Monday, March 23, 2009

Thresholds and Sanctuaries: the Mysterious Power of Place

Golden Fire Fujimura

In working on my second book, which is anchored in place even more deeply than my first, I just read Robert Hamma's Landscapes of the Soul: A Spirituality of Place.

Says Hamma, Places where we come close to the raw power of life and death are holy places. When we stand on this ground we sense ourselves on a threshold, on the edge of the border that divides what we see from what we cannot see.

This statement converged, for me, with three seemingly disparate things: Bill Srickland's journey, my on-line life, and a description of the Nihonga style of painting I saw in Mako Fujimura's slim volume River Grace.

For Strickland, the raw power of life he felt through working clay and through his teacher's passion for art fused with the art room and the teacher's dining room. As he remarks, these places became sanctuaries where he developed a new basis for his self-identity.

In a similar way, I consider that this blog— where over time I am forging a more raw, pulsing relationship to writing, art, artists and my own inner landscape— has become a surprising ' holy place' in a non-traditional form (usually we think of place as having a certain three-dimensionality that some would say is absent here). Oddly, this reminds me of Nihonga painting, which accrues memory-traces of the painting process as layers are built up; in their semi-opaqueness these layers birth 'ambiguous spaces [that] create their own quality of light.' In other words, not all space is as concrete as we expect and its reality, its dimensionality, might be related to memory and luminous impact as much as it is to concrete material.

So that, perhaps the holiness of a place, a space— even a cyberspace— is as Hamma suggests somehow related to the experience of threshold, shift, possibility. We stand in a certain place, even an ambiguous space, and like Strickland we find a new identity emerging. Suddenly, the place is both threshold and sanctuary. Whether we make it so or the place itself makes it so is a bit of a mystery.

Golden Fire art by Makoto Fujimura. Used with permission.

Goodwordediting's Does Your Social Media Honk Like an Oboe?
High Calling Blogs' Chapter 2: Molding a Miracle
Laura's Growing Up
Erica's Beauty and Hope

Stone Crossings at CPYU Bookself

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Blogger Billy Coffey said...

The thought that a blog could become a sanctuary of sorts was something I had never considered for the very reason you gave: it doesn't have a form, so to speak, and exists in some cyberworld I cannot understand. And yet it conveys the same sense of purpose and belonging that I can get taking a walk through the woods. Amazing, really.

And those words: "second book." How sweet they sound!

9:55 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

Mmmmmmmm... yeah...

I've been contemplating the ceiling between the landscape of my earthly experience and the vast spiritual celestials. There have been seasons, places on my inner terrain, where the atmosphere is as thick as soup. I can barely make out my hand in front of my face, not to mention the flux and flex of the spiritual universe on the move.

There are moments, high peaks and very low valleys, pin pricks and perforations in my spirit, where the veil between this flesh experience and the swirling movements of the heavenlies is as thin as onion skin.

A three-dimensional place, a four-dimensional time, and all dimensions beyond. (My senses are confused by that point, so I can't articulate it well.)

I wonder at the profound effect my father-in-law's passing has had on me these last few years. I did not know him well nor was I extremely close to him, but the atmosphere surrounding his death, our grief, and who he was to my husband is tissue thin. I would never have expected that particular place on my landscape to be a threshold.

But there it is.

10:06 AM  
Blogger TAMI said...

Oh yes, the places where we record our inner thoughts and physical activities - like our blogs or journals - are definitely holy places, to me!!

11:15 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Ahhhh, sinks in until it forms you, cyberspace none less than physical place, i think.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hi LL! It's been a while. And wouldn't you know, I'd come back and disagree. As an architect, I'll put my 2 cents in in favor of differentiating physical, 3-dimensional "places" from a blog place or an art place or a spiritual place.

Random example: Someone could have described to me the location and setting of Edinburgh castle. I could have seen pictures or video of it. But, really nothing could have prepared me for what I felt and saw and perceived when I actually went there. You can blog or write about or paint or photograph that experience, but nothing replaces physically being there.

Of course, this in no way diminishes the value of writing or art, but this is why I think that travel is invaluable (maybe the fact that I've done so little of it makes me value it even more).

BTW, I am really hoping and praying that Heaven ends up being (at least perceived as) a 3-dimensional, physical place and not a spiritual construct.

Peace, Kim

2:59 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Billy... Ah, your final comment makes me smile! Now, as far as a blog becoming a sanctuary, I think it can be. I know people who read certain blogs for that very reason. And I think too that it might be important to consider what it means that a blog can be a form of place.

Erin... oh, I loved your comment from the other day too. How it resonated. That's it; I don't prefer all the hype that goes along with the deal. Now today you've got me sighing in agreement again. Place is an amorphous concept that also includes social elements; Hamma does get into that too, and I think it might be why a blog can feel like a place and why an experience like your father-in-law's passing can also be a kind of place.

Tami... interesting thought... that place is related to what we set down of ourselves. We form it in that sense, with our lives, our spirits.

Sarah... funny, I see I just used the same language you used... form. Odd to think of us forming form with ourselves, but there it is.

Kim... of course you need to disagree with me. It is good. I remember though when a certain blogger changed his hosting place and it required a change in blog form. I have never felt happy there since. The physical sense of place is too sterile, too open, too conformist. Something of his spirit seems lost in the translation. And I no longer feel like I'm at his "place." Maybe, then, there are degrees of place or variations on place, some being more related to architecture and others being more related to interpersonal construction. Don't know, just thinking out loud. If you had to describe a blog as a place, what language would you use? What observations make?

7:33 PM  
Blogger Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...


That is all.

A surging yes.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Laure said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Laure said...

it is good to see that word, "seemingly".

what treasure you've unearthed by going deep.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just the two words "holy place" makes me speachless.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

"We stand in a certain place, even an ambiguous space, and like Strickland we find a new identity emerging. Suddenly, the place is both threshold and sanctuary. Whether we make it so or the place itself makes it so is a bit of a mystery."

Thank you for this. I'm at a bit of a threshold myself these days, and I found this very moving.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

L.L. It is amazing to me how Holy Place emerge when least expected. I agree with you that it is a mystery on how we arrive at this place but we do. Your last few sentences are my experience with this whole spiritual journey...into the heart of God.

"Suddenly, the place is both threshold and sanctuary. Whether we make it so or the place itself makes it so is a bit of a mystery."

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura! I was the lucky girl on the other side of the earth to receive your book - thank you so much. It is SO timely, and I'm soaking it up... The Blogworld is a sanctuary of sorts for me; the world has opened up for me, at a time in my life where the travel that I love to undertake is not possible, and from blog-to-blog, as I 'move' around the world, I find these wonderful places of peace, contemplation, praise and worship, and fellowship, which to me, all encompass the idea of a sanctuary... and it's always evolving - finding your blogspace is adding to my experience... wonderfully so... thankyou!

11:53 PM  
Blogger SUNRISE SISTER said...

Beautiful post - thank you! The sacredness of sharing one's views with friends and strangers and reading other's points of view is a blessing that perhaps may be found more often online than in face to face meeting of "new" persons in one's personal life.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i decided to order "river grace".
it sounded interesting.

also the "impossible/possible" should arrive soon. maybe i can catch up with the high calling readers.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh...i almost forgot.

here is a random poem from this week.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Thinking about thresholds and sanctuaries this week... blogs, ceramics studios, relationships, memories...

The question popped up, "How long should one linger in the threshold? Is it ever too long to be in the sanctuary, this side of heaven?"

C.S. Lewis remarked that some people are so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good. Paul admonishes in Romans to make our lives a living altar (a threshold? a sanctuary?). So I'm just turning it over in my mind. How long is too long spent reliving the memories? Where is the distinction between blogging as a threshold to pure and right worship and blogging as an idol?

Questions I'm just kicking around. Not like I have the answer or anything.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Wow. I think I'm on a threshold nearly every day in my blogging alone, and really in all of life, though especially when trying to see things afresh from God. And with that does come sanctuary, a sense that God was truly present, whether I recognized it at the time at all, or not. Quite interesting!

I do look forward to your book soon to come. Exciting. I look forward to blogging on it, without wearing out the readers in the process. But each chapter of your first book was like a book in itself, and each one quite good.

So keep on keeping on!

11:00 PM  

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