Entries for 'Sacred space'


During my first year at the School of Theology in Sewanee, I participated in a contemplative retreat at St. Mary’s Sewanee Retreat Center, just off Sherwood Road.  While walking the grounds in silence, I stumbled upon the cemetery of the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent for the first time.  Here, set in the midst of the Mountain’s majestic forested canopy, was this little “jewel box” fashioned by human hands inspired by the Spirit of God.

The cemetery is a formal square of sacred ground bounded on each side by a low wall built of sandstone quarried from the surrounding mountain.  The plot is oriented with respect to the four cardinal directions of the compass, so each grave is positioned to face east allowing its inhabitant to greet the rising sun on the morning of the Second Coming of our Lord.  In the meantime, the rows of simple markers for each interred Sister are presided over by a handsomely-sculpted figure of the crucified Christ, raised in glory within a stone niche centered on the western wall.  Opposite the Crucifix and centered on the eastern wall is the lychgate.  Built of heavy-timbers in the form of a gable roof, this gateway grants access to the burial ground, but its low clearance encourages the living who visit to bow in reverence as they enter the precinct of the dead.

Here is a place: intentionally-shaped, exquisitely-fashioned from humble, indigenous materials and devoted to the most primordial act unique to our species and fundamental to our Christian faith – the burial of the dearly departed.  The mere nature of its existence is a sacramental expression of the beauty of the Incarnation in the midst of our fallen world.  It makes manifest the words of Jacob, who said, “Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

When I am fortunate to return to the Mountain, I try to visit the cemetery of the Sisters—not because I am particularly close to anyone buried there—but out of gratitude for what this sacred place awakened in me.  Never before had I felt drawn to name a place where I preferred my earthly remains to be interred.  But from the experience of this holy ground, I now know for me the Mountain is my gateway to heaven.

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