I have long been fascinated by the places people call Sacred. Places that are set aside for something. Places to bring and leave prayers.
On a recent trip to New York City, I visited two cathedrals the purpose of which was just to simply sit and experience sacred space. I immediately teared up as I entered St. Patrick's, something I always seem to do here because of the immensity and beauty of its architecture. I am certain that I also felt the presence of prayers. Small in my little pew, gazing into the huge expanse above, I experienced sacred space. Looking at the visitors who had actually come to pray, I imaged all sorts of prayers released in that place, and wondered if it still held a prayer I left there more than three decades ago.
The next day, I was very excited to visit St. John the Divine far uptown on Amsterdam Avenue for the first time. Photographs I had seen of its beautiful stained glass windows interested me. But although the glass was amazing, the huge, tree-like pillars that created and protected the place dark, quiet space were what impressed me.
At home, I have places in nature that are sacred to me. Places that have many things in common with cathedrals. Places where I bring and leave prayers.
In one of those places, I created a physical representation of a prayer which I often visit, rebuild, and sometimes change. Here, the prayer is given space and protected by trees which, like man-made pillars, draws the mind, heart, and prayers upward.
On my last visit to the prayer in the woods, I thought about other similarities between sacred space in nature and man-made cathedrals. Here in nature, like a traditional church, I have rituals and relationships. Near the entrance, the path leads between an opening in a stone wall. Here I stop. Similar to a genuflection that I learned about in St. Patrick's with a Catholic friend so long ago, I stop to honor the fact I am entering a sacred place. On the way out, I pause again to pray I will continue to feel the blessing and peace of that place as I leave. As a ritual practice of walking meditation, I walk the circular path either once or three times when I visit. And I have formed and cultivate many relationships with specific creatures in this woods. Relationships that last for years and years.
At this point in my life, I have found great comfort in placing my prayers in the open space of nature. In a few weeks, I will visit the woods in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. As I child, I released many kinds of emotions and prayers among the trees that still remain. I can't wait to continue my relationship with that place where I went daily to play, pray, and learn the blessings of the Creator.
I encourage you to find a sacred space, either man-made or in nature, to bring and leave your prayers.