Finding our divinity
This piece was inspired by the January writing experiment I’ve posted about over the past few editions.
The chapel at my elementary school was my first sacred place.
When I was 9 years old, I would get to school at 6:20am and head straight to morning mass. The chapel was a humble room. More than built, it looked as if it had been dug out of the clay facade. Its lighting was scarce, with lights that shone like mine lamps. The Christ at the back guided our gaze.
Nestled in the third row among older students (my school had students ranging from 5 to 18 years old), I would listen to the sermons of Father Albeyro Vanegas, the school principal.
Father Albeyro was a towering figure despite his average height. His thinning hair and bald spots resembled a tonsure, a perfect caricature of what a priest is supposed to look like. A regal voice emerged from his bearded face while he scanned the room through his big wired glasses. He expressed himself in simple words and clear thoughts. He never used slang as a ploy to connect with his audience, and he avoided the rigidness and solemnity typical of Catholic masses.
Father Albeyro humanized the teachings of Scripture. His approach was to make his sermons practical and effective. To constantly remind us that we are all created "in the image of God," and that based on this principle, being a good Christian is to see God’s divinity in ourselves and our neighbor. Keeping our divinity in mind is what helps us preserve our compassion in a world that actively tries to make us forget our humanity.
With the benefit of hindsight, I realize these daily masses at the chapel are a big reason why compassion is one of my key values. It also taught me the importance of finding a sacred place.
A sacred place is anywhere or anyone that helps me see my own divinity and brings me closer to God, even if only for a few moments.
Since childhood, I have sought sacred places that fill me with the wisdom and peace of those dawn masses at the chapel. Perhaps this place might have the unfair advantage of also being the place where I was baptized. But not even the most imposing cathedrals I’ve visited—the Gothic grandeur of the Duomo in Milan, or the fantasy of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona—have made me feel anything close to how I’ve felt in this chapel.
Instead, the only other place where I have felt something similar is my local yoga studio. Its wooden finishes, dim lights, and peach-colored walls give it a homey touch. It does not have the shine of modern fitness places that are now exercise rooms disguised as discos, but within its walls I ease into prayer and feel closer to God.
My yoga practice doesn’t feel religious. Through the deliberate practice of pushing my body during Warrior II, gaining awareness of all my muscles while extending into Standing Bow pose, and controlling my breath in the hostile heat of the Yoga room, I am left in a meditative state filled with gratitude.
I find it curious that a chapel and a yoga studio have something in common. My curiosity of this odd coupling stems from the popular notion that deep prayer, worship—being closer to God—only happens in places of worship. That’s why Sunday Mass is a time honored ritual for most practicing Catholics and Christians. And it extends beyond Christianity as well; from mosque to synagogue and many types of temples in between. I find this view of sacred places far too limiting.
What I do believe, is that believer or not, it is important to seek our sacred places in the world. Places where the unbearable lightness of being finds refuge, not to escape the world, but to find our soul and face life with greater clarity and intention. And a sacred place can also be made sacred by someone. I’m certain these daily masses wouldn’t have remained a core memory without the spiritual guidance of Father Albeyro.
Father Albeyro Vanegas passed away on January 7 this year. He remained a family friend for years, even when our family moved to the United States. He endured a fair amount of smear campaigns and troubles towards the end of his life. He maintained unshakeable faith, holding steadfast to the wisdom he preached; seeing God’s image in ourselves and our others as the path towards love and harmony in our lives.
Before you go…
I’d like to thank my Mom,and for your help with this week’s piece.
✉️ Share this post with a friend with someone that needs to read this.
🗣️ What’s your sacred place? Let me know in the comments.
🟢 Subscribe if you enjoyed this piece.