Monday, June 16, 2008

SACRED SPACE

The anxiety I feel about the re-building of St. Mary’s Conference Center at Sewanee is that the spirit of the location will diminish, that it will lose its place as a Sacred Space. An administrator who spoke to us at the close of the Silent Retreat this week-end promised that the space would remain untouched in terms of environmental intrusion, but I’m still anxious. I’ve visited a few Sacred Spaces in my travels, as I mentioned earlier; i.e., Sedona, Arizona, Big Bend, Texas, a place called Dur Untash in Persia, and there are places along the cliffs at Big Sur and Point Lobos, CA that I feel are Sacred Spaces. In fact, I have asked that my ashes be scattered among the kelp in a small inlet of the Carmel highland near Point Lobos. Some people define Sacred Spaces as sites where prayer and meditation occur more easily, where human and Divine make a natural connection; others define Sacred Spaces as places where blood has been spilled; e.g., Dachau, Ground Zero, etc. For me, St. Mary’s belongs among Sacred Spaces, and I hope that it’ll remain unsullied by the building of $3 million facilities.

When I visited Big Bend, Texas several years ago, I experienced a feeling of being in Sacred Space in a tiny graveyard at Terlingua, Texas, a place we looked at on the map and traveled purposefully around but returned to the following day, drawn by a strange energy that baffled us. In fact, two friends and I got up that morning and said, almost simultaneously, “We need to go back to Terlingua.” It was a mid-summer day and unbearably hot, but when we saw the cemetery at Terlingua, we got out and walked through it, silent and oddly unaffected by the blazing heat. We stood in the graveyard, unmoving, for perhaps ten minutes, meditating in what I’d call the home of unknown gods. We were in prayer space – a bleached out, arid site where there was room for not one word. We were blessed by the sun and had as our companions sotol and ocotillo, two plants that thrive in the Chihuahua Desert.

Here’s the snippet I wrote in that Sacred Space, from a section in my chapbook, COUNTERPOINT, entitled “Texas Trails – 1999.” It’s also available from Border Press:

VIVA TERLINGUA

Among baked sandstone
and abandoned white rock houses

sans roofs, lingering ghosts greet us,
seeking deliverance.

A statue of Mary stands,
watchful in the alcove of rock,

undisturbed by the sun,
caretaking graves of cedar and stone.

She sleeps in the sunlight,
becomes a burning sacrament at night…

remembering her son’s fast in scarlet sand.
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