Sacred Places

By

There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

–Wendell Berry, from “How to Be a Poet (to Remind Myself)”

Just a few miles from my house there’s an intersection that always makes me happy. If you ever want to go there, it’s a four-way stop at the intersection of Old Franklin Road and Cane Ridge Road. Here’s the link, if you want to see it on Google Maps. If you end up doing the Street View you’ll notice that it’s not terribly interesting. This isn’t a scenic overlook. The houses aren’t gigantic. But it’s a strangely pleasant place. I don’t know why, but I feel a rightness every time I pull up to that intersection, and I tend to look around as if I’m on the verge of solving some bright mystery—until the driver behind me honks and I’m forced to putter up the hill.

I’ve mentioned it to Jamie and the kids, and they agree. It’s a nice spot. To them, it’s probably just that. But my mental wheels start turning and I want to know what about it makes me feel that way. Is it the shape of the land? Is it the fact that the stop sign forces me to pause for a moment and consider my surroundings? Does it remind me of some lovely childhood drive? I can’t put my finger on it. There are other intersections in more beautiful locales that don’t make me feel the way this one does. Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” I know the psalmist wasn’t thinking of country roads when he wrote this, but I always think of this verse when I sit at that intersection. “This, surely, is a pleasant place,” I think to myself. And in some ways, a pleasant place is better than a breathtaking one, isn’t it? I love the Grand Canyon and have hiked into it a handful of times over the years, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

LL12 Which brings me to last weekend. I just got back from Laity Lodge, a retreat center in the hill country of Texas. It’s a two-hour drive from the San Antonio airport, and for the last hour there’s nothing to see but squat junipers and twisting oaks and hills that stretch into the distance, white with limestone. When at last you turn off the main road and onto the property, you descend into a canyon that’s been carved over the millenia by the Frio River. The road, in fact, leads straight into the river, which on its banks is a few inches of frigid spring water running over a flat shelf of stone. The truck bounces through the river for a quarter mile until the road leads out and up again to the lodge. I always feel like one of Israelites passing through the dry bed of the Jordan and into Canaan.

The place isn’t necessarily luxurious, but oh, is it pleasant. The borders of the walkways are well-tended, and they lead down to the shoulder of the canyon where the Great Hall sits perched over the blue-green pools of the river, on the other side of which is a cliff wall that changes colors as the sun glides overhead. Written on the stones that border the fountain and the paths are lines from all manner of poets, theologians, authors, philosophers, each of which declares the glory of God and asks the traveler to stop and consider that glory. Great minds have been coming to Laity Lodge for decades, including Frederick Buechner, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, Eugene Peterson, J.I. Packer, and N.T. Wright—but not just theological types. There have also been musicians, painters, dramatists, authors, chefs—and attendees no less intricate, wise, or thoughtful, Christians hungry for rest and peace and the time to encounter the Gospel in a place dedicated to it. When I step onto the grounds at Laity Lodge, I sense something like that intersection near my house. It is, in the best sense of the word, a pleasant place. It is sacred.

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Now, I realize of course that if the Wendell Berry quote above is true, then Laity Lodge is just as sacred as the grass on your front lawn. As David Dark wrote, “There isn’t a secular molecule in the universe.” But isn’t it true that some places feel right, just as surely as other places feel wrong? I have been to desecrated places, and have sensed a brooding darkness without knowing why. I have, at times, had to speak aloud what I believe to be true about God’s presence in and around me in order to silence the voices of fear that clamored in my head—I have, in other words, been spooked. I have whistled in the dark. I don’t know how all this works. I only know that we’ve all probably been in houses that felt dark and disquieting, and by contrast there is a sense of peace that seeps out of the walls of some houses. I want my house to be a house of peace. I want people to sense God’s presence when they roll up our gravel driveway.

But how?

I think it’s a matter of dedicating to God the world within our reach. Jamie and I are blessed with two wonderful neighbors, Tommy and Becky. When they built their home, sweet Becky wrote scripture verses on every 2×4 she could find. You can’t see them anymore now that the house is finished, and of course they don’t work as charms or anything weird like that; Bible verses on the studs don’t do anything magical. Still, every sacred word that Becky wrote on every sacred plank of wood was a reminder to her that it was not her house, but God’s.

The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim the Lord’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too. It isn’t that we’re fighting a battle in which we must win ground from the forces of evil; the ground is already God’s. Satan is just an outlaw. And we have the pleasure of declaring God’s kingdom with love, service, and peace in our homes and communities. When you pray, dedicate your home, your yard, your bonus room and dishwasher and bicycle and garden to the Lord. As surely as you dedicate your heart to him, dedicate your front porch. Daily pledge every cell of every tool at your disposal to his good pleasure. It’s all sacred anyway, if old Wendell is right, and I think he is. I think that’s why Laity Lodge feels so peaceful.

I wonder if the Holy Spirit is rambling around in the temple of my heart, scribbling promises on every exposed bit of lumber, declaring my sacredness so that I will remember that I belong to him. And maybe when I’m old and I cross paths with some weary traveler, they’ll sense a rightness, a pleasantness of place, and will experience a peace that they cannot understand or explain.

Stop a moment and look around. This is our father’s kingdom.

We are sacred, you and I.

———————————-

Here’s a video of me and Ben Shive in the library at Laity Lodge, performing a song called “Planting Trees.” I wrote this song after hearing Eugene Peterson speak there—and after my sweet wife Jamie reminded me about the great calling on her life.

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


27 Comments

  1. Paula Shaw

    So true! Thanks again for such a beautifully worded and “sacred” post. What you may not realize is that others already feel that “rightness” about you now, Andrew. Thanks be to God! 🙂

  2. Anissa

    I know what you mean by particularly sacred-feeling places! One of the first places I thought of is this castle I once stayed at in Austria. Although it is not specifically used for religious purposes, I felt a sense of peace there, surrounded by the towering Alps and yet enclosed in the cozy, ancient fortress. (http://www.schloss-mittersill.at/)

  3. Tony Heringer

    I am currently ruminating on a section of Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places that covers similar ground (pun intended). I am with you on the feel of a place. Thanks to the likes of Lewis, Tolkien, Wangerin along with the Psalms I sense all of creation (Berry has disdain for the word environment) is more alive than we can imagine. So when I am at an intersection/place like the one you describe it does awaken my senses in a way that other places do not. Thanks for putting words to those feelings. A hardy Amen for those words bro!

  4. Jaclyn

    AP! I love the connection you make to your neighbors hidden wooden planks adorned with Bible verses, and the invisible fibers of our souls that the Spirit weaves with Truth.

    Thank you for making the Rabbit Room a cyber sacred place. I always feel refreshed when I come here.

  5. Jim Crotty

    Every artist eventually finds his or her other home – that place that coaxes out the creative spirit and more easily aligns artistic vision with positive purpose. I agree. There are some places where positive energy flourishes and other places where nothing feels right. Once a place of positive, creative energy is discovered it is beautiful to see how it’s steadily reinforced over time through visits by other artists, writers and musicians. In the community of spirit God’s gifts are celebrated. Thank you Andrew for reminding us of these blessings.

  6. JON SLONE

    I like the sign with the squiggly arrow. That promises that life up that way will be “squiggly.”

    Great post!!!

    Wonderful way of thinking!!!

  7. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    I think part of why Becky’s scripture verses on 2×4’s works is because of the intention it sets: she wanted her house to be dedicated to God, and she wanted some way to show that. Those verses gave physicality to her intention, her desire.

    I love the way some of my older Catholic friends pray, “For these intentions, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.” Our prayers, too, are intentions. These intentions remind us who we want to be and where we want to go, and I believe they help us get there. Somehow, God uses the words we speak (or write on 2×4’s) to help us become the very thing we asked for. In the asking, God has already answered. Like this:

    O Lord, open my lips.
    And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

    In the asking, we have already received what we asked for.

    Thanks much for this thoughtful post–it reminds me of my own intentions/prayers 🙂

  8. Molly Bertles

    I love so many things about this post! First of all my parents live in Franklin, TN, and whenever I visit, my mom makes me visit her favorite valley. Although I think her liking it has more to do with the scenic view and gigantic houses. : )

    But I have often sensed the same “rightness” and conversely “brooding-ness” mainly in houses. And I have wondered about it but never stopped to really ponder it. This is such a thoughtful and rich reflection, and the last paragraph, about the Holy Spirit marking us, so we know who we are and can show that to others… So so good! Thank you for this.

  9. Caleb

    I ordered the CDs from the Liaty Lodge Tolkien event. Halfway through listening to the lectures now. Must’ve been a great weekend.

  10. Deborah Ruth Dickson

    Amen, Andrew brother. Amen. …and yes. I feel that Holy Spirit of peace when I come to the Rabbit Room. I have felt that Spirit at every Christian music concert I have attended from the likes of Andrew Peterson, to Aaron Shust, Jason Gray, Sara Groves, Audrey Assad, Bebo Norman, Jason Ingram, Steven Curtis Chapman, Geoff Moore, and the list goes on. I can only imagine what your homes must feel like. 🙂

    This is one of the reasons I have this childlike fantasy of retiring in Tennessee someday. I know they don’t all live there…But I want to be with my family. I want to be with the brothers and sisters who have carried the Gospel to me on the wings of song when all else around me felt anything but sacred. And every day (or would it be more quaint to say “Day By Day”), I remind myself that all of us will be together with Jesus in that same peace as the band of believers and soldiers finally returns to Jesus where we belong.

    I can’t wait till I get back there with Him. But I know I have to. I can’t tell you how tired I am even at the tender age of 27. I long for the day when I can truly “rest easy” although I struggle to do it daily now. Your songs and the songs of the singers, are my heart songs. And it just so happens that every year longer I live, and as I grow, your songs and theirs are always released at the perfect moment to carry me through my next journey with a perfect background score. I can’t explain it. Or why it seems within the last 5 years that every new Christian album from the artists above has been perfect for my life. But they have. And I am thankful to God when all of you “shine your light on me” to encourage me to keep fighting the good fight. (Or “carrying the fire” since I had to mention my fourth favorite on your album ;)) .

    But anyway…Thanks for this post. And yes. I do believe the Holy Spirit marked your soul all over with His promises. Because it flows forth from your writing.
    Thank you for seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness. Your music and writing continues to be a blessing more than you know. Your family and the Christian singers are in my prayers.
    (and I’m sorry I wrote an expose) (Thanks to anyone who got this far on my comment) 🙂 🙂 Be blessed!

    Sincerely,
    Debbie

  11. April Pickle

    This turned my week around. THANK YOU. How quickly I can forget what is true. The comments are also very encouraging.
    Thank you all.

  12. Carol

    Yes, this is not only beautiful spiritually, but wonderful writing as well. Refreshed. Yes. and I’m going to write some verses on the walls of the house we are rehabbing, just to remind me of the truths that I sometimes let go of in the face of the world…

  13. Hannah

    Thank you very much for this post. I was at Laity Lodge in 2009, and I still remember it as a transformative experience with place. It was amazing. Usually it had taken me a long time to adjust to a place, even one I liked. But when I arrived at Laity Lodge, it was as though I sank into its peace within an hour of being there. I think the experience changed how I think about places pretty deeply. I’m much more able to enter into the experience of a place now, with less time to adjust. And I’d love to go back to Laity Lodge someday.

  14. Kirsten

    Tim’s been at me to read this for a few days, after a discussion we had about some of the “big” life decisions we are making now. He said, “You haven’t happened to read AP’s Rabbit Room post yet have you? It’s like an answer to some of the questions that have been burdening you. Crazy!” And it is!

    Thank you for sharing, as always. We’re encouraged and thankful for your ministry!

  15. Lisa

    The Celts spoke of the Thin Places, where the Otherworld was close to this one. The Celtic Christians kept this belief and redeemed it, speaking of those places in the world where the veil was thin and the mystery of God close. This post reminded me of the Thin Places. There is so much more than we can imagine, so much that our Western rational minds miss. Thank you, Andrew for using your gift of writing and music for His glory. You bring me with you into those Thin Places….the song you linked to was beautiful and encouraged a weary planter of trees today…to God be the glory…

  16. Jerome

    I have been to these sacramental places, too. They still burn in my heart. They are somehow pointers to the Triune love relationship that is the bedrock reality of all creation. These “pointer places” turn us into Emmaus walkers.

  17. Peter B

    What a necessary reminder to weary souls like ours. Thank you for encouraging us to be steadfast in reclaiming this broken world.

  18. S.D. Smith

    This is so good. Thanks, Andrew.

    I have for too long intellectually held a more utilitarian view and it’s hard to step out of that in practice, even after you have abandoned it rationally. But I think my family is stepping out of it and into building sacred spaces. My wife has really, without words, shown me the way so often on this front. Her vocation is like a poem, creating beauty. Thank God for grace.

  19. Donna S

    Dear Andrew – This weary traveler, on every crossing of your path here, has felt peace, and rightness, and pleasantness. In the very best sense of this phrase – you “bless my heart.”

  20. DAVID

    I was listening to Pandora while preparing to share about Filipino churches planting other churches in the Philippines when I heard Planting Trees. What serendipity to hear my own heart’s song reflected in actual music! Jesus talked about bearing fruit that remains. The only way fruit remains is by planting another tree with the seeds from the fruit. Your song will be the background music for the slides I show this weekend in church, if you don’t mind. Thank you AP for letting a Christ spirit flow through a poet soul.

  21. James Witmer

    Andrew, thank you for saying so beautifully what my wife and I have tried to tell each other as we imagine what our home could be.

    Also, if it’s fair to say that music can create a “place,” I think this article explains why, despite the rich songs on Far Country and Resurrection Letters, despite the wrenching (and rocking!?) beauty of Light for the Lost Boy, Counting Stars remains my “desert island” album.

  22. Chris Whitler

    Oh, I haven’t been in the Rabbit Room in about a month and let me tell you, as much as a “room” on the internet can be, this is a pleasant place.

    The nature of my work has me walking in many desecrated places. But friends, music, stories and prayer all help my soul recover. No website could take the place of all that but how often the writing and music here help to lift my eyes and remember what’s true.

    Thanks.

  23. vedanta nanda

    Though I’m a Hindu monk priest but by heart and soul
    I’m a keen follower of Judaism .from my soul I do believe
    only Judaism can save the world with peace and happiness.
    I’ve been living near Chicago area for years.

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