I’ve got a handful of sacred places. Places where, for one reason or another, I am freed to be myself in unique ways. You know the types of places. Inevitably you’ve got history with them. You show up, walk around a bit, and before you know it you find yourself a little more relaxed, just a touch more welcoming to yourself, more gracious and engaged with others, maybe a little less angry or hurried. Something new but familiar fills you. Something sacred occurs.
My hometown with its surrounding mountains is one of those places. It’s a little town tucked up into the corner of Montana near the Canadian border. I can hardly get through a day without bumping into some memory from growing up there. That history contributes to the sacredness for me. It’s like seeing yourself in an old picture. The memories of the day, the people you were with, your relationships with them, and what you were feeling all come back. We vacationed there last week. Being in that place and wading through the memories it holds proved to be sacred again this year. It reacquainted me with a part of myself that had gone missing somewhere along the way. It’s important for me to have those sacred places and I look forward to visiting them, but I’m beginning to learn how to find those lost parts of myself without having to go to any particular place. Better still, I’m learning that sacred places don’t have to be geographic but can be part of my internal landscape.
This past year I’ve experimented with some of the ancient Christian practices. Mostly, I’ve tried out different ways to pray. I’ve spent time praying the Daily Office, the Ignatian Examen, and various types of contemplative prayer. At first, I bristled at the idea of adopting practices but as they led me to sacred spaces inside myself I began to see them as sacred themselves. These are old practices, old habits, and they ask things of me that most modern practices miss. They ask old things of me. Things like silence and listening and my full presence. This history, this ancient wisdom of the Christian family, is particularly welcome in my life these days.
Don’t be fooled though; it hasn’t been easy. I’m not very disciplined and I don’t always enjoy it. I struggle with the rigid structure of the Daily Office and the wide openness of contemplative praying. In general, my mind wanders in the silence and I chafe at others’ words in my mouth. I try to keep with it though because through these practices I continue to experience the divine mercy of being embraced by God.
It’s been less than a year of exploring these sacred practices. Change is slow, but it’s there. These old habits of the Christian life are helping me open even the lost parts of myself to him. They are teaching me an old way to be in the world. Much like the different but familiar sacredness of my hometown, I walk differently in and through these practices. Through them God is welcoming me back to myself, helping me be more gracious, more hospitable to difference, more honest and kind and more forgiving.
I’ve still got a handful of sacred places. I visit them when I can but in the meantime I’m enjoying exploring these sacred practices and am content to arrive home to myself and experience that self embraced by God.