What makes a place holy?
People go to Monasteries for many reasons. Many are tourist and have their own personal reactions to what they see. For some it is a curiosity, sort of like going to Stone Mountain, or some other site of interest, with each visitor having their own unique take on what they take in. Some people find Monasteries creepy and monks’ just men who are running away from life. Others just like the feel of the place. Some come seeking, and others come to reconnect with what is deepest in their hearts and souls.
What in fact makes a Monastery ‘Holy’, is not the monks, but the people who honor any Monastery with their presence. For no matter the ‘why’ of their coming, each carries a life time of experiences, of joys, sorrows and losses, as well as the love they have in their hearts for family and friends. Some are more conscious of their journey and they express it by following a religious/spiritual tradition that roots them firmly in the world. Many who visit may not be so aware, but do experience a difference when visiting ‘Holy Places” of any religious tradition and they are drawn often to return.
In 2005 I had the honor of visiting a Buddhist Monastery while visiting my Sister in Vancouver. It was a deeply moving experience for me, and I found the people there, both the monks and nuns and those who were laypeople, easy to be with. One of the nuns was very open and we had a short discussion and she gave me some prayer beads for my wrist. She told me how to use them and I found them much like how we Catholics pray the rosary. A prayer for all of mankind as well as for all sentient beings, forging a deep connection with all of reality…. A prayer of compassion and empathy for all who journey in this world, filled with so much joy, love, sorrow and pain. It reminded me of what St. Paul said about creation, how all of it ‘groans’ for the coming of the Lord. I still have the beads; I treasure them because of who gave them to me.
People go to ‘Holy Places’ who are wounded and because monks know of their own wounds, all are welcome. Mercy and healing are one. Often people feel like outsiders. Perhaps that is one of the most common experiences had by all humans. Yet in reality, we all belong, and sometimes when coming to Monasteries or some other holy place, they discover that those who live there struggle the same as they do. Knowing of their own” brokenness’ and the journey towards wholeness that flows from personal experience, allows the reality to sink in that their really are no strangers and all are in need of compassion, empathy and yes deep respect.
Just a little good will and bridges are built, communication allowed, love and acceptance shared and the love and mercy of God’s eternal ‘Yes’ embraced. We put others outside, Christ did not. The only people he had trouble with were those who like me are professional religious, who wear robes etc, and who may be foolish enough to believe what is projected onto them by those who encounter them on a regular basis.
He calls all to conversion because by that turning away from self-destructive actions, life styles and relationships, we find deeper life, joy and yes as always, healing. It is a slow journey, but we all get through it. We can all be a help or a hindrance to others, the less we know ourselves the more of an impediment we can become.
The more we know ourselves,
our inner chaos and struggles;
we come to find others delightful,
allowing the letting go of the deep pain
and heavy responsibility
of judging in ways we have no right to.