Have you ever experienced a sweeping sensation of awareness that accompanies the discovery of a new place? Sacred places are found in different cultures all over the world, but I don't think you have to travel across the globe to find a sacred place. I think there are magical places all around us tucked away in our everyday lives.
These magical and sacred places are like little openings in the universe from which positive energy flows through, recharging our batteries and snapping us out of the humdrum of everyday life. As someone who has been blessed with a hefty imagination, I'm pretty sure I've always taken note of magical places in an innate kind of way. Perhaps it started when I was little and created them- running around outside and inventing my own lands and territories. Once you cross the driveway, you enter into this new land.
This past year, I stumbled upon a new sacred place and had an utterly surreal experience. Since then, several memories of similar magical encounters throughout my childhood have resurfaced and woven their way into my dreams. These moments and places stand out like sculptural landmarks on a map and I have an indescribable longing to track them down and pinpoint them. What do my moments of enlightenment have in common? Is there a way to find magical places intentionally, without stumbling upon them, or is that out of my control?
1. The Secret Park (Charleston, WV)
I distinctly remember sleeping over at a friend's house and visiting a beautiful park with her family. I had never been to this place and it was hidden from the main road. When my parents picked me up, all I could talk about was this park we had visited and how badly I wanted to go back there. My parents drove circles around the area and we got out of the car, looking everywhere for the opening or clearing to this park. It was nowhere to be found. From that point on, we referred to this magical park- that may or may not exist- as the Secret Park.
Years later, when this memory of discovery of discovering the Secret Park had faded from daily conversation, I tagged along to one of my little brother's baseball games. As I descended down the gravel slope, I found myself standing in the clearning of the Secret Park. I knew, with every fiber of my being, that this was the same park I had visited long ago. It was lovely, but felt different somehow. More exposed. Desperate to prove I had not made it up, I tugged on my mom's sleeve. "This is IT! The Secret Park! Remember?" I proclaimed. Mom looked at me strangely. "This is the Secret Park you used to talk about? This is Danner Meadow."
But something about this was unsettling, as if the name "Danner Meadow" just didn't fit. I returned to the park many more times in my teenage years. Sometimes as a babysitter, swinging the children I was watching on the swing...other times as an athlete, running around the track that circled around the park. The older I got, the less the park felt like the Secret Park I used to imagine as a younger child. At the same time, it never did seem to feel like "Danner Meadow," either.
I tried many times to descend into the clearing of the park with a fresh set of eyes, daring the magical glow of the park to come back...but it never quite did. And I couldn't help but wonder- had the park changed, or had I?
2. Florida Victorian (Deland, FL)
In my mind's eye, I can distincly recall strolling the streets of my quaint college town. I was a sophmore, seeking something...a sense of familiarity in a strange town, perhaps, or a desire to feel grounded again. I found myself passing a rustic storefront with old windows and doors peeking through the glass. How interesting, I remember thinking. Here's an old building with deconstructed parts of an even older building tucked away inside of it.
From the moment I walked in, I felt an overwhelmingly comforting sense of peace wash over my nineteen year-old self. The ornate, heavy, and peeling doors sang out to me through texture and praise. Old chandeliers smiled their rusty smiles down on me from up above. Rows of chipped windows reflected fragmented slivers of my self-portrait through their broken glass. I realized that these antique furnishings had made up the homes of so many people before me. They had offered their services of shelter, illumination, and embellishment to the lives of others and had whitnessed many stories unfold over the years.
And there I was, in a strange town very far from home. And somehow, in that moment, I felt more at home than I had felt in a very long time.
3. Savannah Rapids Pavilion (Augusta, GA)
This past May, I arrived to my early morning spot at the Rapids (with my coffee and sketchbook in hand) just in time to see the fog rise up from the water. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath...and suddenly, I felt a presence near me. I opened my eyes to see an older man in biking attire kneeling in prayer about 5 feet away from me. He saw me notice him, smiled, and asked if he could say a prayer for me. As he prayed, I felt my throat constrict as the heartfelt words of a complete stranger encompassed everything on my mind and in my heart. When I opened my eyes, I felt vulnerable for a split second before the pastor got back on his bike and pedaled off. It felt otherworldly that a complete stranger could recognize my yearning for something that I hadn't yet identified myself.
Fast forward 3 months: August, 2015.
My husband announced that he wanted to treat me to a surprise dinner, so we piled into the car after work and drove off, I was confused why we were driving further and further away from civilization. Finally we pulled into the Rapids. My husband unloaded take-out food he had sneakily picked up from the trunk, set out a blanket, and we watched the sunset as we ate.
An older man nearby was taking photographs of the sunset and came over to show us some pictures he took of us when we weren't looking. I was convinced he was a figment of our imagination (with the sun setting behind him, circling him with surrealistic glow) until he e-mailed us this picture. This occured in the exact spot that a complete stranger said a prayer with me several months back. Now, more than ever, I know this is a magical place.
Isn't it interesting how our lives are made up of short stories? We choose which bits and pieces to bookmark and how to connect them as we move forward in life. Taking note of sacred moments and magical places solidifies my faith and certainty that there is a higher power who helps to infuse our quiet moments with wonder, enlightenment, inspiration, and a yearning for more. After all, to believe in miracles at all is to believe in God (or at least a form of God.)
Some things I've concluded:
-Sometimes the act of missing an "imaginary" and sacred place is more magical than the place itself. -Places and objects can change and age with us, and that is something to find comfort in.
-Sacred and magical places don't always have to be new places. Old and familiar destinations can just as easily be infused with magic.
-I believe it is the beholder (you and I) who creates the sacred and invests it in objects and places around us.
- Being open to the Divine enables us to acknowledge moments and places as sacred and magical.
- Taking note of what your moments are made of (what they offer, what they resist) creates a road map of your experiences and helps make connections.
- The moments "in between" and the slowness that exists there are are often where magic happens.
- The truly sacred places in this world are personal, not universal.
May you be granted the ability to pause in the middle of what you are doing and look around. Take notice and be aware. How else do you think these moments of magic will find you, if not like this?