What is Sacred to You?
Where can you connect to the divine?
Hello, Flecks of Stardust!
Do you have a holy place?
crescent moon nestled
in the crook of two branches
of budding scrub oak
I grew up in a religion obsessed with sacred spaces. I was a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often referred to as the Mormon Church) until one day I wasn’t. I’m no longer religious, but I am spiritual. Sacred spaces are still important to me.
Mormons build temples. That’s what we’ve always done. Mormon temples tend to be big, beautiful, expensive, and exclusive. To Mormons, temples are the most sacred spaces on the Earth, a place where Jesus might literally walk the halls, and where Satan and his demonic followers cannot penetrate. Non-members cannot enter a dedicated temple—and even members must first obtain a recommend from local leaders that certifies their worthiness.
But the Mormon obsession with sacred spaces doesn’t end there. Regular chapels or meetinghouses are sacred too, sometimes being called the Lord’s house, although these belong to a lower level of sacredness. Our bodies and homes are also commanded to be temples—although presumably allegorical temples as Satan can still find you there and you don’t have to pass an interview with a local leader to go home.
Our family no longer goes to church, and we haven’t for many years. This essay isn’t about that. My wife and I have different views on god (or God?), Mormonism, and religion. Each of our children also hold different views on all of these things. However, religion is not a source of tension in our family. One thing that Becky and I have taken from Mormonism, with significant adaption, is the idea of our home as a sacred space.
Mormon temples are rather homogeneous on the inside. The art and architecture may differ slightly, but they are all uncomfortably quiet and clean. Many Mormons have taken that as a cue that our homes must be pristine for them to be sacred. The work of making a home pristine, of course, predominantly falls upon the women of the church.
Our home is sacred. That means it is a safe place for each member of our family. It is a place where we respect each other’s humanity. For us, that means it cannot be a quiet place of homogeneous conformity. Our home is loud. It’s filled with laughter, tears, yelps, and yells. We don’t always agree on things, but our family culture means that we don’t have to agree to get along. People don’t have to keep their ideas or identities quiet.
Our home is a place of love. Our people always take precedence over everything else. In our family, keeping the house clean is primarily my job. And our home is clean, but it’s not pristine. There are often shoes in the hall, clutter in the front room, and books all over the place. It is not the tidiness that makes our home sacred. It’s the unity of the people who dwell there.
Unity does not mean conformity. We are all too stubborn for that. Unity means we all agree that kindness is our most important virtue. We believe that kind is far more important than nice, but that it’s hard to be kind to your family without at least a basic level of niceness. We root for each other. We got to each other’s games, recitals, concerts, races, and activities. We not only cheer together—we mourn together. Nobody is expected to smile all the time. Being sad is not a sign of spiritual weakness but of emotional depth.
We do our best to give each other grace and space. We are not trying to be perfect—we are just trying to be a little better each day—and often we fail at that.
We love to play games and watch movies, but not the same movies or games. We eat together most days of the week even though we lack a table or space big enough to hold all six of us at the same time. We don’t have assigned chores, but everyone is usually willing to do what is asked.
Our home and family are not perfect. We fight and pout. We get on each other’s nerves and sometimes need to just get out and be by ourselves.
You don’t need a recommend to enter our home. But, if you show up uninvited chances are you won’t be asked inside (unless you are certain cousins or friends, but these folks always text first to let us know they’re coming).
What makes a place sacred is not the art of architecture. It’s not even a special prayer or ceremony. Sacredness doesn’t come from altars. Sacredness comes from the people who inhabit a space. It is the energy between the people who dwell there for a time.
Our home is the most sacred place I’ve ever been to, even when the dog is barking at the UPS truck, the big glass table is covered in handprints, and someone is blasting Midnights in the front bathroom loud enough to fill the whole downstairs. It’s even sacred because of these things.
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This single-panel haiku comic is my attempt to capture what I saw a few nights ago out my studio window as I was wrapping up for the day. The moon was perfectly framed by the old tree, and I was irritated because I had to write down a word sketch of the scene for later use. Isn’t that the most human thing? I witness something ethereal and sublime, and I’m irked because it delays my personal agenda. I am grateful for having been a part of that moment.
The essay is my first public attempt to plainly grapple with the faith transition I have undergone over the past several years. My work has hinted at these themes for a long time. My last book, Wild Divinity, is thick with the search for the holy and sacred in nature. But, it’s time to be a bit more open about these things.
Is there any interest in hearing me read my poems and essays? I’m interested in experimenting with adding audio to these posts, but I’m not sure if that adds any value. Let me know if you have any thoughts one way or the other!
Be the poetry you want to see in the world!