In a letter written to a young poet seeking his wisdom, Rainer Rilke wrote the following:
“I would finally just like to advise you to grow through your development quietly and seriously; you can interrupt it in no more violent manner than by looking outwards, and expecting answer from outside to questions which perhaps only your innermost feeling in your most silent hour can answer.” (Rilke, 13).
The idea of a sacred space is hard to define, but for me, Rilke captures what it is about a place that in a sense can make it, divine.
I am very influenced by places. Environments, moods, the way a setting feels speaks to my core and often I find myself coming to locations that bring about a preconceived emotional disposition because of my past experience there. Because of this, the quest to find a place that is mine, a place where presence can happen is all sorts of difficult. In the same vein of Rilke’s writing, I seek a place where my introversion can be encouraged, and the temptation to include the outside world in self-critique is less likely to occur.
For me this space is the Mt. Angel Abbey and Seminary. About four miles up the road from Silverton, it is a community of Jesus followers on a hill, overlooking the valley. It is a place where silence is a virtue. It is a place where love abounds subtly and calmly. It is a place where you can feel community, and experience community, without ever having to sign a ‘Visitors’ book or be reminded that you are not expected to participate in offering (unless of course, the Spirit really leads you to).
When I reside in this place I can sit in silence, look out over the rolling hills and small communities of the valley, worship, experience a somewhat wordless sense of community, I can read, drink coffee, have conversation, ask questions, learn and even be different. As someone not very prone to peacefulness, having a place that is spiritual but not invasive is almost addicting. Being at the Abbey is a reminder of what existence means. A reminder that the opportunity to live and have life to the fullest, could be my bare minimum for existence.
There are two main feelings I experience when I go up to this monastic abode. First as I mentioned earlier, there is a sense of calm and peace that pervades my time. On the other side, there is a sense of anxiousness. A feeling that even attempting to be is an agenda in itself. That learning to rest is not something that happens, but is something achieved, and if I fail to take advantage of my time in solitude and presence-seeking, then rest is in fact lost. I find myself alternating between these two feelings in my sacred space.
The amount of time I spend rushing from place to place, responsibility to responsibility, is reason enough to make the Abbey a regular stop for me as I seek refreshment. On top of that I think what makes it such a positive experience is the fact that I get to observe Jesus followers who operate, think, worship and seek, so differently than myself. The diversity of tradition up on the hill, compared to how I was raised, is distinct. This has encouraged me to walk in the tension of observing incredibly holy people, who are far unlike me and the images of God in which I operate from.
There are certain times in life where titles, people groups, and stereotypes caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, Liberals, Conservatives, Feminists, and even Catholics… at one point or another had this affect on my nerves. And I am not elevating myself above any of those judgements, but as I come up to the Abbey and look around I cannot help but say, “This has to be real.”
Those people, those traditions, must be a result of some true disciples of Jesus. It’s at my sacred space that I see how my observations and judgements are not what make someone a true follower of Jesus, but it is their inherent value given by God. I am thankful for the disposition of observation and learning I am able to take on in this place, and I pray that it will call me to give value not just to people, but to places, institutions and the less considered pieces of creation in God’s Kingdom.