Work sent me to Salt Lake City so that I could present at a conference. My hotel turned out to be four blocks from the Latter Day Saints Temple Square, so of course I walked there. After laying my eyes on the enormous, very American temple, curiosity shuffled me over to the visitor center. Wearing black and Dr. Martens, I felt like all eyes that laid back on me read “trespasser”, despite that I was a visitor, and it was a center for that sort of thing. I passed through almost invisible. I felt more out of place than anyone made me to feel; seemed like hardly anyone took notice though I felt very visibly out of place. The sister missionaries were remarkably beautiful young women, so beautiful that I googled “Are missionaries at Temple Square selected for their looks?” when I got back to the hotel room.
It’s not my first foray into someone else’s sacred space. From the outside, it probably looks like it’s a hobby of mine, going to churches that I don’t belong to. I’ve lost track of how many Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, Buddhist or Unitarian houses of worships I’ve been to. I am not gawking but looking for something, in a way my gut gets more so than one I can articulate. I stand in the back or outside of a church, empathizing with how it must feel to see the gorgeous murals and frescoes and statues of graphic scenes, having these be renditions of your beliefs. I’m a person of faith myself, but my faith is not so specific with one creation story, and it doesn’t privilege one message from God over others (or even if there is God to be doing the messaging) These are parts of the story of humanity, making them mine as well. But groups have boundaries and criteria for belonging. I am usually on the other side, even within my own religion.
Salt Lake City is a gorgeous city. The hills and mountains surrounding it give that sense of being hugged by heaven because the sky always seems closer when there are mountains around. With the thin, cool mountain air, the mountains in the background, I often walked by myself but I did not feel existentially alone. That sounds crazy. Maybe it is. Every placard I bumped into had some piece of history about Mormon settlers – they settled there seeking God. They built it to be sacred to their selves and to God. That was when a thing I knew became a thing my heart figured out too – sacredness is a decision that someone, somewhere made. I realized that, on some levels, I had been going through life looking for the things that felt authentically sacred to me in a way concordant to in my non-specific faith. Sacredness is like love: make a decision and commit.