To be a pilgrim
I am currently reading a fascinating book by Peter Stanford, called The Extra Mile. The author travelled the UK to visit traditional sites of pilgrimage; Walsingham, Iona, Glastonbury, Stonehenge amongst others; with the aim of seeing how these ancient religious destinations are faring in our supposedly secular society…
…and guess what? They seem to be flourishing!
Although initially I was a little surprised by this, on reflection I feel that I shouldn’t be. I am not affiliated to any specific religion; I rather Intend to use the ‘insert deity of choice here’ approach, at least when talking to others, but I do believe in that something ‘other’ that defines (for me) a Divinity, something up there watching over me.
But regardless of our particular preference in faith, we can all respond to those places that somehow ‘feel’ spiritual. I know that is a little woolly, but let me explain with an example.
We visit Finland as often as we can afford to, it is a beautiful country, with some of the best chocolate in the world…as well as countless thousands of lakes and islands, just stunning.
The first time I visited Helsinki, I wanted to visit the cathedral; I love walking around cathedrals and churches, drinking in the atmosphere of concentrated prayer… Of course some churches have a better atmosphere than others, but the Lutheran cathedral had absolutely no atmosphere at all, nothing…if anything the white echoing space had a feel of ‘new build’ to it!
Our friend Ross suggested visiting the Tempeliaukkion Kirkko, or Church in the Rock, a short walk away. This building, started in 1968, is a multi denominational church, in a quiet residential area of Helsinki, blasted out of one giant granite outcrop…
From above it resembles a half buried UFO; from the street, it is nothing more than a discreet glass door leading into a reception area. It could be anything from a hotel to a call centre, although I am reminded a little of Newgrange, in Ireland.
But then I walked into the main space…
Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling in there. If anything at all were to prove to me anything at all about the power of place, it would have to be the Tempeliaukkion Kirkko… It hit me like a hammer, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion, tears running down my cheeks; right then, at that moment, I would have done anything to have stayed there forever. I have not experienced anything like it before or since.
The walls are bare granite, blast marks clearly visible, the different colours within the rock giving a warmth to the light. The auditorium is filled with rows of seats for listeners of the many classical performances as well as religious services. The roof is an incredible disc of solid copper formed by connecting sections of copper plate into a spiral…
The difference between the two churches could be more marked; the empty shell of the traditional cathedral, and the Church in the Rock, saturated with spirit.
Every time we go, I have to top up my fix! I am an addict to this incredible energy…and so will you be…
Book your flights and make your pilgrimage as soon as you can!
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