We have had a great response to our call for locales spiritually meaningful to our readers. Here's a sampling of E-mails we've received:
I first saw Mount Shasta, a 14,295-foot, free-standing Cascade volcanic mountain in Northern California, in 1964 as my family was driving across the country. It took my breath away when it became visible from the highway. I sensed a tug that seemed to be the presence of God on that mountain. Being 15 at the time and even though we did not live in California, I told myself if I ever had a chance I would climb the mountain.
Our family moved to Sacramento in 1967, and then I made it my business to find a way to climb the mountain. I discovered that the local indigenous American Indians believed the mountain was sacred, and some local nonindigenous Americans thought there were legendary pygmies living on the mountain. I made serial attempts to climb the mountain with my son in the 1980s but because of weather conditions had to abort the ascent three times. Finally on the fourth try, we made it to the top and I did indeed feel as if we were at the foot of God on top of the mountain. We climbed it again a few years later. I felt each time as if we were on sacred ground while on the mountain; there is a special peace and majesty there.
Every time I see a picture or visit the base of the mountain, I smile,f because I know God is embodied in the mountain. Even though this defies logic, the feeling to me is quite special.
Now that you have devoted a special issue to "Sacred Places," how about giving equal treatment to the other side of the tale. Present a special issue that tells the true story of religions--that they developed in a time of human ignorance about the operation of the world, hence natural activities were attributed to supernatural beings.
It is disappointing that so many humans still attribute the universe to supernatural causes and do not accept that the universe operates under a basic set of physical, chemical, and biological laws. We may not yet understand all of those laws, but we know a vast amount more than did the people of 2,000 to 5,000 years in the past.
Religion may do some good things, but one only needs to look at the hatred in the world today to see where religion can take humanity.
William H. Bauer
My favorite spiritual refuge and source of tranquility is St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass., where I participate in a weekend retreat once a year. It is a Cistercian monastery in the tradition of such notable monks as Thomas Merton. The Benedictine rule of silence, the simplicity of monastic life, the atmosphere of utter reverence, the daily regimen of prayer accompanied by Gregorian Chant--all are conducive to the creation of a milieu of joy, hope, peace, and the kind of spirituality that makes it more possible to feel the presence of God and to discover God in our fellow man.
There is a giant oak tree that sits about 250 feet back from the shed where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays during the summer at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. The tree stands alone in the middle of a huge lawn. It is at least 200 years old and gnarled, yet utterly grand in its stature.
My family has had a home near Tanglewood for over 50 years. I came of age there, fishing with my father on the lake just below the grounds, listening idly to BSO members practicing in the neighborhood of unassuming cottages I lived in, watching as my parents went to and from hundreds of concerts, and basking in the power of the summer thunderstorms that would roll in like clockwork, in the late afternoon, nearly every day.
Every time I stand under that tree I find sanctuary. It makes no difference whether it is in July during the middle of a James Taylor concert populated by screaming fans or in icy February, when the grounds are deserted and the air is raw. When I am “with” that tree, I am happily alone and at peace. I am at home, as much as I ever hope to be.
Your coverage of sacred places around the world missed one of the most significant in the Western U.S.—Mt. Shasta in Northern California. The majestic, snow-covered volcano has been considered sacred for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years by the indigenous people of that region. Today, it is a magnet for practioners of many esoteric spiritual paths because of its reputed energies. It's worth a story by itself.
Sierra Vista, Ariz.
The enlightening article titled "Sacred Places" prompted me to share a spiritually enriching event. In the beautiful golf resort town in Pinehurst, N.C., there is a special small chapel in Sacred Heart Church. In this chapel the blessed sacrament (sacred host) is displayed for veneration 24 hours of each day and night. Parishoners volunteer for one hour in adoration in complete silence and peace. I pray as well as read my Bible and devotional materials that enable me to meditate peacefully on God, the sacraments and saints. This time brings inspiration and comfort for my daily life. I am grateful for this blessing of a sacred place.
Mary F. Byrne
I nominate the High Water Mark on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., as a sacred place in U.S. history. Stand there on a sunny, hot summer afternoon, looking out toward the Confederate lines, and you can easily imagine the rows of Confederate soldiers making their way across the fields and up the hill toward the High Water Mark. Think how the history of not only the United States but also the world would have been changed had that attack succeeded in splitting the Union lines and driving the Union army from the field. From the standpoint of history, there is not a more sacred place in these United States.
Jospeh F. Albert
In 40 years of travel , I have always sought out sacred places and religious sites (not always the same thing) out of deep curiosity. Though I am an agnostic, I am fascinated by the cultural aspects and edifices of sacred places.
You should include the "Mother Temple" of Besakih on the magical island of Bali in Indonesia on your extended list of sacred places. ... I was very lucky when I was in Bali , in April 1999. Every year during the 10th lunar month ( March and April) the Balinese celebrate the founding of Besakih in a ceremonial time called Bhatara Turun Kabeh, when all the Hindu deities are supposed to descend to Earth at once. Classic Balinese temples have roof coombs that are like stairsteps just for this reason.
But every tenth year, as was the case in 1999, there is a grander purification ceremony overlaid on the same lunar month as well, the Panca Wali Krama, in which all Balinese people are required to make a pilgrimage to Besakih. ... On the day that I was at Besakih, I witnessed over 100,000 Balinese on pilgrimage, ascending the many tiers of stone steps up the mountainside carrying their offerings of fruits and a forest of flowers. The Balinese women, in their sarongs, had chiffon yellow silk parasols; the men were in cleft hats or scarves and short pants flew long banners from walking poles.
Hindu priests accepted the offerings and blessed the pilgrims in mass ceremonies at each of the 23 nested temples, and "acolytes" had to shovel the heaps of flowers from the temples to make ready for the next wave. So there it was, all day long, the planet's most beautiful people in their best diaphonous white-and-gold brocaded clothes carrying flowers up the mountainside amid parasols and banners under a looming green volcano, all in good spirits. At the top of the temple complex was a giant stone dragon, looking out over all and beyond to the distant ocean.
In addition to the Holy Land and my own parish church, I look upon a timbered area of the farm where I grew up in eastern Iowa as sacred. Here one could sit under a hillside tree and listen to the quiet. You could see peace. Our own horses and cows would gather with deer, squirrels and other animals at a small clearing near a stream. All shared the water and took turns at the salt lick my dad had placed there. You could feel God.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
While certain religious sites or fasting and prayer can help me reflect on spiritual matters, I usually feel a connection to the divine in breathtaking nature. Have you ever walked outside on a clear frigid day and heard your boots squeak on the hard snow? Or listened to the wind blowing through the trees, and waves breaking on the shore? A transcendent state of unity gripped me when I was near snow-capped Mount Fujiyama on a clear spring day. A sacred moment occurred one summer as I was mesmerized by the dancing Aurora Borealis (northern lights) at a mining camp in northern Canada.
I also sensed the Creator when I listened to howling wolves on starlit nights on the frozen tundra. Sometimes I've experienced sublime clarity and peace from the sensory delights of the rotating seasons, or as I drove through the Rocky Mountains. One can breathe deep and feel a harmony expressed when a full moon, or a glowing sun rest on California hills. In nature, you can find sacred places almost anywhere, or they can find you, and those experiences last forever in your memories. Nature can also help build your faith and encourage selflessness.
Christian P. Milord
For the 13 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), the Sacred Grove in upstate New York is a very sacred place because of what happened there. The grove is a multi-acre wooded area where, in the spring of 1820, in response to a prayer by Joseph Smith as to which church he should join, our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to the boy prophet and hence began the restoration of the original church of Christ, which had been lost through the centuries due to the infiltration of false teachings, false doctrines, and wickedness into Christ's church.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
I came across my most recent sacred place in the medieval church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. A group of we Anglican Catholic Episcopalians were touring holy places to explore our Latin roots when I heard someone ask, "Where is the Holy Spirit?" They were looking at the fresco "Trinita" painted by the famous Humanist artist, Masaccio. The first thing I saw when I turned toward it were the eyes--deep-set, all-seeing, numinous eyes--looking straight ahead from their vaulted height. They really grabbed me. I've always thought of God as a loving father, even as I believe He is a spirit, but here He was, a bearded man, with his hands under the crossbar, supporting His crucified son, as any loving father would do.
So where was the Holy Spirit? In a white dove, its wingtips encircling God's neck and its beak softly touching the crown of thorns. The image remains with me and I go there often.
Ruth M. Gill
I have traveled through many parts of the world and seen places and things that have touched me tremendously: the Sistine Chapel, the Grand Canyon, a breathtaking sunrise or sunset, countless museums filled with some of the most amazing pieces of art in the world, diving upon pristine coral reefs. However, nothing has touched my soul like being in my lover's arms. When we hold each other, it truly does feel like the universe has shifted into place. I feel secure, calmed, and exhilirated all at the same time. I may sound like a lovesick teenager but am 41 years old, have been married previously, and can assure you have been no wallflower in my life. What I feel when she touches me I have never felt before in my life. I have felt it from the first moment we touched and that "thing" that seems to flow between us has not diminished with time but grown. She is my place of refuge and I honestly believe when in her loving arms, she brings me closer to God.
New York, N.Y.
There is a tiny church perched on a huge rock in the village of Petra on the island of Lesvos, Greece. To reach the church of Panagia Glykofilousa, meaning Our Lady of the Sweet Kiss, you have to climb 114 steps, which are steeply carved into the side of the rock. Once you reach the top, if the climb does not leave you breathless, the view will. There is a 360-degree view of the village, landscape, and Aegean Sea. But most breathtaking of all is the church. It was built around 1600 on top of the rock to ward off ambush by Moors and pirates, and for protection of the sacred icons within. Once inside, you see frescoes and icons hundreds of years old covering the walls, candles lit up, and the smell of incense filling the church, all of which leave you in awe. It is here that I feel safe and at peace. I think of this place often and cannot wait to go back.
West Windsor, N .J.
I often think we are like spiders, spinning our webs, not of silk, but of steel, concrete and bricks. Like the spider, we almost never leave our webs. We go weeks, months, even years, without setting foot on any surface which is not man made. We in the “developed” countries are isolated from the rest of nature by our civilization, our culture and our religion.
When I feel troubled or in need of renewal I seek a place out of sight and sound of man and his activities and there I find peace. Sometimes, when I am in such a place, I experience such a powerful connection with all that is, was and will ever be, I am filled with joy and moved to tears.
The natural world is my sacred place.
Al-Hallaj wrote of the Prophet Muhammad's vision, "He blinked beyond the where." The places are "where"; the sacred is "beyond."
Ignacio L. Gotz
Point Harbor, N.C.
Any place considered to be where the Lord resides is sacred. If this is the definition, there is no place where He does not reside! Therefore, the whole universe along with its content is His residing place. Therefore as far as I am considered, the whole universe is sacred. I do not have to tell anyone as to how to reach this place.
Man is an animal, who is much like a dog...he wants to choose a leader and follow him blindly. He shuts himself off for any logic from then on. It is sad this happens even to the brilliant scientists who happen to be "religious."
My father was an Irish-American and a good Roman Catholic who liked to joke about Henry Thoreau. "Thoreau was a holy hermit," said Dad. "If Henry had lived during the Middle Ages, and if he had stayed on the right side of the bishops, he would be a saint by now and his homesite at Walden Pond would be a shrine." Walden Pond is, indeed, a sacred site. It's important for two reasons that are very important in the twenty-first century. The sage who lived at Walden Pond was a naturalist who inspired much of today's environmental protection movement. However, Henry Thoreau wasn't the misanthrope or the escapist that some critics imagine. Thoreau spoke, consistently, against slavery and against imperialism and he was willing to go to jail in defense of his beliefs. When you dig into Henry's spirituality, you find a combination of humanitarian values and ecology-mindedness that's unusual in religion and philosophy. The world needs this combination and it needs Walden Pond to help tell Thoreau's story.
Robert Francis Murphy
My sacred place is not within any man made place but in a valley in Colorado.
Within months after a divorce that hurt deeply I went on a camping trip by myself into a deep and beautiful valley near a stream close to Mancos, Colorado. After erecting my tent and preparing my campsite I fell asleep and in the middle of the night I was awakened by something, but going out of the tent I found that everything was lit up by the full moon. Everything was as bright as daylight and I was filled with something I had never felt before. Just the peacefulness and love that stayed with me for the rest of my life. as I think back on that night the same feeling comes back to me. It was God coming into my body and life.
Grand Junction, Colo.
All sacred places combine the silent beauty of God's natural creation with human creative art in all its variety. My sacred place is in a portion of the Green Mountains of Vermont. I have not recently been able to visit my home state, but my wife and I still cherish the inner peace of our former frequent visits to the Benedictine Priory at Weston, in which the profoundest silence of the multicolored autumn mountains alternated with the simple beauty of Psalm settings composed and sung by the brothers. In nearby Waitsfield, Elisabeth von Trapp, whom I am privileged to call my friend, creates and sings her exquisite songs of praise to God the creator and hear lovely musical settings of the poetry of Robert Frost, who called Ripton, Vermont home near the end of his earthly life.
In July, I visited two Hawaiian Islands with my 16-year-old granddaughter (who had spinal surgery prior to her December birthday and healed remarkably). We did a helicopter tour on Kauai. There is no way you can do that tour without admiring the work of God. We held hands and commented on the beauty that we were witnessing. Enclosed is a picture that she took because it was so amazing. At the base of that beam of light was a church.
Sacred places? Look no further than any U.S. military cemetery, whether it be in the United States, Europe, or the Pacific. These are all hallowed grounds where thousands of our military personnel have made the supreme sacrifice, including some of my World War II comrades.
Mount Vernon, New
The vision of John of Patmos was that the Earth and all creation are redeemed by Christ as all the host of the heavens proclaim: The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Of that kingdom there shall be no end. So much for putting God in a box. Jesus also says that wherever two or three gather in his name, he will be in the midst of them. Sacred places in some regard might blind us to the sacredness of all the Earth and all of creation. It is fine to have a place to worship to call you to remembrance. But don't confuse that place with the sacred presence. Don't confuse the means of grace with the grace.
Humanity worships gods and places that possess nothing to do with where we came from. Where did we come from? Nature! I backpack three hours from 8,000 to 10,000 feet to a Walden Pond of the Never Summer Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. From the beginning of the trip, I walk through wildflowers coloring the mountain meadows. I hike through aspen trees radiant with green leaves. I watch hummingbirds race from flower to flower. I slide over fallen trees and broken rock. I wade clear mountain streams on my way to nature's temple in the wood. Along the way, robins sing and hawks soar through azure skies. Sometimes, I startle a deer—and once, a moose. At the end of my three-hour trip, I stand at crystal-clear and still-as-glass Magic Pond. It's a beautiful body of water about 150 yards long and 100 yards wide, surrounded by pines with primitive camping spots. Large rocks erupt out of the pond where you can see trout swim past you. Above, jagged gray rock cliffs profile into the starlit night sky. I pitch my tent. I build a campfire and watch nature untouched by humanity's increasing madness of cars, buildings, and rushing around. There in that quiet place, I can feel the heartbeat of the universe. I am a part of that heartbeat.
In 1975, I was a single man in the "singles scene." I had finished my company assignment at a business in Mexico City. The company said I had several weeks coming to me and why not take the time off right there.I decided to travel to the pyramids outside of Mexico City. With camera in hand, I got on the bus. An hour later, the driver said we were stopping at the Church of Guadeloupe, where in the 1500s the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant telling him to tell the church elders where to build a church. As evidence of this "telling," a life-size image of her was put on the cactus hemp apron he wore in the fields. That apron hung inside this church. Scientists from all over the world have studied this image and have concluded that this is not a painting but an image--unknown in origin. So with camera in hand, I went into the church.There it hung over the altar. No imagination necessary, no open mind needed, no special lighting of any kind; a blind man could see this image/picture. I was stunned. The only rational explanation was that someone would every so often go into town and buy a new "poster" and put it behind the glass. It was sharp, vivid, and in brilliant color. We could not use flash cameras. The church was under renovation. My camera did not have a flash attachment, and I had tried on several occasions to take indoor pictures. My exact words were: "God, if you let these pictures come out, you can move me from being agnostic to a true believer." I took pictures inside and outside Mexico City. Weeks later, at home, I spread the slides out on the tabletop. The first slide I raised to the light out of the hundreds of pictures I took was that first slide—clear as a bell.Years later, the TV show Unsolved Mysteries did a segment on the subject. The conclusion? An unsolved mystery. Yes, I'm a true believer.
My sacred place is within my own heart. That is where I experience God within me. No one can take this sanctuary from me. The doors are never locked. The deeper my longing to feel this inner place, the easier my access becomes. This sacred, quiet, joyful, peaceful home is always available inside me.
I realize that there are more sacred places than your magazine could list, but at least the great temple and tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, should be mentioned. This building is an achievement of the past 200 years that stands witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ and testimony of the fullness of his Gospel. Anyone can tour the inside of the temple before it is dedicated and feel the power of God.
My most sacred place was my 19-year-old granddaughter's hospital room where she was dying from cancer. A Catholic priest noticed it first when my granddaughter woke up once and looked around and said, "I love all you guys." The priest said at the moment he could feel the presence of God (Shekinah) in the room. The love that poured out of that room was incredible. The buzz in the hospital was: "What's happening in Room 633?" All her friends noticed it as well as my rabbi friend. My Methodist pastor even changed his sermon that Sunday to read "In Room 633." It didn't matter whether you were Catholic, Jew, or Protestant. God's presence in that room moved all of us to be drawn like a magnet to my granddaughter because of her love for others. I have been so moved by that event that as a lay preacher I have mentioned it several times in my sermons. I have been to most of the holy sites in Israel, but my granddaughter's hospital room was my most sacred place.
Robert F. Campbell