Set Apart

The door to the woods is the door to the temple.

Mary Oliver

The photo you see above is Cathedral Rock in Sedona, where I spent the last week. There must be dozens of Cathedral Rocks in this country, as well as Cathedral Peak, Cathedral Mountain, or anything else that points towards the sky and fills us with awe. Sedona’s Cathedral Rock is so named because it is said to resemble a pipe organ, which is a good enough reason to call it a cathedral. The landscape of Sedona is itself a cathedral, as the peaks rise above Oak Creek Valley, and the area is said to hold the largest concentration of vortexes anywhere in the world.

Yes, locals call them vortexes, not vortices. I was corrected on this matter. They are said to be swirling centers of energy conducive to healing, meditation, and other methods of self-exploration. Some attribute their power to a high degree of magnetism in the land, which gleams red from iron in the rocks. One explanation I found suggested the phenomenon was due to unexplained aspects of string theory, now widely accepted among physicists.

However these vortexes came to exist, if they exist at all, they draw people from allover the world who want to experience their power. Special tours offer visits to the four major ones, but there are more, and for more money you can visit the vortexes that are hidden away. Shops selling crystals offer buyers a chance to experience the vortexes more deeply. You can have your aura photographed and your chakras realigned. Healers will channel the energy through crystals to cure what ails you. Believers ask simply that visitors “keep an open mind.”

As a retired medical professional I admit that I am a skeptic. Throughout my forty year career every treatment decision I made for my patients was based on best practice treatment guidelines.

But keeping an open mind on most topics is something I try to do, and in a place like Sedona it is not hard to accept the idea that the very rocks themselves may contain healing properties. This is why I began to study the concept of sacredness, borrowed from an Old French word that means “set apart” and forming the derivation for other words that refer to separateness, such as segregation and sacrament. Eating a meal, for instance, is an ordinary activity, but when the bread and the wine are consecrated by a priest it becomes a sacrament, a meal that is set apart from the daily activity of eating.

Most hikers have experienced that sense of awe when we reach the mountain pass, and it reveals new vistas that are more wondrous than the last, when the red rock reflects the brilliant pink of the sunset and glows like a neon sign, when a dozen new waterfalls tumble into the valley after the last night’s rainfall, filling the world with music.

The natural world is filled with these wonders, but they are not limited to glorious sunsets and mountain vistas. Art galleries, a Beethoven symphony, watching the birth of our first grandchild. . .these are sacred moments and are no less wondrous than the sunset or the mountain top.

On my recent trip I visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a popular tourist destination in Sedona. I had tried to visit there a few days earlier but had been unable to find a parking space. When I learned that there was a trail leading to the chapel I was happy to make the journey on foot, a kind of pilgrimage perhaps. I was not disappointed. As I have shared in previous posts I do not consider myself to be a religious person, but it was impossible not to be awed by the beauty of that architectural wonder rising out of the red stone. I stood for a long time watching the people lighting their red candles and sending prayers aloft, gazing at the tree of life on which the dying Christ looked down upon uplifted faces. I felt a kind of warmth that remained with me as I hiked the trail back to my car and even for part of the return drive to Phoenix.

The following day I boarded a plane for Spokane and from there made the long drive over Sherman Pass to my home in the Okanogan Highlands. My friends Jenny and Jason, who watched the house for me while I was gone, had loaded firewood into the container next to the wood stove, so I was able to quickly warm up the house and sat directly in front of the fire as my cat, Lovie, lay next to my head on the back of the recliner, purring loudly into my ears. I felt something resembling the awe I had experienced in the chapel the previous day, a flooding of warmth and gratitude, and it occurred to me that this too was a sacred space, set apart from the rest of the world. On the shelves next to the wood stove were various objects I have brought into my sacred space over the years: a small bronze statue of Kuan Yin, a volume of poetry, and an abandoned bird’s nest I retrieved from the high branches of the apple tree a couple of years ago. Interlaced with the dry grass, the bird had used sprigs of lavender from my garden to complete the construction of the nest.

Yes, this was sacred space, set apart from the weary world of daily chores and responsibilities and the bad news that assaults our senses everyday. At that moment, I was in a world set apart, and I was filled with gratitude.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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