Monday, December 29, 2008

Ancient places and sacred spaces.

I have been thinking about ancient places and sacred spaces lately.

How I wish I had imagery for my thoughts right now, but my hard drive is currently undergoing severe life-saving surgery by the IT dept. at Lafayette in attempts to salvage my LIFE that is locked within it's tiny, black, plastic catacombs.

It was a gray, cool, and windy day today. The kids were mellow, people were quiet, and I am much in thought. I wandered down the street from my house to the huge Holy Family Catholic Church that opened recently. It looks so bright, white, and modern in the shabby and dirty neighborhood in which it is nestled. I was stopped by an old man at the gate and questioned in Chinese. He asked if I was French and was surprised to find out that I was an American teaching English at a primary school. Yes, I understood, but don't be too surprised, it was like 4 sentences. ;)

The church, though big, white, and clean, seemed cold and hollow. I wanted to wander inside wishing to find huge arching stained glass windows, old wooden pews, and the smell of 100 year old religion in practice, but it was closed, he was locking the gate, and my venture into this Chinese Catholic church will have to wait until another day.

There is something inexpressibly wonderful and holy to me about wandering into an ancient church and sitting down quietly in the dust of hundreds of years of prayers, songs, and liturgy. I have been thinking a lot about my 2 trips down to Baja, California, as this year's class is soon to leave. How that place captured my heart, my head, my eye, and my imagination.

I am in need of an ancient place and sacred space right now, a place of age, stories, memories, but find myself wandering between new buildings, industralization, and shacks. I find China, at least the part I am living in, is filled with quick construction, cheap materials, white paint, and money making, all sandwiched between lives with no hope of going upward or outward. The city wears on me. I am thankful to be nestled between several plant nurseries on the edge of town, but the roar of the traffic and the continous sounds of construction and progress cannot be escaped, not even in a huge Catholic church. They are not bad, but my heart and soul longs for the quiet right now.

Maybe someday I'll get to visit those parts of China, where ancient tradition, stories, and it's shaping past are still visibly evident to the observer. Is it strange that at times I want to trade my new and modern apartment, for a small hut in a farm community somewhere in the mountains? But Shantou is my place and space now and in it I must search for my ancient and sacred. It's proving to be hard in this city of 4 million...

Baja, I will miss you this January.


Susanne Barrett said...

Aaah, how your post speaks to me, Jenny. I also find peace and a quiet rush of joy when sliding into a pew of an ancient church. I think of the millions of prayers lifted to our Lord over the hundreds of years while liturgies of the past whisper in my ear. There is hardly anything as sacred as an old church, with wooden pews, stained glass windows, and Stations of the Cross lining the side walls. One of my favorites is the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. I've gone there for contemplative retreats with College Ave and by myself and have always been able to hear God's still, small voice.

Hugs to you and may you be able to find an ancient, sacred space that will fill your soul with quiet peace somewhere in that busy city.

addiemerder said...

I like the use of the "tiny, black plastic catacombs." it reminds me of egdar allan poe!