Axis mundi, the center of the world, was the topic of discussion at C3 West Michigan’s Spiritual connection this past Sunday.
Kent Dobson touched on many notions, but one to which my thoughts returned several times over the day was the sacred|particular tension. I liked that Dobson used the word ‘particular’ when talking about sacred spaces, and objects which denote an axis mundi for a space or as a marker of significance for a people
It can be easy in our day-by-day lives to simply say everyone is special, or the whole world is sacred, and to feel like we mean it. I feel like I mean it when I say it, but when I live my life, there are certainly things which are much more likely than others to get treated, or regarded, as sacred.
When a special thing happens, a marker gets set, and a space where that thing happened takes on a sacred aspect. A birth, a wedding, a fatal car crash, a dire diagnosis. My wife and I almost always point to the hotel we were married in when we drive past it with our children; this is a sacred space for us, and an axis mundi.
Because the world is not a circular two-dimensional plane, but rather multi-dimensional, and constantly unfolding experiences great, small, describable, and ineffable, there is no one, true, center. The world turns, constantly changing, growing in some directions, contracting from others, and we return–as individuals and groups–to places where the world once opened to us. We return in fact, or we return in mind, but the world turns around that event in that particular place, to that axis mundi. We each, emplaced by our stories, experiences, and groups, have many centers of the world. No one of us is only one thing, but each of us is our own particular, incarnated thing distinguishable from, but inseparable from, all the rest.
For many years I worked in local government, and there is often an effort to brand a community as unique, but I often felt that was the less helpful word. So many communities have similar features–a quaint downtown, vibrant schools, neighbors helping neighbors–that it can seem they are all the same. If every town is unique, no town is unique; if every tree is sacred, no tree is sacred.
The particularity, of a town, of a place of sacred meaning, or a human being is what marks the value. Being unique does not stand out. Being particular does, the world goes round and round around a particular place, but it does not go around that place uniquely. Learning to see what is particular is how we learn to love, and how we expand what we see as sacred.
Axis mundi is part of The C3 year-long Terra teaching focus.