What makes a place sacred?

I've been travelling in Japan/Taiwan for the last three-ish weeks (more on that later). (Dudes, I love travelling, it's ridiculous. Like can I travel forever, please? (Probably why I was excited to move to Australia, to be honest. Vacation forever! (Although unfortunately "vacation forever" comes with life responsibilities, as I've discovered.) Anyways, I was going somewhere with this.))


I'm hardly a Zen Buddhist, and I've been a Christian all my life. Despite my faith I found myself connecting to the Tenjuan Temple garden in Kyoto in a deeply spiritual way during my visit to Japan. 

I wandered through the water garden, twice, alone. Koi fish followed me, hoping for a scrap of food to fall from my pocket into the pond. The wind bit my cheeks and nose, whistled through the bamboo, made me shove my fingers into my pockets. 

And everything was still. Inside and outside. 

My breathing calmed and the tangled mess of thoughts knotting in my head stopped for a blessed moment. In this Zen Buddhist garden in Japan, I felt myself opening to and talking with the God who had saved me when I'm not always able to do so in my own church. 

The Tenjuan Garden is a sacred place, and I could feel it in my soul. All my life I've been taught other religions are bad, and while we can respect them from afar they aren't for us. (But don't worry Mom, I'm not converting to Buddhism any time soon.) 

According to Cambridge Dictionary, "sacred" is defined as being "considered to be holy and deserving respect, especially because of a connection with a god". Growing up, I always understood that, in regards to religion, you could only find things relating to your own faith sacred. Mosques and temples may be sacred, but they're sacred for other people. We have to be respectful but our sacred places aren't their sacred places. That's what I grew up believing, but this trip changed my point of view.

I believe sacred places can be sacred, no matter what their original purpose was. Zen masters and myself alike have used the garden to connect to our respective faiths and to allow the distractions of the world to fade. Nature has always done that for me, and there was no denying the peace in my heart. My God created all of this, from the flowers in a Japanese garden to the sweeping waves of the Australian ocean to the sweet pine trees in my Canadian hometown. It's a place that inspires mysterium tremendous, an overwhelming mystery in the presence of God (or your faith of choice). 

I believe sacred places are places that connect you to your faith. They're not the same for everyone. St. Peter's Basilica didn't touch me in the way Tenjuan Garden did, whereas St. Peter's might bring someone else to tears. And have you ever been in a giant library? It makes my heart sing, but my dear brother can't wait to escape. 

What's sacred to one person may not be sacred to another, and sacred place may not align with your faith like with the Tenjuan Garden. That's ok. Sacred places are beautiful, and we can all learn to appreciate them, no matter what we believe in. 

What are your favourite sacred places?

Comments

  1. I love your perspective in this article. For me, this place would also likely have been a good place to reconnect with God. I think there's much to be said about a quiet and still place. For me, many churches feel too busy to calm down and focus that way, but being outside under the stars or out in nature gives me the mental clean space to pray and focus. That's not to say that churches are bad or that going out in nature is the magic fix to praying, but I think it's good to be mindful of what environment we are in when we take time for God.

    My church back home holds an Easter prayer vigil every year that goes from the evening Good Friday service ("Tenebrae", or a service of increasing darkness) until sunrise Easter service. People from the congregation sign up for an hour or two to go to the sanctuary and pray as individuals or families. It's been a few years since I've gone, but the times I have gone have always stuck in my memory as coming to a sacred place. We would go in the early morning or late night hours when everything was quiet and still. The sanctuary is always stripped bare at the end of Tenebrae, leaving only a stark wooden cross highlighted at the foot of the altar. It's a time--perhaps more than the place--that feels holy. And while it's no less holy there than it is any other day of the week, it does offer excellent preparation for Easter.

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    1. Thank you so much! I agree, quiet and still places are absolutely amazing to reconnect with God and I find churches are way too busy for me most of the time. And I know a lot of people find it easier to connect with God in church, but I'm sadly not one of those people.

      That sounds absolutely beautiful. I think I would find it easier to pray during that time because the distractions of the world would be taken away and it's just God. I would love to attend something like that one day, you're very lucky to have something like that to go to. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

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  2. Though I've never really been to sacred places outside of churches, I can kind of see what you mean when I see other people going to Buddhist Temples. I admire their concentration on their faith.

    I'd like to travel myself and find a church or somewhere peaceful where I can simply meditate on God and not worry about anything else.

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    1. I agree, while it's very different to my faith I enjoy people practicing their own faith, it gives me a bit of hope.

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  3. I really like your view on this, Victoria. I personally struggle sometimes to feel connected to God in a traditional church setting. It's when I'm in a quiet and beautiful place outdoors that I feel closest to Him.

    The Temply garden you visited sounds amazing! And I love the picture you included in this post!

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    1. Thanks Madeline! I'm glad I'm not the only one who can sometimes find it difficult to find God in church. I always find nature brings me much closer to God.

      Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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