Before we go too far into the topic I would like to define what a sacred center is so we are all on the same page. Let’s start with the word sacred. The etymologically the word sacred springs from the Middle English sacre “to consecrate”, which springs from Old French “Sarer or “holy”: as well as Latin Sacrare “holy”, and “to set apart”.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Sacred as “Regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual.” So, if something is sacred it is set apart as holy and regarded with respect and reverence.
Next let’s look at “Center”. The most obvious definition is “the middle” of something, but it also means “the point from which an activity or process is directed or on with it is focused”. Etymologically speaking it is a Late Middle English word with old French and Latin word “Centrum” and the Greek “Kentron” which means sharp point – from the stationary point of a compass.
So, putting these together we see that a sacred center is A point set apart as holy and regarded with reverence and respect from which everything turns or emanates or on which attention is focused.
These Sacred Centers can and do take various physical forms. They can be an arrangement of items like the altars of Christianity and some pagan traditions, specific objects such as a crucifix, the Torah, or a set of standing stones, or a place such as Mecca, Jerusalem, or a sacred grove. All of these places and objects meet our criteria of a sacred in that they are revered and treated with respect by the practitioners of certain religions or groups. They are also centers around which religious activities are formed. They are places we go that have been set apart form the mundane “everyday” and re-establish our place in the world. They literially become a point around which everything turns. When we come to a sacred center we endeavor to re-create the cosmology of out belief system and establish our place in it.
One of the most recognizable is the division of the cosmos into the three parts of upper, middle, and under realms. Generally, most the deities reside in the upper realms, the ancestors, chthonic deities and keepers of the dead reside in the under realms and we humans, along with the forces of nature, reside in the middle realm.
In the Christian cosmology, their supreme diety, God, resides in the upper realm, or heaven, humans reside in the middle realm, but the under realm is transformed from that of the ancestors and keepers of the dead into the destination of those that go against the teaching of the supreme diety.
Across the world and crossing cultural and physical borders, people and cultures perform rituals and devotions at these places. They may be ornate and complex as in the Catholic mass held in an ornately decorated cathedral, or a simple petition said over a lit candle on a nightstand in the corner of someone’s bedroom. Each of these taps into the spirit of the divine.
One of my favorite pictures is an artist’s rendering of the universe that shows all the dark matter. It shows brightly lit areas of concentrated matter connected by dimmer tendrals of other “stuff”. Everything is connected in a complicated web of energy and matter. I see sacred centers as similar to the bright spots.
When a sacred center is established, what if instead of only connecting to the essence of the diety(s), or power we uphold, we also connect to the vast array and diversityf all deities and powers. What if the sacred center where I go to commune with my deities and where I reinforce my place in the universe connects with all the other sacred centers?
When I establish a sacred center in ritual, I try to acknowledge that somewhere out there many others are going the same thing as I am. They may not do it the same way or venerate the same form of higher power as I do, but they are doing it none the less. I also realize that my ancestors also created sacred centers to worship and find their place and people that come after me will do the same. This means that when worship, whatever form that may take, we are linking with everyone and everything though in a vast 4 dimentional web of existence. We are truly all interconnected.
What does this mean? To me it means that all our paths deserve to be treated with respect and reverence and that we should look to that which links us together to try to find common respect and reverence.
I have always belived that, at the core, religions have more in common with one another than they have differences. Unfortunately, the differences are what are dwelled on and have the most importance and attention placed upon instead of looking at the similarities. These core values include; “love one another, help others, and treat others have you want to be treated”. Unfortunately we tend to get lost in the differences. We take more stock in the mitutia of dogma and doctrines that form the differences that identify one religion from another. We need go get back to looking at the core — the center.
When I was camping in August I went on about a 45 minute walk in the woods. The vast diversity of life that coexists amazes me. Different species of trees growing up reaching leaf covered branches toward the same sun, roots diving deep through the earth into the ground waters below.
What I was really drawn to, though, were the fallen trees. The ones who’s bark and leaves had log ago disappeared. These had no identifying features. There was no way for me to know if the tree had been an , oak, birch, hickory or maple. The only thing left was the center. In this state, a different type of beauty emerges. I could have sat and looked at these trees for hours, tracing the different textures and formations, reading the stories that were only visible once the outer layers of the tree had gone away.
I believe this holds true for people as well. We each have a sacred center within us. Some call it “guts” or “intuition”. I invite you to participate in an excersise to find our centers. Take a couple of deep breaths. On your next inhale, without thinking about it, bring one of you hands to your center. This is the place around which you emminate and it, and you deserve to be treated with respect and reverence. More than one culture acknowledges this.
Namaste as defined by Mahatma Gandhi: “I honor the place within you where the entire Universe resides; I honor the place within you of love, of light, of truth, of peace; I honor the place within you, where, when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.”
The druid vow of friendship states: “ I honor your path. I drink from your well. I bring an unprotected heart to your meeting place. I hold no cherished outcome. I will not negotiate by withholding. I am not subject to disappointment.”
What if, when we approach each other, we meet each other at the core, at our sacred centers instead of as members of gender or ethnic groups. How would that shift the interaction and what new beauty might we encounter. What new stories might we learn?
I’d like to end with a quote from Neil Degrasse Tyson: “we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically.”