Sinéad O’Connor and the New Catholic Church

So Far... The Best of Sinéad O'Connor
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Sinéad O’Connor has a moving piece up at The Huffington Post. Please read it.

UPDATE: I just said this below in the comments but it really does bear saying here: I should say that I’m one of these typically low-church protestant types, but that I find much to love in the contemplative traditions of the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.  I hope my posting of this piece doesn’t come across as anti-Catholic by any stretch. I was just very moved by it, and impressed with its cogency. A far cry, indeed, from what was done on SNL all those years ago.

Sunday Morning Sedona: What Is Sacred Space?

Yesterday, I came across these great shots of The Burren at Vintage Pages. I was reminded of Buzz Aldrin’s description of the “magnificent desolation” he witnessed on the Moon, and of Joan Didion’s essay “At the Dam.” I was also reminded of my own experience in Sedona, Arizona last summer, and I thought I’d share this piece about sacred space, published previously on Huffington. I wrote this months before I’d read Didion’s  fantastic work, but well after I’d heard Aldrin talk about his own.#

What Is Sacred Space?

The Chapel of the Holy Cross rises from a 250-foot abutment in Sedona’s ferric sandstone, a sort of redundant decoration in this part of Arizona where I-17 and the Red Rock Scenic Byway seem to follow God’s own early steps across the Earth. Out here in the desert, among the great open tables of a vast, imposing communion, the idea of sacral man-made space registers in the viscerally absurd, feels essentially and obviously offensive. From the road, the innate need our species has to seek the holy seems corrupted by the building’s hubris, its imperial theology, by the categories and catechisms that value the work of fervent hands above the sublime, enduring witness of 300-million years. As my friend Jeremy and I park our rental car below the chapel’s massive cross, so meager in this scheme of things, we confess our doubts.

We’d set out on a slow course from Phoenix after breakfast. As I-17 wended north and east through desert, brush, and forest, we considered the physical reality of everything we saw in relation to the mountains we know so well back home in Pennsylvania, the trees that cover them, the interloping cities and still-interloping suburbs that never suggest this expanse of material, the planet’s bones, an endless stretch of at-rest atoms testifying for the universe. At home there are no resources unturned; limestone and slate and iron-ore are subdued and spent, the mountains are worn-down by glaciers, time, and strip-mines. I know next to nothing about the natural or industrial history of Arizona, but from the highway I am happy to believe that the stones and dirt and desert floor lie just as they rose from dry seas and tectonics. From the highway, that so much matter rests within my sightline reassures me: reality is big, our theologies are small, we must go about sincerely rendered spiritual pursuits with a humility that mimics in its depth the vastness of creation. We have a truly cosmic space in which to seek and find the holy.

Our first views of the Chapel are from the distance after three hours of roadside spiritual formation. We decide before we ever see it that we’ll have missed nothing if we don’t. We snake through the Red Rock Scenic Byway towards the Chapel’s foot fomenting reservations. Out of the car, where the rocks can hear us, we say we don’t know why people do this and that then again we do. We ascend the looping road to the Chapel’s entrance, hoping to recover the better reasons humans build religious things: from the need to offer, from the need to commemorate the places they encounter God. Still, the red rocks, the desert mountains and Arizona forests, the dirt and stone and binding heat aren’t going anywhere; the massive dome we’re under can’t be soon forgotten. But we move toward the redundant space, moved perhaps by our investment in tradition, by a certain empathy for what William Faulkner’s Jason Compson Sr. calls “that aptitude and eagerness … for complete mystical acceptance of immolated sticks and stones.” In this temple of the open air, we move to see what, if anything, might move us in a church.

From the outside foyer-summit, the vistas are impressive, just as they are from any point for miles. Inside, the central cross doubles as the altar’s focal point through the Chapel’s glass facade. I am struck by the sanctuary’s stark simplicity: the space is small, the stone walls are unadorned save two crafted rugs each depicting a nondescript apostle. The Stations of the Cross are Roman numerals formed from crucifixion-style nails (they look like railroad spikes); the altar’s ornaments are modern lines and shapes, all unassuming. Though the chapel’s founder, Marguerite Bruswig Staude, meant for its contemporary 1950s design to contextualize the liturgy of building in “a monument to faith…a spiritual fortress so charged with God, that it spurs man’s spirit godward,” I am struck by how underwhelming it is in its setting.

From outside, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is vain decoration, but in the sanctuary I am confronted by the futility that the simple space suggests. The immolated sticks and stones remain as meaningless as ever, but they enshrine in Sedona a natural counterpoint to the majesty that dwarfs them. The Chapel is an iconography of resignation, yes, but not of a surrender to despair. The spare walls and rough metal of the church confirm the higher teaching of geology: in the bare face of cosmic bigness, we might celebrate the room our smallness gives to seek. We might be moved by the fleeting crudeness of our best gifts to consider how deep and wide the holy, how ancient our environs, how vast and long the trek of matter into meaning. How blessed we are in smallness, how godward might we move.

Curating Beauty

I’ve had a few discussions recently about the utility and value of services like Facebook, WordPress, twitter, and Flickr. The reasons people use various social media platforms or begin sharing content online in the first place keep changing, but doesn’t 2011 already feel like the Year of Curation? That word is everywhere. I’ve used it two or three times in recent posts here, and it’s turning up in comments and discussions about whether the presentation offered by The Daily‘s (News Corp’s iPad newspaper) editorial team will be worth 99 cents per digital issue when the web is deep and wide like a Doors song and so much of it is free. If you’re already not paying for most of the content you enjoy, why pay for curation when your friends and colleagues are so eager to share opinion, art, entertainment, and news?

As the social networks have grown, it’s been fashionable to talk about how much information we passively consume through our various feeds. But we’re also busy passing on things that move us, that strike us, that frustrate or empower us. We don’t always do that with tact — we’re still learning. That we can do it at all, but also with power and speed, well, that’s still new to history. While you’re praying for Egypt and everywhere people struggle, think about what you consume and what you curate. Keep sharing those things that give life.

Today, I’m sharing this picture I found on Flickr. It took my breath away…the moment was, dare I say, holy. I hope you experience something like that this week. Happy Monday to all.

(Birds originally uploaded by shutter41)

Random Acts of Eschaton

In a way, Handel’s Messiah is a very big part of what I understand about Christmas.  I’d seen and heard it long before being a person of faith was something I had to think about and wrestle with, long before I was active in college Christian fellowships or went to Divinity School.  It’s one of those things that just sort of centers me in the possibilities of what the season celebrates.  John Milton’s “Nativity Ode” does a similar thing.  But when my friend Joe sent me this link, I assumed the “Hallelujah” in question was going to be Leonard Cohen’s (which, incidentally, is a very big part of how I think about wrestling with belief).

This video is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in  a while.  Thanks, Joe!

From the organizers: — On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s “Random Acts of Culture” at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ – the world’s largest pipe organ – the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers. This event is one of 1,000 “Random Acts of Culture” to be funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. The initiative transports the classical arts out of the concert halls and opera houses and into our communities to enrich our everyday lives. To learn more about this program and view more events, visit The Opera Company thanks Macy’s and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ ( for their partnership, as well as Organ Music Director Peter Conte and Fred Haas, accompanists; OCP Chorus Master Elizabeth Braden, conductor; and Sound Engineer James R. Stemke. For a complete list of participating choirs and more information, visit This event was planned to coincide with the first day of National Opera Week.

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