Bioregional Quakerism—Sacred Spaces, Holy Places

December 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

We all have a sense of sacred space. Many of our meetinghouses hold an aura, even when they are empty, a sense of presence that draws us toward stillness and toward our center. A meetinghouse doesn’t even have to be old or historic to do this. It just needs deep worship. The Quaker space that has radiated the strongest sense of the sacred to me is the meeting room at Pendle Hill, which isn’t that old, I don’t think, though the barn it’s in might be.

This aura, this palpable, sensible sacredness of a space is invested. We invest a space with the sense of the sacred through worship. We draw up living water of the spirit from the well at the center of our worship, it infuses us with G*d’s presence, and we radiate that out to the rest of the worshipers—and out into the room. When the drawing and the radiating reaches critical mass, the Presence in our midst becomes sensible in the gathered meeting.

Perhaps our auras are the medium for this communion. Perhaps the room retains a memory of it. Perhaps it becomes a vessel to contain the collective aura of communion as a kind of standing wave.

Whatever the metaphysical mechanisms, we know something is really happening when the meeting is gathered in worship, and we know that some meeting rooms communicate something of this depth of spirit.

But some places are holy in themselves. Some places have been invested by G*d G*d’s self, if you will.

The Black Hills are holy

The Lakota people have considered the Black Hills to be holy for centuries. They have sent their young people to vision quest there. In their traditional days, they wintered in its skirts in small camps, but otherwise left Paha Sapa mostly alone. And they defended it with their lives against the European-American invaders when, first, gold was discovered there, and later, uranium.

I am not clear how they came to feel this way about the Black Hills. Based on their other sacred stories, however, some spirit of the land probably told them so. I suspect they explained it to themselves with a story of “divine” revelation.

This kind of divine revelation takes place in a process completely different than when the Bible tells you so. Such a revelation takes place shamanistically. That is, it emerges from direct, unmediated experience of the divine manifesting in creation, manifesting to the human through vision and narrative. Someone had a vision and the story entered their tradition.

But the holiness of the Black Hills is not just a story from a revelation. The Black Hills are the source of recharge for the Lakota aquifer, the primary underground storage facility for water in the northern Great Plains. Poison the Black Hills with mining waste and you poison the water for a vast region of the continent. Poison the Black Hills with uranium and you destroy a vast source of water for untold generations, not just seven. An earth-keeping people with a sacred relation to the land would protect such a place against desecration—against de-sacral-ization.

The Black Hills are holy, not just because some medicine person says so, but because G*d the Creator—or the creative processes of planetary geophysical evolution, if you will—invested the Black Hills with an all-important earth-keeping role. And that same Creator invested the Lakota people with the same earth-keeping role through direct divine revelation.

This is spiritual ecology. This is a sacred relationship between a community and its landbase. This is what I yearn for in my own religious community, that we Quakers are so in tune with our place, with its creatures and its features, with its processes and its ecosystems, that we receive revelation about our earth-keeping role.

How do we as Friends develop this kind of relationship with the places we inhabit? Next, I want to compare the indigenous path of the shaman with the European way of earth science.


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§ 4 Responses to Bioregional Quakerism—Sacred Spaces, Holy Places

  • simonjkyte says:

    The sacredness of place is that all nature is a garden

  • Wim Nusselder says:

    I prefer not to call places (rather than people and shared experiences) sacred (let alone “in themselves”).
    They can become idols.
    Do we need metaphysics to explain the experience?
    Isn’t it simply memories of feeling connected with other people and with nature that we associate with specific visual memories?
    A circle of chairs anywhere could produce the same association as the circle of chairs in my Amsterdam meeting room.

  • treegestalt says:

    Clearly the prophets — not the tame, hang-around-the-Temple prophets, but the real guys — had the same kind of experience. But then we get their statements filtered through the scribes who remembered & recorded.

    I don’t know what people ‘sense-in’ or ‘put-into’ certain places (or both) that make them resonate on a spiritual level. It just isn’t a drab, standardized world… I’m not normally sensitive to that sort of thing, but I thought I felt a kind of negative buzz around the old graveyard in Washington DC — and something very sacred about specifically the garden space at Pendle Hill. I asked about it & was told that they’d had gardening staff there who’d basically done worship there for guidance as to what should be done each day.

    Older resonances? Dunno. There was a guy named Underbaggage, because when his family got forcibly baptized his ancestor had been an infant hidden under the basket; and he’d gone on in the old tradtion. He’d come though occasionally and put a small group through a sweat lodge ceremony (which I missed) — and his site was adjacent to the garden.

  • barbarakay1 says:

    Have you considered that Moses had a shamanistic experience?

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