The question on my mind today? What makes something sacred? As we have walked among this varied landscape I have had a deep sense of the sacredness of the water, the mountains, the rocks, the ever changing and fickle wind. This experience has been mine and I am not sure is shared by all those who walk by my side, at least not in the same way in which I mean it. So, what does make a place, a person, an experience sacred?
Today we stopped along the road near the shore of a lake for our morning worship. There was not a person in sight except for our merry band of pilgrims. The large white coach pulled over on the side of the narrow road which had twisted and turned like a slithering snake through bog land piled high with peat until it flowed into a pathway between mountains. Standing in a circle along the side of the lake, hoping beyond hope that the rain we saw in the distance would not begin to show itself, we began our morning prayer with song, scripture and poetry. All the words pointed to standing on holy ground. And I believe we all felt we were. Surrounded by such stark beauty our words gave meaning to the experience of the landscape itself. “Truly God is in this place.” we spoke like Moses.
As we finished our worship words and took a few minutes to move around the boggy ground holding our own thoughts, I noticed six stones lying in a small grouping. I walked over to the stones and piled one on top of the other to form a cairn. This rock formation is meant to say: something sacred happened here. Take notice.
Leaving this place we moved on down the road to Kylemore Abbey. This incredible castle built by Mitchell Henry for his beloved wife Margaret is a remarkable structure nestled in an equally remarkable place. This beautiful home which housed a family of eleven and numerous staff is nestled on a lake surrounded by heather covered mountains reaching into the heavens. After his wife’s untimely death, Henry then built a small chapel in her memory, a chapel not adorned by the usual stern looking gargoyles but sweet-faced angels. Its simplicity holds even the deepest prayers. All around this beautiful estate are the most well cared for gardens full of not only flowers but fruit trees and herbs, all originally planted to provide welcoming food for the guests of the family.
When the Henry family left this place it was taken over by Benedictine sisters who first created a school for girls from both the area and from far flung places, sent to this amazing setting for an education that would serve them in their life. The school no longer exists but the nuns live on and maintain it as a place of welcome and hospitality, a place of solace and meditation. It was our blessing yesterday to allow this landscape to wash over us and to hold us in the glory of an autumn day. Walking through the grounds I felt any stresses I may have been carrying melt away. I felt my breathing deepen and my rhythm remember its Source. I felt connected to all those who had walked these paths before me.
So, what makes a place sacred? Yesterday as I walked this landscape, as we worshiped beside the still waters of a mountain lake, I came to the understanding that it is love that makes a place sacred. Over time people have tried to write creeds and rules for naming a place as holy but that is really in vain. What makes a place sacred is the love by which relationships, with humans, with the earth, are nurtured. It is in this love that we come to know the greater Love that moves in all that, even the tiniest gesture or the grandest expression. Most of us will never build a castle for those we love but most of us try to make a castle of the homes we have. In the welcoming of people, whether schools of young women or the stranger that shows up at our door, if done in love, these guests walk into sacred spaces and make them more so by their presence. When we look out with love at the landscapes that make up our view of the world every day, our walk in the world becomes sacred.
Today may we all walk on sacred ground.