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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Intersections of Spirit

On Sunday, The Boy and I made a pilgrimage to Mission Dolores. I should say it was something of a cinematic pilgrimage because, as Hitchcock devotees, it's one of the rare places where Hitch did film on location (he was loathe to film anywhere outside of a soundstage).

Aside from being a scenic star in the film Vertigo, Mission Dolores is the oldest intact building in San Francisco, opening its doors on June 29, 1776. This is the only remaining mission chapel of the twenty-one missions established under the direction of Father Juniperro Serra. The Mission has been present for the entire course of San Francisco's "modern" history, including the California Gold Rush and the 1906 quake.


It was a peaceful day, inside and out. The cemetery was serene.
It's a rare sensation to be in a place that truly spans generations of history. Those places feel more real to me than any others.

Inside the small adobe mission building, the light was quiet and golden. The air was cool and smelled faintly of incense. The mission itself has the air of history more so than of worship. The original altar from the late 1700s is flanked by various priestly figures made of plaster, some in aspects of adoration and others more worldly. The statue I remember most seemed more of a soldier in a monk's robe, holding a cross in one hand and a raised sword in the other.

The basilica next door is much newer than the mission, constructed in 1918. It was deserted and beautiful in its purity of total quiet. The space is full of gentle arches that swell to support the dome, annexes filled with saints and candles that wait for the devoted. Some walls are covered with tiny, glinting mosaics of gilded and colorful tiles that delight the eye.

While we sat inside the basilica, The Boy and I quietly
discussed what it means to have a community of spirit. The Boy feels that a church is a good and valuable place for people to feel uplifted and share a common purpose. I too am all for that, as long as those beliefs do not come at the cost of another human's freedom (and by freedom, I mean of one's own physical person, education and opinions) or their life. As someone who has personally experienced religious intolerance at different times in my life, the flip side of a mission's purpose has more prominence in my sensibilities.

I believe that the certain spiritual feeling that people crave can emanate from other endeavours and other places, too, where people are drawn together, perhaps work together, and feel inspiration from a larger purpose.

The missions especially distinctly embody the intersection of two cultures, European and Native American. But certain cultures are now extinct, consumed: the Ohlone and Miwok Indians. Who speaks for them?


Below is a selection from my bedtime reading lately. More than anything, I think it is that sense of awe we crave above all else.

"By far the best way I know to engage in the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected in the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, 'I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.' So if both Carlyle and Einstein could agree on something, it has a modest possibility of even being right." ~ Excerpted from The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, by Carl Sagan.

Photos all happily taken by me: part of the Mission Dolores Basilica, Fr. Serra in the cemetery, sunlight on science books at Adobe Bookstore on 16th Street. More photos of the day can be found here.

For those of you who want to learn more about the intersections of expansion and the Native Americans, please read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Although it doesn't speak directly to the Miwok and Ohlone experience, it is an important book, hearbreaking and necessary reading for all.


Anonymous June 10, 2008 at 8:40 AM  

Car; Sagan was one of the most spiritually eloquent voices of the 20th Century. I, too, have found inspiration in his words.

When all is said and done, I think you will leave your mark on the world through your own eloquent and memorable essays, tb.

studio wellspring June 10, 2008 at 9:47 AM  

excellent, thought-provoking topics ~ much of this has been on my mind lately too. my sense of wonder at the simultaneous vastness & smallness of the universe has been reinvigorated with being pregnant. it's such an awe-inspiring thing to have your purpose be completely changed into being a carrier of life.
i'm sure it's no surprise to you that carl sagan is one of my favorites.
i cried my way through "bury my heart" and feel a helpless sadness surrounding the entire native american story. it's so devastating and yet what can i do to alleviate any of the sorrow and scars of history? i hope that healing prayers are doing something positive, but it often feels so futile.
perhaps we need to have another dinner together soon & use this post as a catalyst for our conversation? it's brought-up so much in me this morning.....

P June 10, 2008 at 12:52 PM  

Such lovely photographs. I'd like to read that book, though I take it I should bring a box of tissues along with me on the subway...

paris parfait June 10, 2008 at 2:04 PM  

So much food for thought in your lovely post. Do you know during all my time(s) in San Francisco, I never once went to Mission Dolores? Must remedy that soon! I admire the book "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee." When living in Santa Fe, I got to know some stories that are told from tribe to tribe, but not recorded. I'm hoping they're passing them along from one generation to the next. My great-grandmother was part Cherokee and my dad has the high cheekbones (so do I) and darker skin. I wish I'd known her to hear her stories. I could spend months studying the history of the Native Americans - and it would still be just the tip of the iceberg, as each tribe is so different, with its own traditions, etc. Thanks for this today. xoxox

Mary-Laure June 10, 2008 at 2:10 PM  

Bury my heart... has been on my must-read list for a while. I'm eager to read it!

Red Shoes June 10, 2008 at 7:28 PM  

Oh! This is one of my favorite buildings. Thank you, dear, as always, for your lovely pictures and thought-provoking musings...

I'll have to go get that book.

tangobaby June 11, 2008 at 10:18 AM  

Dear upfromthedeep,

From my reading of Sagan's work over the years, in my mind, I don't consider him to be a spiritual writer. However, his incredible optimism for both the honesty of the scientific process and the potential and promise of humanity, tempered with much-needed common sense, intense logic and wit, is extremely uplifting to me.

I don't think I have the mental acuity or talent for critical thinking like Sagan's, but I do appreciate the compliment.

Dear Ms. Wellspring,

Your new path through life and being an elemental part of the human chain and our time on this planet must be filling you with all kinds of wonder and thoughts of connection. Of course I am not surprised at all that Carl Sagan is a favorite of yours.

Like you, I cried my eyes out when I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I cannot think of another single book that affected me so profoundly, and that made me so profoundly sad.

I think we create such a difficult world for ourselves if we spend too much time worrying about the sadness and wrongs that have been committed and continue to be. One of the things I love about reading Carl Sagan's essays is that he clearly gives humans our props, but just as clearly points out how stupid we can be. That balance, seeing the good with the bad, helps me feel better when I am low.

I think we must try to fulfill our own potential as much as we can. And to seek out company in others who feel the same. Let's talk anytime about whatever you want...you are one of my little angels that keeps me afloat in this world.

Dear p,

I think you should read the book too, when you're ready. I would advise against it on a subway, not only because it will make you cry, but because it's a work that deserves a quiet place to be taken in. In the park, near a tree, somewhere in nature might be a good place to read it.

And thank you for the compliment on the photos. ;-)

Dear Paris Parfait,

Mission Dolores is a very different experience than the churches you're surrounded by now. But it's very much a part of the California and San Francisco heritage so I know you will appreciate it for its own beauty and history.

We can go together, you know...

I would love to hear some of your stories, what you remember. Oral histories, even in fragments, are so precious.

Dear Mary-Laure,

I can't say enough about this book. It offers a huge part of American history which is largely unknown to most, including the descendants of those who were its victims.

Dear Red Shoes,

I can see you enjoying this beautiful place very much. There is a photo I took in the cemetery that has "red shoes" written all over it. When I took it, I thought you would like it...I will send it to you.

Christina June 11, 2008 at 3:00 PM  

I felt such a peace come over me, as I read this post. I kept (gently) thinking to myself exactly, exactly. Respect, respect, one love, patience, open mindedness..



tangobaby June 12, 2008 at 6:57 AM  

Hi Christina,

Thank you for saying that. I am going to come back here and read your comment again when I need to pause and think.

You've said it perfectly.