Sharing Holy Spaces

When my niece was 12 years old, I told her that if she picked a foreign language and stuck with it until she graduated from high school, I would take her to the country of her choice that spoke that language.  This smart, hard-working girl just graduated from high school, having completed AP Spanish.  On Tuesday we leave for Spain, with a brief stopover in Rome.  I’m beyond excited.

I was about her age the first time I traveled abroad–to Russia (actually the Soviet Union if you want to carbon date my wrinkles).  I returned a few years later as a missionary, then started a career/hobby lifestyle of frequent travel, including living and traveling extensively in Europe.  Just writing that sentence makes me realize how lucky I’ve been.  But it also makes me realize how changed I’ve been by this frequent travel–including in the developing world and war zones.  My mind and my heart have been ripped open over and over again as I’ve confronted the beautiful, the horrible, the sublime, and the tragic.  I’m not the same person I would have been without this exposure to others.  I’m so excited for her to have this experience as she transitions into adulthood.

In our preparatory conversations about art, architecture, music, and culture, I’m also realizing how much my idea of the spiritual has been influenced by visiting the holy spaces of other religions.  I can’t wait to sit in a cathedral and talk about the symbolism of the cross architecture, or to explore classic art influenced by Biblical stories and themes.  I want to re-experience shrines, altars, mosaics, and delicate Renaissance halos with her.  Our first day in Europe we will be staying just outside the walls of the Vatican, and I cannot wait to share that holy place with this girl I love.  I feel like my basic respect and deference to the spiritual lives and fundamental humanity of others has been shored up by sharing space with them.  I want to see her drown in foreign voices and music and food and smells so she can understand and respect the vibrancy and validity of life outside of America.  When we talk about all people being our brothers and sisters and children of God, then see up close the differences we have, our conception of God expands.



  1. So….. let me say that your post captured one of the things I did/do enjoy about the LDS faith- it’s a universal church. Hopefully that will never go asunder.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I’m writing from Portugal, and I just want to second this post. I’m grateful for my own faith, but visiting churches is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I can spend an entire day reading the story of a church and a history of its believers through its art and architecture. Your niece is a lucky girl to be going with you!

  3. Terry H. says:

    A few years ago we were on the Cinque Terra in Italy and missed a boat from one of the islands. During the two hour wait, we hiked the small island with the narrow streets. My favorite building there was a quite, kind of run-down chapel, but as I pictured the worship from that church, I felt the peace of the Spirit. Sure, it was different than your traditional “testimony”, but it didn’t matter to me at the time and still doesn’t. I was on holy ground.

  4. You’re sharing such a great gift with your niece. May the trip be all you hope for, and more!

  5. As a Mormon woman, I lost my sh*t in European Cathedrals. I saw portrayed in every cathedral I stepped in images of the female devine. Most memorably embodied by Mary in Notre Dame. And I was invited by audio hedsets, doscents in tailored jackets, and helpful plaques on the wall to contemplate devinity through the lends of a mother’s love. It’s not just about finding common ground, it’s about recovering a piece of something that was lost.

  6. Count me in. Whenever I travel, even in the US, I visit and/or attend church in some other holy edifice. From the Old North Church in Boston and the Trinity Church in Philadelphia to the small and ancient chapel in Bayeux, France. I can’t drink enough from them, but I sure try. Have a blast.

  7. Geoff - Aus says:

    I assume you will fit in a visit to the vatican, and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Both amazing in their own ways, and remind us how little history we have behind us.
    Have fun together.

  8. For me, the post has two parts: traveling to sacred locations and (2) traveling with relatives. On the first, there are two Christian locations that have been important to me. Ani is the ancient capital of Armenia. Today it lies in ruins in eastern Turkey, near the Armenian border. Scattered on a grassy plain are the impressive remains of several 1,000 year-old churches.

    Another interesting sacred site is in northern Ethiopia, the rock churches of Lalibela. These churches were carved out of a large rock outcrop, the most famous is Church of St. George which is chiseled out in the shape of a cross. These churches are also almost a 1,000 years old. The rock churches are still being used for worship and are an important pilgrimage goal of Ethiopian Christians.

    Traveling with younger relatives is vitally important. Too many young children grow up thinking their local environment is reality. It is important for them to understand that there is great diversity. Traveling in developing countries and interacting with local residents is important component of any education. Hopefully, it gives them some feel about the plight of others. And on trips to developing countries, humanitarian opportunities abound.

    Combining sacred visits with traveling with young relatives, can be particularly educational. Ethiopia, when it is safe, certainly provides the opportunity to do both.

  9. EnglishTeacher says:

    Same here, same here, same here! 🙌🏻 Happiest of travels to you both.

  10. David Elliott says:

    Second on the Sagrada Familia. Studying it in history of architecture classes did little to prepare me for the emotions I felt when I walked in and experienced the play of light and form. Seriously, I just stood and wept for several minutes.

  11. Karen H. says:

    Very excited for the Sagrada Familia. So many people have made similar comments to yours.

    I’m also really excited for what rogerdhansen described as traveling with young relatives. Should be a great adventure for both of us.

  12. I visited the Prado museum in Madrid a few months ago. It had been almost 20 years since I was last in a museum like that. I am a fan of art, but not nearly as knowledgeable on the topic as I should be. Nevertheless, I very unexpectedly wept as I stood before masterpiece after masterpiece. I’m not very spiritual, but that was a powerful experience for me. I felt a connection with both the artist, and all the other viewers of the piece. You are a wonderful auntie. I hope you have a fantastic time in Spain.

  13. Kori, the Prado is a great museum. Even though I’m basically an optimist, I loved the “Dark Paintings” of Goya. There is something deeply spiritual about them.

  14. Peregrino says:

    First, when I hear about these kinds of future promises I’m reminded of the hysterical episode of “The Office” when Michael Scott promised to pay for college for a group of kids he never expected to go to college. I am not for a moment suggesting your promise to your niece was anything like Michael Scott AND you’re delivering. That is one funny episode.

    Second, our family finished the Camino de Santiago yesterday, at least enough to qualify as Peregrino a. We started with a spiritual purpose but that quickly gave way to simple survival. A couple of consecutive days when we thought our hotel was at mile 15 only to it was at mile 17 with no Uber crushed the collective souls of my family and converted the hike into a grim determination to just finish the damn thing. (I am quite confident after the Camino that if any of my kids leave the Church they will not join the Catholic Church.) BUT, the Cathedral and area around it is spectacular. I spent yesterday afternoon wandering around, thinking, praying, meditating and in a state of serious Holy Envy. If you two end up in Santiago, budget enough time to enjoy the Cathedral and surroundings.

  15. charlene says:

    Karen. I had the wonderful opportunity to do a similar Iberian adventure with my granddaughter last summer. I loved the wealth of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sites. May I suggest two of my favorite sacred spaces: the Convent of las Descalzas Reales in Madrid (& a fabulous chocolate shop a block down the street), and the Mezquita in Cordoba. I was distressed to experience the repeated honoring of 1492 as the year they drove all the Moslems from Spain.

  16. charlene says:

    Oh, one more wonderful church: the Sagrat Cor on Tibidabo mountain overlooking Barcelona. The church is wonderful though oddly adjacent to an amusement park.

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