and feeling my feet on the ground, I bring myself into a calm and grounded state. The magical practice of grounding works no matter where you are, because the whole world is sacred.
And yet, for as long as humans have been human, we have experienced some places as more sacred than others. The sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church that I attend, the open-air chapel where my husband and I married, and landscapes such as Muir Woods, the Great Sand Dunes, and Big Bend feel sacred to me in a very literal sense of the word. They are set aside, dedicated, in a way that my front yard and the parking lot outside the hospital where I work are not, although I have practiced grounding and centering in each of these places, too. Spiritual experience, the sense of connection with something larger than ourselves, is somehow more accessible at sacred places than it is elsewhere.
What makes a physical place sacred? Are some places inherently more sacred than others? How are new sacred places created? In this essay, I explore the topic of sacred place in two parts. In the first part, I describe the qualities of existing sacred places, in order to understand how they work. In the second part, I suggest practices that will help us wake up to sacred places in our local landscape and reimagine our relationships with them.
Sacred places, which may be landforms, trees, churches, temples, or shrines, have the power to heal, inspire, and enlighten us because they are simultaneously mysterious and familiar. They are set apart, unsettling, and yet they bring us closer to ourselves, because they present us with “new imaginations of our place in the world, and of how that world works” (Dewsbury and Cloke). It is this tension, this juxtaposition, that startles us into deeper awareness and gives rise to a sense of the numinous. Continue reading “Finding Sacred Place, Part 1”