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Sacred Places: Real, or Do We Make Them Up?

From the pond of wasted adolescent days to Jerusalem and back.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

March 17, 2013 - 7:00 am
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In the first phase of my life my “Jerusalem” was a pond. It lay along the golf course in Clifton Knolls, a development near which I grew up. (It was in the town of Clifton Park, New York. You can see the pond here down on the left.)

For the wild bunch I hung out with in my teens, the golf course was a haven—at night. The cops—though their cars roamed the streets of the development assiduously, the bright beams splitting the night—almost never bothered with the golf course. You could get drunk out there under the stars, feeling the world was yours, spacious, endless.

That wasn’t, though, what made the pond a sacred place. That happened later at night—past midnight, when the silence out there was total except a sound a frog made like a bass string being slowly, pensively plucked. This was something even more clandestine than the drinking with the buddies; it involved sneaking out of a bedroom window, a tryst at a street corner, and making our way in the darkness to the “place by the water” (a paraphrase).

This went on for a few weeks during one of the summers. In an adolescence bedeviled by shyness and frustration, I had somehow found someone to go there with, alone. The magnificence, for me, of the intimacy; the beauty of the setting—breezes rustling the leaves along the pond—all this was overwhelming. The girl went away; I never understood why, until e-contact with her—over the past couple of years—provided some clues.

But the memories did not go away. A sort of religion of the pond—of itself, without my prompting—formed in my mind: the deep, ineffable tranquility, the sense of a different dimension, secluded, peaceful, and final. In the coming years I would drift back to it often.

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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We make them up. I think a sacred place is always someplace where people believe a deity once interacted or continues to interact with them. God can be anywhere or everywhere, all the time. Without people to recognize the Presence, nobody would know. A lizard living on the Temple Mount doesn't think he's anywhere special. Without the people, there would be no Temple Mount. So it's always Place + People + God (or at least the belief in God). Take away the people and it's just another place.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We (as a society, not necessarilly an individual) make up our religions, we make up our sacred places, rituals, and writings to go with them.
That doesn't change their importance in our lives.

They're also highly cultural. For the American cult of the Presidency for example, the White House has become a temple, hallowed ground, as have many other places where the President has deigned to walk the earth among His flock.
For most of the rest of the world, it's just a rather poor copy of a neoclassical country mansion.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It came from the Hebrew shalom.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you . . . I thought that Jerusalem had "shalom" at the end. Where did those Mass. settlers get their name for the port city of Salem?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The "salem," which sounds somewhat different in the Hebrew name, is thought to be connected to "shalom," which means peace, and "Jerusalem" is etymologized as Ihr-Shalom or "City of Peace."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Off-topic, but can you explain the "--salem" part of Jerusalem? I ask because I always wondered what the relationship is between the town names: Salem & Jerusalem.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nice frog.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Lovely. Memories of streams and ponds of a New England childhood, transcendent all. Thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You seem to be missing your inner pond. Sorry for your loss.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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