photo of the author by Jeffrey Peck
I had told my mother that while she was in surgery I was going to perform a full-on Lifetime movie moment -- visiting the hospital chapel, crossing myself with holy water, lighting a candle... really pack in all the the cinematic cliches.
Or attempt to. These real life scenes are astonishing in both the ways that they can't help but resemble a dramatization and the ways that they are surprisingly -- anticlimactically -- different. For me these moments tend to be shocking versions of the magic in the mundane.
In the rare event that I visit a place with any religious or spiritual significance, I am nearly always a tourist. I am most likely to set foot in a church precisely because I am traveling. To me, must-see holy places are usually more haunted by their histories of voyeuristic foot traffic than anything. I think we always go to feel that original power -- to immerse ourselves in the distant past moment that justifies the significance -- and often it's the accumulation of pilgrims' expectations that defines the energy.
Actually, I sense this energy field as much in hotel rooms as just about anywhere. There seems to be a disconnect sometimes between history and spiritual significance. A new construction can be more actively charged than an ancient one. We want the old architecture to deliver -- to be the kind of place the Travel Channel would feature in a paranormal investigation.
The last time I was in a church was when I visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. That day was filled with hiking through the famous vortices, the cliff village at Montezuma's Castle, the haunted mining town of Jerome.
Although those places were magical and mystical and all that goodness -- I was blown away by the power in the plain little chapel in the middle of our local Catholic hospital. It was smaller than a hotel conference room, decorated with the same vanilla construction materials you might find in an office building -- hushed by popcorn acoustic tiles in a low aluminum drop-ceiling grid; sheetrock walls and dim can lights; sequestered by vertical blinds in an interior window wall; some carpeting so forgettable I literally can't describe what it looked like, just that it had the ability to mute any foot step made by any kind of shoe.
Not so much as a panel of plastic stained "glass." The holy water fount was a tiny glass candy dish on a shelf near the door that looked like it had held chalky after-dinner mints on a hostess station at an Outback Steakhouse in a recent former life.
No old-school soap opera organs piped in via musak tape. Compared to the public spaces where the families wait on their loved ones in surgery -- rooms where you feel the announcement that your flight is boarding is imminent -- the oatmeal- and cream-colored chapel was so devoid of physical sound it was like a sensory deprivation chamber. Your clairaudient sense combines with the near dog-whistle-level vibration of the florescent tubes... My ears haven't rang like that in years. It's the sound of so many residual thoughts and prayers layered on top of one another that it becomes one clouded hum.
And these sounds did not originate from a variety of intentions or prayerful content -- they were the cumulative sound of everyone projecting the exact same note -- person after person after person praying for the healing of someone they love. The sheer quantity of the similar collected in the densest spiritual energy I've ever walked into.
I was a little disappointed by the lowest common denominator of spiritual iconography -- respectfully and tastefully non-denominational, I understand -- just a wooden cruciform in heavy lacquer on the wall with a big brown bible on a lectern beneath it... You know, I was hoping for another set of life-size Jesus and Mary statues like the ones in the lobby, where I felt self-conscious about stopping to contemplate them as people rushed by to the cafeteria and the elevator banks.
I must admit, I was dying to whip out my iPhone and take pictures of this blast from the pastel mid-twentieth century past. The aesthetic reminded me of 1980's television sets -- if Memorial Hospital was a space ship, then this chapel hummed in its belly like the main engineering room next door to the fusion reactor chamber.
The density of the spiritual energy there was a womb -- thick more than heavy; simply infinitely multiplied more than high.
I experienced there an intense lesson -- a perspective -- in how any space can be infused with power. My assumptions about holy, reverent, and history are forever changed -- pinned that much more solidly down to earth. Accessible.
After four days in the hospital, my mother is home and healing, as well as -- really much better than -- anyone could have hoped. Thank you for all the prayers you sent our way. I literally felt them all.