There are…places where one breathes in spirit, places where a man can steep himself in it, or if you prefer, where he quickens the sense of the divine in himself. This is the greatest gift of Earth and Heaven to man. ~Louis Charpentier
One of my greatest thrills in travel is visiting what I call the Holies, those places, shrines, monuments, cathedrals, temples, mosques set aside for decades, centuries, millenniums by believers seeking communion with the divine, blessings from their god at the beginning of new endeavors, intercession by the gods when life throws challenges in their paths.
I seek out these places because I am a spiritual person, a deeply spiritual person, and have a deep need to be connected to the divine. I am a Christian, a Catholic by birth, a Protestant by Choice. I find when God and I are on the same page (when I am on God’s page) my life has a much better flow than when I attempt to bend his will toward mine.
I often wonder if the worship houses were created at a particular place because the builders felt a spiritual connection with that place or if the places have a spiritual feel because, after they were built, the believers cast their prayers and supplications and that energy is forever swirling in those spaces? To me, it seems the more ancient the place of worship the more powerful the presence of God so I lean toward the latter explanation.
I believe in one God, one path to God. I believe God reaches into those places to capture the hearts of the people, to draw them to a Holy Communion with Him.
Ideally, I prefer to be alone in these hallowed halls because that is when I most acutely feel the presence of God, but that is not practical for most have become pilgrimage sites and are rampant with noisy visitors at all hours destroying the peace I seek. I believe these places should experience no voice above a whisper unless their is a communal worship where all voices simultaneously speak holy words. So, I typically seek a place away from the crowd where I can find inner silence, where I can finally settle the chaotic energy that seems to churn in me all my days and many of my nights, and hear the quiet voice of God whispering in my ear. For I believe God still speaks to us but we have to be silent and open to hear the words.
I had that time to be alone when I visited two very small churches in Switzerland. In fact, I was the only person in both those churches. I took my time, sat in silence, imagined the echo of German spoken prayer in a bygone era and felt sad that these churches appeared to be so little used. It seemed like the people had given up on the spiritual side of their existence.
I am particularly drawn to the more ancient places like the cave churches in Cappadocia, Turkey, and the Karla Caves in India both which I had the chance to visit in 2012. These structures were carved into the sides of mountains, ornately carved by skilled craftsman utilizing hand tools, many small acts of worship resulting in amazing creations.
In the spring of 2012, I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Ephesus, traipse along the same marble streets that felt the footfalls of the Apostle Paul, a hero of mine. I sat in the same seats where the Romans heard Paul preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The experience sent a surge through my entire body. I could have spent the entire day there sitting, listening, feeling the tingle in my soul.
I had a similar feeling earlier that day visiting the Shrine of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Not being a Catholic did not deter me from visiting the shrine during the deluge that poured from the heavens. However, unlike the many people there on pilgrimage from diverse places in this world, I did not pray to the Virgin. I hold her in high honor as the mother of God, as I do all mothers. I just don’t see the sense in praying to an intermediary when one has access direct access to God.
The vitality of God seems ever present in those grand artifices built in an attempt to reflect the splendor of God in a structure befitting the presence of a deity. Here I am referring to the great Mosques, Temples, and Cathedrals built in honor of the divine. The mosques in Istanbul are a stunning example of artisanal craftsmanship where no detail was too small to not be created with complete devotion. To my joy, the Blue Mosque was not crowded and was relatively silent giving me time to drink in the essence contained beneath the dome roof.
I would have like to sit in attendance during one of the five daily prayer sessions and steep in the murmur of the formal prayers offer in Arabic by the multitudes, however, not being a Muslim, I was not allowed in the mosque during their prayer time. I imagined the sound to be similar to the haunting call to prayer offered by the muezzin, a call that, though I did not understand the words, moved me throughout my two day stay in Cappadocia, Turkey. The muezzin call reminded me of the Gregorian Chant of the Catholic Monks such that they seemed to be related, spiritual brothers of a common root devoted to different religions.
My bucket list includes a visit to some of the most sacred places in the world; Varanisi in India of the Hindus, Bodhgaya in India of the Buddhists, Meca in Saudi Arabia of the Muslims, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem of the Jewish, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem of the Christians, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, the Papal City in Rome of the Catholics, Ayers Rock in Australia sacred to the Aborigines, and the list goes on for the roads people take to faith are many and I want to visit them all, have the time feel the presence of God in all those holy places.
The places I want to visit don’t necessarily have to be something crafted by the hand of man. There are many amazing, natural places crafted by the hand of God that deeply connect with my spiritual side.
Almost everywhere I go in the the redrock area of Southern Utah I feel the presence of God. This ornate landscape has all the perquisites; ample space to be alone, a silence that is so absolute one can hear one’s heart beat, and countless natural cathedrals, masterpieces of art as beautiful in their own way as those created at the hands of man.
It was in the backcountry in Southeast Utah that I emerged from my spiritual wilderness years and opened my heart to the possibility of God. Appropriately, some of the oldest, natural cathedral’s in the world were the jumping off point for my spiritual journey which saw me baptized a Protestant in my early 30s. At that point my life transformed from complete self centeredness to one that seeks to be other centered, transformed my life from one of misery to one where I am almost always content.
I return to Southern Utah every few years for deep immersion in my spiritual side, to hear the voice of God in a sustained fashion. Those visits keep me connected with God more than going to my own church, more than visiting any of the man made Holies. I will continue to visit the Holies because I enjoy communing with God in those venues, need to connect with God to remain spiritually whole, to be fully a human being.
On Saturday, I will be attending a wedding at St John Cantius, one of the older Catholic churches in Chicago. I will be getting there early so I can drink in the atmosphere, admire the ornate design, still my soul and connect with God before the masses pour in and my alone time with God will, by necessity, be shared with family and friends. And that is ok for it is the hearts of my family and friends that I see the living face of God.
Where do you go to meet with God?