I frequently visit cemeteries, but I was especially thrilled to be at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn last month. This historic cemetery is a huge green space, lined with Gothic arches and teeming with birds, prairie dogs, flowering trees and interesting monuments for people ranging from obscurities to celebrities. I was drawn to a pyramid-shaped tomb with a huge gold sculpture of animals leaning on the grassy hill below.
When I approached, I saw that it commemorated Henry Bergh (1813 to 1888), founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). On the door of his mausoleum, a round brass relief depicted an angel intervening while a carriage driver whipped his horse. I found myself crying quite loudly, overwhelmed by the emotion I felt for this man at the forefront of animal protection. Rarely have I been so moved in a cemetery.
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And so, when I leafed through Alice Peck’s book “Around the World in 80 Spiritual Places” a week after visiting Green-Wood, I was surprised to see that the cemetery is the last entry in his book. She said it was the most significant of all her 80 places. It was a strange moment of synchronicity.
I’m sure many readers will find themselves relating to one of these 80 places, or thinking of the places that hold the greatest spiritual significance for them. Peck’s book will surely inspire people to slow down and contemplate the intangibles that make some places so powerful.
What is a spiritual place?
But what makes a place spiritual? Is it religion? Nature? Collect centuries of popular beliefs? For Peck, all of this can apply. She recognizes that places are not inherently spiritual. Instead, people imbue them with mysticism.
“Spiritual places are created when we feel a pure connection to something much bigger than ourselves,” she wrote in the introduction.
Each entry begins with a few factual paragraphs about the place, along with a nice color photo. Since straight prose isn’t always the most direct path to the soul, Peck includes meditations, prayers, and quotes throughout the book. The entry on the Ras al Hadd Turtle Reserve in Oman mentions that in Arabic folklore, turtles symbolize patience, humility and perseverance, and encourages readers to relate these turtle powers to their own lives. In the page on the Atacama Desert in Chile, Peck quotes the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. These quotes and comments help the reader find a connection to and care for these distant places, whether they yearn to visit them or not.
A theme that Peck brings up repeatedly is that of liminal or thin places. They are special places where people feel somehow in this world and somehow in another. As the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr described it, “liminality is an inner state and sometimes an outer one where people can begin to think and act in truly new ways. It’s when we’re in between, when we’ve left one room but haven’t entered the next room yet.
The big 80
Peck divides its 80 chosen locations into five geographic chapters: Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia and Australasia, Caribbean, and Central and South America and North America. Many spiritual traditions are highlighted, from those as obvious as the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City to those with a lower international profile, such as the shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal in Bangladesh, the burial place of a Sufi saint. of the fourteenth century. Peck celebrates Indigenous spirituality in places like Saskatchewan’s Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel and South Dakota’s Black Hills, where Lakota people perform the sacred Sun Dance.
The spiritual often straddles places of great natural beauty, including forests, mountains, and volcanoes. Kuumbi Cave in Tanzania is a good example of how a place can have many important meanings. The cave is both full of stalactites and other magnificent natural features, intriguing to archaeologists and still used for weekly rituals by local people. The Zanzibar leopard was declared extinct 25 years ago. But in 2018, conservationists recorded one on a wildlife camera. It is said that the leopard hides in the cave.
Strangely, one place in the book that captured my imagination was one of the least physically appealing. The Kamppi Chapel of Silence in Helsinki, Finland, is a windowless room made of alder wood and reserved for quiet contemplation. As Peck explained, “silence is a national trait”. The Finnish Tourist Board has declared silence to be a resource and said: “In the future, people will be willing to pay for the experience of silence.
Your 80 places
When I picked up this book, I immediately found myself counting the number of places I had visited – a temptation I’m sure many readers share. In my case, I counted eleven. But as Peck explains, her book is not meant to be a travel book. Instead, she calls it a dream book. The goal is not to tick these 80 places off your to-do list. Instead, it’s about marveling at the spiritual aspects of many places on Earth, whether it’s a sacred place people have revered for millennia or a place with individual significance. just for you.
“No matter where we go, Mount Kailash or the greengrocers, a cathedral or a cemetery, or how we get there, via the pilgrims’ walk or the city bus, we can take a spiritual journey,” wrote Peck. “My wish is that this book gives you just that – a forgotten window to look through, a moment of awe and hope, a new path to travel through the adventure that is your life.”
+ “Around the world in 80 spiritual places” by Alice Peck
Images by Teresa Bergen and Alice Peck
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