Holy land of the heart

As you read this, I am headed for Israel — to visit places connected to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, even before I reach there, I am already visiting those sacred spots in my imagination. Sacred spaces exist not only on our landscape, but flower upon the fertile soil of our minds and hearts.

Last week I attended a seminar in Guwahati, Assam, wherein many tribal speakers from the Northeast spoke about the sacredness of mother nature. Every little creature is sacred for tribals. Moreover, there are also special sacred groves — called bagichha in central India — where deities are believed to dwell.
The world’s major religions have mandirs, masjids, gurudwaras and churches where believers worship God. Furthermore, within these holy places, there’s the sanctum sanctorum or garbha griha where the deity dwells.
The Bible refers to several sacred sites. Paradise or the Garden of Eden appears in the first pages of the Bible wherein God walks and talks with Adam and Eve. The Book of Exodus later speaks of Mount Sinai as the holy mountain of divine darshan. The Promised Land, too, is a sacred site.
Moses meets God in a burning bush wherein he is told, “Take off your sandals for the place where you stand is holy ground.” The psalmist sings: “Great is your name, Lord, its majesty fills the earth!” Indeed, God’s majesty is manifest in all the wonders of nature. It’s good to cultivate a sense of wonder and worship — perhaps walk barefoot, at times, to savour the sacredness of mother earth.
Jesus loved nature and saw it as sacred. True, he prayed in the temple, but he also said: “Believe me, neither on this mountain (Sinai) nor in Jerusalem will you worship God. God is spirit, and those who worship him will worship him in spirit and in truth.” Do we sense God’s presence beyond the confines of church and temple?
It is said that when God was tired of people’s prayerful complaints to him, he wanted to hide himself. God’s angels advised him to hide atop the heights of the Himalayas, the depths of the Pacific and the thickets of the Amazon. But God was most pleased when an angel said: “Hide in the depths of the human heart — no one will seek you there!” Do we realise that God dwells within us?
Holy lands exist within you and me, much as they exist in specific locales spiritualised by the presence of mahatmas and deities. Thus, while we can worship in churches and mosques, we must also create sacred spaces in our hearts to connect with God. By so doing, every place will become a shrine and God will be worshiped everywhere.

Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He can be contacted at fragons@gmail.com

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