Wednesday, July 2
Among other things, Dictionary.com defines sanctuary as 'A sacred place' and 'A place of refuge or asylum'. I've come to realize that what I love and appreciate about (most of) the Japanese temples and shrines is the sanctuary they provide. The atmosphere in a temple or in front of a shrine is one of serenity and reverence. Voices are low and soft, if at all. Steps are quiet, slow, and smooth. I find that even my turbulent thoughts quiet and slow in deference to the holy place I stand in.
I realized that I feel closer to God and more spiritual in these holy places than I often do in a Church at home. North American sanctuaries (typically the main room of a Church where the service is held, among other events) are usually bustling with activity - before, during, and after services. Pre-service, people are lively and talkative, catching up with friends, running after children, squeezing into seats. Throughout the service, the auditorium is almost silent, but there are always whispers and shuffling of feet. People nodding off, making to-do lists on paper or in their heads. At the end of the service, perhaps after a moment or two of silence or prayer, activity inevitably picks up again. Voices chase away the silence, feet rushing to get out or around dispel the calm.
Fellowship is important, people are busy, and children cannot always be controlled. But having experienced being in a holy place that is respected not only as 'a sacred place', but also as 'a place of refuge or asylum' - from life, worries, activity, the whirlwind of events and thoughts that make up our day ... I realize what we are missing.
With the constant stimulation that our North American society and culture provide, we lack a place to go in silence. Often, not even church - a holy place of refuge to interact with God - provides a place of serenity and calm.
Not all temples and shrines uphold the atmosphere I described - some are popular tourist destinations and are full of people and voices. But I think these are few, in comparison to the majority. The temple I visited in Nara, for example - just visiting and sitting for a while left me with a peace and calm that I find difficult to experience in daily life, surrounded by the bustle of society.
Would it even be possible to have a room or a place set aside in a North American church; for silent, reverent prayer and meditation? I'm not even sure we (as a whole society) understand the concept enough to uphold the room as such. I also believe that we are so over-stimulated that it takes anyone time and practice to get their thoughts to slow enough to sit in silence and listen for God; without wondering where the kids are, what's for supper, or whether the file is on the right desk. Placing your body in a holy sanctuary and being able to attend with your mind is two different things, the latter being much more difficult.
I'm sure there are churches, temples, and shrines in North America that do have places and rooms like this, but I've never been aware of them. Having experienced such a place in Japan, I will be on the lookout for times and places to experience the same silent reverence, even once I'm back in Canada.