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Holy Places Everywhere

Elle Powell

All places are alive with holiness, says Philip Goldberg, so cultivate your own personal cathedral.

In my few visits to Paris, I spent many hours in and around Notre Dame, gazing at the structure from all angles at different times of day and night. I always felt elevated by its magnificence.

Exquisite architecture can evoke awe and transcendence every bit as much as a mountain range or a field of wildflowers. But Notre Dame is not just a breathtaking work of art. It is a container of holy vibrations. Within its thick walls, millions have prayed, poured out their hearts in love and anguish, and offered up their souls. You could feel that energy whether you were sitting in silent meditation or having your bones rocked by the mighty organ. The fire was especially tragic because repositories of divine energy are precious.

If you have access to a public space with the same mix of aesthetic and spiritual splendor, you are fortunate. If you don’t, you have many other options. When I lived in New York City, I would often find respite in an open church or synagogue in whatever neighborhood I happened to be in. You too can find such sanctuaries. You don’t have to believe a word of the theology that’s preached in the place. And of course you’re by no means restricted to houses of worship. You might be well served by a library, especially if you value books like writer Anne Lamott, who said in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, “Libraries are like mountains or meadows or creeks: sacred space.” A park bench can be sacred space. So can a puddle-size pond, a pier, an empty ball field, a quiet museum gallery, an unused room in an office building, a hospital chapel, or a lonesome tree.

When you think about it, every space is sacred space. How can it be otherwise when omnipresent Divinity is … well, present everywhere? The Infinite is not holding back and waiting to reveal Itself. It’s right here, ready for you to snap out of your slumber and recognize it. “This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you,” wrote the Persian mystic poet Hafiz.

Hafiz would have enjoyed a nice walk with the novelist J. D. Salinger, who had one of his characters say: “All we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.” This place is Holy. That spot is Holy. Every object, every form, every inch of space is Holy.

Ah, but before we run off thinking that one place is as good a spiritual refuge as another, a quick reality check. Oxygen is everywhere, but it’s easier to breathe deeply in some places than others. Similarly, Divine Presence is everywhere, but it is, to most of us mortals, more discernible and more palpable in some places than in others. Let’s face it, a Las Vegas casino and a Buddhist temple feel quite different, and while you might perceive Divinity in the former—after hitting a jackpot perhaps—your odds are decidedly better in the latter. If you were placed in a room, blindfolded with your ears plugged, and asked if you were in a police station or a monastery, you would probably answer correctly.

Another, even more important caveat: the sanctity of a place depends largely on the sanctity you bring to it. Wherever you are may be Holy Ground, but holiness is in the heart of the beholder. “God resides wherever we let God in,” said a Hasidic rabbi. If you’re sufficiently receptive, the Divine will reveal itself in surprising places, even in a kitchen, which is where the 17th-century monk Brother Lawrence famously found it: “In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Of course, for most of us kitchens are just places to cook. We need places where the sacred is more easily accessed. Which ones work for you? Identify your favorite sanctuaries, and write down visits to them in your inventory of spiritual practices. Go to them often. Sit. Look. Feel. Breathe. Be fully present. Open yourself up to what is being transmitted. And be grateful.

Excerpted with permission from Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times: Powerful Tools to Cultivate Calm, Clarity, and Courage by Philip Goldberg (Hay House Inc., August 4, 2020).