Heather Conn Blogs

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Find faith in liminal space

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The rosette stained-glass window
on the front of Chartres Cathedral



Not surprisingly, on a pilgrimage route dedicated to a Catholic saint, I met quite a few practicing Catholics and Christians. In some ways, I envied the Catholics’ sense of faith; they seemed to have such a vast well to draw from, whether it was Latin liturgy, knowledge of saints, familiar rituals like genuflecting and crossing themselves, or reciting Biblical scripture. The outward signs of their religion seemed so accessible, like membership in a global fan club, yet I had not joined. Although I shared the same physical sacred space when entering a church, I could, and did not, relate to the inner sanctum in the same way at all.

In each church and cathedral, I gazed with historical respect at the array of crosses, some simple, some in ornate gold. I admired stained-glass windows, looked at tombs and statuary, and admired medieval stone work and paintings. I stood before a multitude of representations of Jesus alone, and with Mary, hoping that perhaps these images would reach me with some profound sense of otherworldly presence. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. Nothing seemed to reach me.

I watched one forty-something Catholic priest, a lively fellow whom I had known for a few days, stand before one towering array of baroque gold over a cathedral altar. His eyes were closed, his hands clasped in prayer. He bore a serene smile. His body seemed to speak a quiet sense of supplication. I felt as if I was bearing witness to his heartfelt devotion. I knew how much his faith fuelled his life.

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The interior of Chartres Cathedral’s rosette window

Again, I recognized my envy. This array of overt symbols had reached him, touched him, held significant meaning for him; to me, they were little more than furniture. What was I missing?


I thought of the spiritual symbols and imagery that spoke to me in India and Nepal, and still do today: paintings and statues of Tara; the Om symbol; Buddha; various Hindu gods and goddesses. How are these any different than Christian iconography?


Where does my faith lie? I have faith in the gift of my husband’s unconditional love. I believe that a divine force or Source unites us all, an energy that defies codification and easy representation. However, this seems so vague and abstract compared to the solid, visual emblems of Christianity and Catholicism. Perhaps that’s why I start to doubt this Presence when life events are not unfolding as my ego believes they should. There is no formation of pews that I can join; I simply sit, close my eyes, and meditate.

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The ceiling rosette pattern that I admired so much


In one simple stone church, now empty and abandoned, Camino pilgrims had left dozens of handwritten notes folded on the remains of the altar. Part of me wanted to open a few and read them, yet I didn’t, feeling drawn to respect the privacy of their words. In this peaceful space, stripped of religious décor, I found this human act of leaving something highly personal behind—a prayer, a blessing, a plea?—more heart-tugging and enduring than the officially sanctioned art work of the cathedrals.


Inside the large cathedrals on the Camino, in cities like Leon, Burgos, and Santiago, I found myself most absorbed by the ceiling patterns, the rosette-styled designs with architectural arches that evoked the sense of a mandala. These curved circular forms felt like giant blossoms poised high above me, visual motifs that imitated star flowers or the centre of a rose. To me, in utter simplicity, these formations surpassed religion, serving as a silent yet universal reminder that all life is interconnected. They evoked awe and connection unlike anything I found in the traditional relics and figures.

Overall, the myriad forms of religious representations on the Camino left me thinking about the concept of faith. How, and why, do designated buildings, with their crosses, tombs, stained-glass windows, and statuary, symbolize religion and faith? Is it the gathering of people within the space that reinforces this notion, or the shared rituals that have occurred inside them for centuries?

And why do humans have to complicate and name everything, when Mother Nature, in her blousy sky and forested skirts, can evoke more than enough wonder on her own?

Walking the landscapes of The Way forms an all-embracing cathedral in itself. Rather than tucking inside cloisters, removed from the elements, a pilgrim enters blessed space amidst muck, rain, wind, thirst, fields, forests, rivers, and creeks.

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The abandoned church that bore the altar full of pilgrims’ notes

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The altar full of notes

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A close-up of the messages

I like the notion of liminal space, which comes from the Latin word limens, meaning “threshold.” Religion can create faith as a fixed entity, something concrete and named, one supreme answer, usually under the word “God.” I prefer the term “spirituality,” which is more unformed, an eclectic grab-bag of beliefs and interpretations. I mix a large portion of Taoism with some Tibetan Buddhism, pantheism, and the Divine Feminine.

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Ultimately, these terms all point to the same    thing: divine love and compassion, held within liminal space. This refers to those in-between places of transition, when we wait for the new to appear after we have let go of the old and familiar. Such ambiguous times, rife with the Unknown, can hold the greatest anxiety and produce tremendous doubt. Yet, we continue walking forward, resting in the moment, often amazed at what unfolds before us, guided by faith in whatever form it appears to us.

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December 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm Comments (2)