What defines a sacred place?
Is it somewhere like Lourdes, France where miracles happened according to the Christian tradition? Maybe the Mahabodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India where Prince Siddhartha took rest and experienced enlightenment per Buddhist tradition? Perhaps Crater Lake, Oregon which is sacred to the Native American Klamath people?
All of them are sacred, of course, in different cultures and faiths.
But why? Interestingly, although Europe is anecdotally going through what is called a “secular” period in its history, major religious sites are bursting with visitors. According to Professor Harvey Cox who spoke in Ipswich tonight, many of these visitors don’t attend church or temple at home, but are called to pilgrimage sites because they feel something special happens there. They want to be connected to spirituality, even if they don’t connect with a more organized practice of religion.
I ask this question about what constitutes a sacred placed, because today our Rotary club hosted a run and walk through Appleton Farms, the oldest continuously working farm in the United States. It is held in care by the Trustees of Reservations. Acres upon acres of pasture and woodlands are open for daily walks, including jaunts with dogs in some areas, as well as equestrian activity. Since it’s a working farm, cows and other livestock graze in the landscape, and barns surrounded by fields mark hubs of agricultural activity (dairy, community sustained agriculture/CSA, etc).
So why is such a place mentioned in a conversation about sacred places? Because another Rotarian named Nat spent time out there with me today, as we worked the race route in the woods, and we gazed off at its vistas.
Nat called it a sacred place. Asked me if I agreed.
Upon reflection, I realized that I’d experienced some sacred moments at Appleton Farms. Picking strawberries and sunflowers in the CSA fields with Sarah and Jessie. Stomping along muddy tracks with dogs and friends. Pausing at one of the Pinnacles at the edge of the woods with Chris.
Yes, it’s sacred.
We all have places that aren’t famed pilgrimage tourist spots, but locations that are special to us individually, because we have had personal, spiritual, revelatory or insightful times there.
So I agreed with Nat. Yes, it’s sacred.
I have other such sacred places, and I’m sure you do, too. For me, they include the shore and dunes of Crane Beach. A stone in the cemetery. The rose window of a church in Ohio. A birthing room at the North Shore Birth Center in Beverly.
Sometimes we bring back keepsakes from places that carry such significance. A smooth stone, a bottle of sand, a pinecone or blossom. (That’s a little different than spoons or shotglasses collected from all over the world, although I don’t discount the sacred qualities of pubs and cafes all over the globe.)
When Jessie was ill, travelers brought us many mementoes, including symbols from places like Medjugorje, as well as sacred objects such as a handmade Native American prayer wheel or a strand Tibetan prayer flags.
So Lourdes or Appleton Farms, Mt. Sinai or Crater Lake? All are sacred. Some are closer than others, and we may experience more such significant moments at those places we can easily reach. Others must be attained via pilgrimage, and the journey itself is part of the process that makes a destination sacred.
And sometimes the sacred place follows us, wherever we are. We carry the possibility of insight and revelation inside us.