Today’s guest post is by Joe Geisner. Over on Juvenile Instructor, Jared T. and Ben have done a wonderful job of reporting on the “Sacred Space” symposium held at BYU. After reading the comments on what the academics think of sacred space I reflected on my own experience with sacred space. The academics focused on the Mormon Temple as our sacred space.
I wrote the below experiences a few years ago after a trip to my ancestral homeland, Ireland. It was in response to an individual about not casting his pearls before swine. A friend of mine was the swine.
I was in Ireland last month. I visited rock cairns and rock circles that date 5000 and 6000 years ago. As my daughter and I crawled over and into the cairns and circles I was over whelmed. Did I feel the spirit, absolutely. It was incredible for me to see and feel the spirit of those who lived so long ago and appreciate the culture of my ancestors who roamed the landscape and built the monuments for their religious beliefs. My cousin who was our tour guide told me about an elderly Irish man who asked my cousin if he knew who built the cairns. My cousin gave him the pat answer that it was our ancient ancestors, the older gentleman looked at him in shock and said, “Oh no it was the fairies who built the rock mounds”. I don’t think my appreciation for the ancients is any less valuable or less spiritual than than the older gentleman’s belief in fairies. I had the same experience when I visited the priory’s, cathedrals, church of Ireland, and Catholic Church sacred spots. I don’t believe in, nor am I a member of these religions but I had equally moving experiences at each of these spots and the spirit there did touch my heart.
A few years ago I traveled to Palmyra and Kirtland. For me a kid growing up in the west it was a dream come true. Being in the Whitney store where the school of the prophets was held, the Johnson farm house where “The Vision” was received by Joseph and Sydney, and the Kirtland Temple where visions galore happened were all “faithful” wonders. I felt the spirit. I didn’t cry like the sister missionary did as the told us Pres. Hinckley is God’s chosen leader on earth, but I felt the spirit of Joseph and Sidney sitting in front of that window, over looking the beautiful Hiram landscape and reading the bible. Feeling what they felt and trying to see what they saw. I doubt my experience was any less spiritual or faithful than the fine sister missionary. I sat in the temple, just me and Lachlan Mackay, talking about Joseph and Joseph sen. (Lachlan Mackay’s ancestors) rising to the podium and giving sermons and prayers, and Sidney Rigdon reading the dedication. We both sat in silence and pondered. What a time. I reflected on my wife’s 4th great grandmother holding her son, my wife’s 3rd great grandfather, in those pews I was sitting in, listening to Joseph and I felt their spirit and had faith that the people at the time saw and heard things that they believed were marvelous. As I walked around Cumorah and had the sun going down in the west and the breeze blowing through the trees I felt Alvin and Joseph’s presence, looking for buried treasure, both secular and religious. I thought and felt Joseph running with the plates thinking that some evil force or person was after him. I wondered if it was after me as I walked by myself as the sun was setting.
I have come up with a few questions after reading my earlier comments and Jared’s posts.
*What makes sacred space for you?
*Do you have sacred space outside a Mormon Temple?
*Do you have to believe in “angels and gold plates” to have sacred space?
* Is sacred space for us or God and why?
Nice post, I love the pictures. We need more of them in posts. For me sacred space is often an internal thing, although externally speaking, the temple (almost exclusively the Celestial Room, although perhaps just being outside the temple is #2 in my book) would be a sacred space. I also feel this when I am teaching in church, for it is a big responsibility, to foster that for those attending. Nature more often is better described as “awe” for me, rather than sacred per se, but I suspect many would say nature.
I believe in sacred space. I believe that in certain places, because of the events that took place there, the veil is thinner. There are places we have been where it seems the spirit is stronger, more able to touch us, if we are prepared to receive it. Because of what we associate with a certain place, our minds are turned toward it and we are more prepared to feel the spirit. For us, Martin’s Cove, Liberty Jail, and Carthage are instances where a place has had an effect on us beyond the usual historical site. It probably doesn’t hurt that these places are quieter than the freeway, the busy office building, or the grocery store.
I don’t think sacred spaces are reserved for Mormons, or even other religions. Any great event (I think I’m overusing “event”) can consecrate a spot of ground. I do think we need to be aware of the history of the site so we can be prepared.
Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, spoke at a reunion of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg more than 25 years after the battle. He said, in part:
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays…spirits linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision place of souls…and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heartdrawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision shall pass into their souls.”
This sums up for me my feelings on sacred space.
I think sacred spaces are different than “Hallowed Ground”
Hallowed ground that I have been to include Martin’s Cove, Kirtland Temple, Whitmer shop, Johnson’s Farm, Sacred Grove, Liberty Jail, and Salt Lake temple.
Sacred space for me is in my heart, most often when I’m in the celestial room, but have felt I have gone there in my own home at times too.
Thanks for the kind words, Joe. I must hasten to point out that mine was only half the effort as my coblogger Ben provided the other half of the notes.
One of the reasons I love to visit Church History sites is that those places are sacred to me. I feel the Spirit there. There is nothing like strolling the grounds of Far West or Adam-Ondi-Ahman in the cool of a Sunday evening for hours without seeing another living soul. Few things can compare. I was in Nauvoo two weeks ago and had the good fortune of staying at the Bidamon home through the kindness of the BCC crowd. I went outside at about 2 am and just walked the streets between the Red Brick Store, the Old Homestead, and the Mansion House. I sat on the bench outside the Mansion House and stared at the stars. For me, those places have been sanctified by the deeds and memories of those who lived there and by the devotion of all those since that have gathered to revere them.
Do you have sacred space outside a Mormon Temple?
A Pecan Grove with a canal running through it used to be mine. I would ride my bike there as a kid and write in my journal and pray.
Older LDS Churches and their more spacious grounds–churches have accumulated local history and are architecturally unique seem more sacred to me.
There has always been a particularly reflective and calming spirit for me at Adam-ondi-Ahman as well. For me, though, the solitude of nature (what Robert L. Millet called “the world-revelation”) has always brought on my sense of wonder and consequent openness to the Spirit, which may then blow whither it listeth.
Thank Jared, I made the correction.
Thanks to all for sharing their sacred space. Thanks very much YAJ #2 fro the wonderful quote from Joshua Chamberlain. I have been told by many people that Gettysburg has a feel to it that is indescribable.
In response to #3, I have to wonder if they overlap or are not the same.
It seems Bushman in his comments at the conference says sacred space is a place where we do something. This can be a mosque where people pray or a Mormon temple where people are anointed or endowed. Bushman also talked about actual work done by people like cleaning and it being clean in the sacred space and this is a part of its sacredness. Maybe Jared could add more to this. I am not sure I agree with him on this, but I think it is important to think about the activity that goes on. The reverent way the guides take you through the Kirtland Temple is part of the experience. The discussion the missionaries present in the particular rooms I mentioned are all centered on spiritual ideas and events.
I suppose my experience in the Kirtland Temple would not have been as powerful if it was just a pile of rubble. Yet it still would have been hallow ground and sacred space because of what happened there in the past and what that past means to me.
I believe sacred space and hallowed ground are synonomous. (Moses’ burning bush, for example, was both.) It seems that any space where a supreme effort has been made for Good, a special spirit lingers. My first experience with this sensation was as a high schoool student on Temple Square, pondering the efforts to build the Tabernacle and Temple. I’ve since felt the same spirit visiting the great cathedrals and quiet country churches of England, at the WWII Cemetary in Hawaii, at Arlington, and occasionally in nature.
RE#2, I believe Lincoln said at Gettysburg “we cannot dedicate, we cannot further this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” Where great spiritual and/or emotional struggles have occured, something remains–for better or worse.
Un-holy spaces also exist IMO where violent crimes occur, the Nazi death camps, etc.