What Feels Sacred To Us?
Why does it matter? How does it feel to live in a sacred space? What if we already do, and don’t notice? What helps us make that distinction?
Yesterday I visited the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. I was not quite sure why. The books themselves, small tomes scribed with brushes, mostly in brownish ink made from the bark of oak trees, are historically intriguing, but barely viewable behind their glass casings.
I knew, going in, that this way going to be a bit like the attempt to view the Mona Lisa. Luckily for me, I had that opportunity many times while in my twenties. While there were still crowds, and she was duly encased, there were no hoards with selfie sticks trying to capture memories of the glare from the infamous glass.
The best thing about the ‘Kells’ exhibit was the way the most famous of the images were blown up. Larger than life and displayed along the walls, the energy of the illustrations could truly be felt. This is so often not the case with reproductions!
There was something there for me to feel, I knew, as I would not have otherwise braved a tourist-season-Sunday, with its crowds and queues, to stand next to these designs. Even with the tourist throng, there was information in the Celtic knotwork and the stylistic intricacies of the illustrations. The lines and curves spoke to me in the way that the Earth’s ley lines and topography calls out her beauty.
Why this exhibit now, on my current adventure? I love everything about books, and visiting Art Museums has long been enjoyable for me, buy why now?
Moving past the crowds at Trinity’s gate and ticketing counter, I entered the courtyard without realizing I was waiting for the safe, enclosed feeling of the college walls. I know and love this feeling from university and from the monasteries I have lived in, in other lives. Enclosed space, designed for the purpose of passing on knowledge. Is this how sacred space is meant to feel?
In my experience, all of these edifices are designed so. The great cathedrals are built to hold a specific weight and measure of vibration and attention (consciousness). Precise and mathematical, these buildings were constructed to make those entering feel something in particular.
What I noticed, this time, was that the feelings of ‘safe and sound and embraced within tradition’ had left me without a trace. No imprints, no flatline, even. Gone. Wow, I thought. This transition is larger than I might have imagined! The nostalgia I typically feel for these types of sacred spaces had also vanished without a trace.
Waiting in silence to view the exhibit I wondered at this. I felt into my definitions of what is sacred. I suppose I thought I knew. It has never been great monuments built mostly to honor the builders. The wonder, for me, has always been in nature and how she grows.
Walking through the exhibit, I felt that same reverence for the light as it flows through the natural world in the images. The artwork was an attempt to record onto vellum the intricacy and beauty of what is natural and real.
This is what I love about how we depict the sacred. Intricacy. Beauty. Reverence for the miracle of life and living. Precision of placement of brush and color such that each stroke is part of the greater flow of the Mystery.
In 1991, a special exhibit titled Wisdom and Compassion, the Sacred Art of Tibet, visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As a frequent visitor there myself, I doubled my MUNI trips across the city to observe the progress of the special sand mandala being created for this opening.
The Book of Kells was created to preserve sacred knowledge and wisdom in a way that would last.
Sand paintings do the same in a way that is inherently transitory.
And yet, the flow of artistry is the same.
When did we become confused between knowledge and reverence?
Reverence is the power of love behind great art
... or great anything.
In the Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, Yoda exhorts ‘young Skywalker’ to remember his training, to pass on what he has learned… especially the failures.
Learning from failure is a popular concept just now. While I disagree with the label of ‘failure’, the practice of working toward mastery includes making many mistakes. How could it not? This is learning.
My favorite scene in the film is the burning scene at the Jedi Temple (spoiler avoidance here). In referring to the sacred knowledge in question, Yoda comments “Page turners, they were not.” I’ve seen the film three times now and that line still brings on grins and giggles.
What feels sacred? Isn’t it always love? Is reverence a higher form of love, or have we misunderstood along the way?
Gazing at the art of those who dedicated their lives to the purity of its creation, I suddenly knew. Was there a difference between what was created by these monks long ago, or those monks in San Francisco who knelt upon an art gallery floor? What was it that mattered?
Our lives are sacred art, if we let them be so. We are the masterpiece we incarnated to create. What matters always manifests.
The message was clear. Start fresh. Begin today. Make it so!
Worth a bus trip in tourist season? Does it matter?
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