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Sacred Spaces

With an ere of melancholy, I finished the last scenes of #AnneFrank Parallel Stories with tears in my eyes. The end of this provocative series brought me directly back to one of the most moving experiences that I had in a hallowed space. Reaching back to several conversations recently, I was reminded of those places that are fragrant with emotion, spirituality, or awe – sacred spaces. Often without expectation, being alive in certain parts of the world conjures up emotions that cannot be contained – whether it's an awareness of how I fit into the world, a connection with my own past, or a greater understanding of my faith. Words to describe these moments might be mind-blowing, surreal, unworldly, overwhelming, out-of-body, peaceful, reflective, spiritual, or provocative.


For me, they often change my perception about something or give me perpetual food-for-thought. They help me see something from a different angle, or walk with more agility in someone's shoes (recognizing that it's simply not possible to completely understand another person's experience).


Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Lucky to book one opening to see the Anne Frank House while I was in Amsterdam for two days in January 2010, I started the tour through the empty rooms and narrow staircases on a historical journey with a family in hiding. I read a number of books about the Holocaust in school and this visit started out as more of a practical history lesson in a physical space than anything else. However, reaching Anne's room, I was caught off-guard. She had pictures from magazines pasted to the wall and had explained in her diary: "That makes it look a lot more cheerful." It was in that tiny space where I felt connected as a little 12-year-old girl who would have likely done the exact same thing. In that moment, I sensed that the hopeful spirit of Anne Frank still residing in that house.


She is a perpetual reminder about what can happen when hate and bitterness against different groups of people exist. And she is an example of how humans are resilient to manage circumstances (even staying home in the midst of a global pandemic) with hope.


In this story, we all want Anne to survive – but she doesn't. Her journalling abruptly stops. Her family is found out and she is taken to Auschwitz, where she further transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, subsequently contracts Typhus Fever, and dies.


Despite the horrific ending to Anne's life, her diary represents her tremendous hope. And if she can be hopeful cooped up, quietly hiding for two years inside a house in Amsterdam, we can certainly muster hope for our circumstances and our human race as well.


The words written in the front of Anne's diary live on today:

"Sois gentil et tiens courage – Be kind and have courage."

Released in theaters in October 2019, you can watch Anne Frank: Parallel Stories on Netflix or view a preview here.


Diksam Plateau, Socotra, Yemen

Unexpected and completely mesmerized, I gazed out on the carpet of dragon blood trees that cover the Diksam Plateau on the Island of Socotra in Yemen. The tree is endemic to the Island and grows so curious in its shape, that standing nearly on top of this forest felt unworldly. In nature, I experience God's creativity and intricate work most vividly and by viewing this breathtaking forest – like no other on our planet, I was caught in a moment of experiencing God's creativity.


"Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy."

- The Bible, Psalm 96, 11-12


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

A work of human hands, but inspired by the divine, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque compels visitors to quiet their spirit and look up to the source of creation and life. The mosque is superlative in many respects – containing the largest carpet made in Iran and a chandelier that is unrivaled in size and adorned with Swarovski crystals – but when I'm in that space, I am forced to realize my insignificance and consider my faith. The vast white marble, inlaid with precious stones, sets a stage to clear my head, while the thoughtful etchings of the names of Allah inside inspire worship.


The culture of tolerance in the United Arab Emirates makes this mosque a place for anyone to see, tour, or worship in. I have previously written more about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and my experience here.


Heather Meadows, Artist Point, and Lake Ann, Washington, United States

When I was little, one of the first overnight backpacking trips I took with my dad, uncle, and brother was to Lake Ann. This pristine body of water is cinched in between Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. If you're fortunate to spend time in the summer between these two peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range, you will find alpine flowers blooming, clean air, snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, wildlife, and dramatic backdrops around nearly every corner. For less rigorous hiking, Heather Meadows and Artist Point offer generous views without walking far from the parking areas.


The sheer power that is required to build up entire mountains while creating habitable spaces for the most delicate mosses, bugs, birds, and flowers is something I cannot take for granted. I believe it is a privilege to be a participant in this raw and tremendously beautiful environment. The trips I took to this area as a kid and back again as an adult are like natural highs in life – of fresh mountain air, glacial waters, and impressive geography in the surrounding peaks and valleys.


Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

Surrounded by bustling shops, private homes and apartments, brick walkways, and fragrant restaurants you will find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the likely place where Jesus was crucified. The day I first visited was on Good Friday. Groups of people were reliving Jesus' walk through the Old City of Jerusalem to his certain death. I travelled there with dear friends who were living in Tiberias at the time. We also traced the path of Jesus on that day by walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of sorrow or suffering). It was crowded – maybe similar to the spectacle the brought onlookers and followers to watch Jesus struggle and drag the cross through the streets. There were a number of groups video taping their experience. I know there were none of those in the crowds for Jesus' actual death – though we do have a number of witnesses who wrote about it.


When we entered the Church, I was accosted by the ritualistic candles, iconography, and gaudy fixtures adorning the entrance of the stone structure. These churches are set atop nearly every major space that Jesus was believed to occupy while on Earth. The Church was crowded due to the holiday, some areas were closed off, and I found it difficult to experience any Biblical appreciation for the space.


However, Saturday morning, I woke up before sunrise to climb the Mount of Olives by myself. After capturing some photos of the Dome of the Rock (also known as Qubbat As-Sakhrah or Temple Mount), I walked down toward the Garden of Gethsemane, and carried on back through the preserved ancient Lion's Gate. On a whim, I entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre again that morning to a completely different ambiance. It was quiet. There were men chanting hymns that resonated through the stone space beautifully. The area to reach the suspected foot of the cross was now open and I climbed the stairs and bent my head in honor of the revered space where Jesus blood must have drenched the hillside – and somehow in that moment of stillness, I experienced the presence of God.


Taj Mahal, Agra, India

As with many heritage sites, when my mom and I turned up in Agra, India, we found preservation work ongoing at the Taj Mahal. Despite the scaffolding on one of the minarets, the architecture and heroic efforts to construct this mausoleum are awe-inspiring. Perhaps it was the sophisticated preservation work and even the simple act of a humble man sweeping this space that gives it significance – the belief that this architectural wonder is worth caring for gives it even more value to society.


It is also a cryptic love story that we hold on to. The creative detail, the emotional connection, and the outright ingenious architecture by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal leaves one breathtaking scene to behold. His untimely death, before he constructed his own black mausoleum to reflect the Taj Mahal on the opposite shore of the River Yamuna, meant that he himself is also laid to rest next to his wife. The sad irony of his carefully planned "his and hers" tombs is in the only bit of asymmetry in his magnificent marble mausoleum – that of his own tomb laying unplanned and uncentered, but rightly next to his dear wife.


The Hawaiian Islands, United States

It may seem silly to classify an entire chain of islands as a sacred space, but there is some thing quite extraordinary that connects me to Hawaii. My first trip to the Islands was to tick a box on my quest to visit as many of the 50 United States as possible. I spent a two day layover buzzing around the Island of O'ahu and thought it was enough – until I took a job transfer to Honolulu. Somehow during those 18 months, the spirit of aloha took ahold of my heart, and I consider it one of my "homes." Despite not culturally belonging, the aloha still tugs at me to return for the people, plumeria, poke, and peace. I return nearly every year. I can never quite describe what a regenerative effect just visiting the Islands has on me: Perhaps it's simply taking a day or two for myself to visit my favorite places– or maybe there is some bit of magic in the rainbows, salty air, and rainforests.


Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica


It is not in the Chapel itself. The interior smells churchy, like stale hymnals – and there's a bit of stained glass at the front that lets in light as you might expect in a church. Rather, it's the view beyond that glass fixture that inspires the most grand images of faith and God's creative power. The Chapel of the Snows sits on the edge of McMurdo Station just above the icy seashore of the Ross Sea. From a vast expanse of sea ice, that occasionally melts to open water in the summer, the Royal Society Mountain Range rises up from sea level to 4,025 metres (13,205 feet). The landscape is largely untouched, pure, white, majestic, and beautiful.


I was an irregular attender at the Chapel – depending what shift and schedule I was working, but I always thought it was so fascinating that this little congregation at the bottom of the world, and in the first timezone of each day, might be kicking off Sunday worship for Christians around the world. As people struggled with family illnesses, untimely deaths, financial woes, births, graduations, and celebrations up north, it seemed like our prayers might just be passing by those mountains and "floating up" to reach them.


One of Many


Most often, these moments and spaces make me feel so small and humble in my existence on the globe – but also connected me to space, time, and those around me. One quote I recently heard sums up the essence of this connection of one to many in our human race:


"...As you sit in your body on this beach in total peace and calm, you begin to feel connected to everything and everyone – as if you were a tiny grain of sand among all the grains of sand. When you look closely, each is unique and beautiful in it's own way, but when you pull back, they are all the same...Take a moment of gratitude for your body – for this physical vessel that carries you, works for you, and with you – that is uniquely yours. Then pull back and see all the bodies in all the world. As unique as each one can be, they are all the same. We are all the same. We are one."

Sarah Beth Yoga



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*** #SacredSpaces #TravelDeeper #AnneFrank #Netherlands #Antarctica #explore #wanderlust #travel #TravelLove #FaithandHumanity #CultureTrip #JustGo #travel #SheTravels #Hawaii #ChurchoftheHolySeplechre #Jerusalem #Israel #Yemen #Socotra #SheikhZayedGrandMosque #AbuDhabi #UAE #AboveAllLove #TajMahal #India #CascadeMountains #Washington #ChapeloftheSnows #rainbow

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