Why it’s so important to listen when you pray
by Rick Hamlin
Posted in Power of Prayer, May 18, 2016
I hear it a lot: “Be sure to listen to God when you pray.” It sounds good. It makes sense–don’t sit there and talk all the time. Make yourself open to hear what God is saying. But then I wonder, “How exactly do I listen?” I mean, short of God speaking through a burning bush or a bolt of lightning, how do I know what God is saying?
I gave myself a couple of weeks of testing just to figure this one out. Here’s what I came up with:
I read a lot, books, Scripture, books about faith, magazines, newspaper articles, stories online, blogs, Tweets, links on Facebook. Lots of it is valuable; some of it, frankly, is a waste of time. What I see, though, is if there’s some issue I’m struggling with, some answer I’m looking for from God, it’ll often appear in print or online.
No, I don’t close my eyes and thumb through pages of the Bible waiting to see where my finger lands. It’s subtler than that. I’ll be reading through the gospels and a verse will speak to me. Or I’ll be grappling with a quandary and just the right book will land on my desk. Or I’ll be searching for something online and land on just the right story.
“What you hold in your mind, you’ll meet in the marketplace,” the mother of an old friend used to say. Same is true spiritually. Hold a question in your heart and let God speak to it with the written word.
2) Look to Others
When Jesus said, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I’m there with them,” I don’t think he was referring just to prayer requests. He knew we could give each other encouragement, that we could find models of faith in each other.
Look at how the Holy Spirit came on the first Pentecost. Jesus had urged the disciples to stay together after He left and sure enough, the Spirit came to His followers when they were gathered en masse. If they’d split up, they might have been lost. Together, they were a powerhouse.
We don’t walk this road of faith alone. Others have walked before us. Others are walking beside us and behind us and in front of us. Listen to them. Watch them. Listening to God is listening to them.
3) Listen to Yourself
I look for stillness in prayer. That’s a lot of work because my head is usually steaming with noise. I close my eyes, and I start thinking about our budget and a bill I need to pay–is there enough money in the bank? I think of some airline reservations I should make. I remember that I forgot someone’s birthday. I wonder if it’ll rain later in the day and should I take an umbrella with me or not.
Part of the prayer process is to take those thoughts–mundane or profound–and give them up to God. I get myself quiet and then let go.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said. “My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) I ask God for peace of mind. It can come in a matter of minutes or it can take days, sometime even longer. But I trust it will come. That’s what comes of listening to God. Peace.
In Short Hills, New Jersey, on a ridge in the middle of the forest, sits a handmade wooden bench. The outlook, known as Mabel’s Bluff, offers stunning views—and something else. A box containing a notebook, where visitors can share their thoughts and offer words of support to one another. The meditative project is the work of one man: Mark Speckhart. While recovering from esophageal cancer, Mark sought peace by walking through the woods with his Weimaraners. One day, he discovered the ridge. Overcome by the sense of calm it brought him, Mark was inspired to create a refuge for all who visited. He built the bench and birdhouses and installed the box with the notebook. The bluff, named after one of Mark’s dogs, remains a site of spiritual healing for many people—Mark included. “I make time every week to go to Mabel’s Bluff,” he said. “A place where, even if I’m by myself, I am never truly alone.” –Kaylin Kaupish, Assistant Editor
A floating church? Not quite. Our Lady of the Rocks sits atop a man-made islet in Boka Kotorksa bay, off Montenegro’s coast. Legend has it that, in 1452, two fishermen were returning safely to port when they saw the image of Mother Mary. They vowed to erect a church on that very spot. But what to build it on? The fishermen began dropping a stone in the water at the spot every time they were homeward bound. Over the centuries, the practice became a popular tradition. By 1630, the rocks had created a small island, finally substantial enough to erect the promised church. With its blue domed roof, skillfully painted ceilings and intricate marble altar, the little church that seemingly floats above the waves serves as a place of peaceful contemplation for all who visit. — Elena Tafone, Associate Editor
Have you ever held a shell up to your ear to “hear” the ocean? Artist Peter Richards and stonemason George Gonzalez wanted to duplicate the sound in their Wave Organ. This 1986 acoustical marvel on California’s San Francisco Bay is made of granite, concrete and plastic pipes. Waves ebb and flow into the tubing at high tide, making an echoing, swooshing, gurgling sound. Stones from a cemetery give the organ the look of an ancient ruin. Built-in seats allow visitors to sit and listen. The sculpture gracefully marks the passage of time; its melodies change with the tides, seasons and phases of the moon. The secluded location makes the Wave Organ the perfect place for contemplation. Take a listen for yourself! —Kaylin Kaupish, Assistant Editor
In La Haye-de-Routot, France, stands an unusual place of worship. The Chapel of Saint Anne is a church inside a hollowedout, live yew tree. Yew trees are considered sacred by many religions and can be found in cemeteries across Europe. It is thought that the yew housing the Chapel of Saint Anne was planted by Welsh monks as they spread Christianity some 1,500 years ago. These yews were intended to represent resurrection, because of their incredible ability to regrow after being damaged. The yew containing the Chapel of Saint Anne is fitted with a glass-paneled door on its trunk, providing privacy for worshippers. It serves as a place of quiet contemplation and prayer for visitors from around the world. —Elena Tafone, Associate Editor
In the sixth century, the Italian town of Siponto was hit by earthquakes. The basilica Santa Maria Maggiore di Siponto, dating back to Early Christian times, was destroyed. Until 2016. That’s when Milanese artist and sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi returned the church to its former glory. He recreated the structure as it would’ve looked using some 15,000 feet of wire mesh. Today the transparent, steel “ghost church” is a testament to the past and present, and the beauty that can rise from the ruins. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
On a remote island off British Columbia stand 26 totem poles. The village of SGang Gwaay was once inhabited by the Haida, whose population was decimated by smallpox in the 1880s. Aside from special Haida watchmen, the hand-carved cedar totem poles are the village's only residents. Some of the totems, up to 70 feet tall and carved with family emblems, contain ashes of Haida leaders. Just 12 visitors are allowed at a time. In keep with the Haida belief that spirit and land are connected, the totems have been allowed to disintegrate. Only decades remain before they return to nature. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
On a road trip across the Midwest, my mom and I stumbled upon a sight to behold in West Bend, Iowa. A topaz, quartz and azurite marvel called the Shrine of the Grotto of Redemption. It’s the dazzling creation of Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein, who emigrated from Germany in the 1890s to attend seminary. Stricken with pneumonia, he vowed to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary if he recovered. Later sent to West Bend, he kept that promise. From 1912 to 1954, he worked nonstop, transporting precious stones across the country by the truckload. The shrine’s nine grottos stretch an entire city block. A sparkling testament of one man’s gratitude. —Christina Janansky, Ewing, New Jersey
In the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, stands a phone booth powered by prayer. It’s called the Phone of the Spirit, the inspiration of designer Emily Harvey. In 2015, Emily lost her ex-boyfriend to a heroin overdose. Much had been left unsaid. Then Emily heard about a phone booth in Japan that allows the grieving to “call” deceased loved ones. Moved, Emily searched Craigslist and found an old booth with a baby pink telephone. Her church, St. John’s United Methodist, let her install the booth in its garden. The Phone of the Spirit doesn’t take money. There’s no dial tone. Instead, Emily says, “it’s a place for people to come and grieve or pray or meditate and just feel connected to loved ones again.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Private Lance Hardy left his family farm in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, to fight in World War I. He died on July 26, 1917, in Belgium, along with three other men from his hometown. Decades later, Lance’s second cousin Michael approached artist Helen Pollock to commission a sculpture for his farm in Hawke’s Bay. The two discovered a shared interest in the Great War, and Michael told Helen about his cousin. She had an idea—a 13-foot steel ladder with four pairs of terra-cotta feet to symbolize the lost soldiers. Jacob’s Ladder was installed in 2017, 100 years after Lance’s death. A homecoming that represents, Helen said, the “heroic journey of ascent and descent.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
In Australia’s bush country, you’ll find the stuff dreams are made of: Dreamer’s Gate, the work of artist Tony Phantastes. In 1992, Tony bought six acres in the small town of Collector for a weekend getaway. But after his father died of cancer, it became the site of a fantastical Gothic gate, 23 feet high by 85 feet long, made of concrete, chicken wire, plaster and piping. The sleeping giant at its base—aka the Dreamer—represents “the dreaming component of our lives and memories,” according to Tony. He modeled the giant’s face after his son’s. Years later, his son also died of cancer. Now the gate is a memorial to both. Still, few know what to make of the unfinished, Tim Burton–esque structure. Some locals want to tear it down. A creation that, like dreams, both puzzles and delights. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Hidden in Skagen, Denmark, you’ll find a church almost completely buried in sand. Called the Sand-Covered Church, it was built in 1387 to honor Saint Lawrence of Rome, the patron saint of seafarers. It stood tall at 72 feet. Until a phenomenon known as desertification swallowed Skagen. For some time, parishioners would dig out the church’s entrance. But by 1795, all that remained of the church was its 59-foot bell tower. Skagen soon found another purpose for it, though. The whitewashed tower became a navigational landmark for sailors. A reminder to all that faith, even when hidden, runs deep. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Italy takes its nativity scenes as seriously as its pizza. I discovered that last year when I traveled there on vacation. A last-minute detour led me to the town of Amalfi on the western coast. I stumbled upon an eighteenth-century fountain, La Fontana De Cape ‘E Ciucci. Named after the produce-bearing donkeys—or ciucci—that once stopped there to drink after their journeys from the mountains. In 1974, the fountain became something else. A nativity scene, complete with miniature town, underwater manger and, of course, donkeys. Nowadays, tourists and locals stop by the fountain to toss a coin, make a wish and celebrate Christmas. —Diana Aydin, Managing Editor
On the easternmost tip of South Korea, near Homigot, a hand rises out of the ocean. To celebrate the Korean Peninsula’s first sunrise of the year 2000, the town commissioned a pair of hands—aka the Hands of Harmony—to be sculpted out of bronze. The right hand, which is 28 feet tall and 18 tons, is located in the East Sea. The left hand sits on land, more than 100 yards away. The palms face each other, symbolizing the concept of Sangsaeng, or “coexistence,” in the new millennium. People come from all over the world to admire and photograph the outstretched fingers, reaching for peace. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Want to experience the Garden of Eden—minus the serpent? Travel no further than Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden. Behind western Pennsylvania’s oldest synagogue, you’ll find a paradise blooming with more than a hundred plant species, many referenced in Scripture—from fig trees, cedars, and papyrus reeds to pomegranates, dates, and olives. A miniature Jordan River links ponds representing the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea. Rabbi Walter Jacob, who with his botanist wife, Irene, created the garden more than 30 years ago, calls it a place of meditation for all faiths, where people can “spend quiet time with themselves and God.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Amid the grassy slopes, eucalyptus and tree frogs at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in Oakland, California, lie five labyrinths—circular mazes up to 100 feet wide—carved into the park’s canyons. “It was a beautiful spot that had an energy of goodness and peace,” says sculptor Helena Mazzariello, who built the first in a former quarry “as a gift to the world.” Persons unknown then extended Helena’s labyrinth and formed the others. After the structures were in danger of being removed, hikers and others convinced authorities to declare the labyrinths an official historic and cultural site. Visitors find healing at the labyrinths, leaving behind messages, trinkets and prayers. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
You won’t find it on a pirate’s map. But 25 feet below the crystal-blue waters off Key Largo, five miles from shore, lies one of Florida’s greatest hidden treasures: “Christ of the Abyss.” The nine-foot bronze statue is one of three cast from a mold made by the sculptor Guido Galletti in 1954. Florida’s version was a gift from an Italian scuba entrepreneur to the Underwater Society of America in 1962. Days after it was submerged, the statue withstood a Category 3 hurricane. It’s now one of Florida’s most inspiring snorkel destinations—a sight worth more than a chest of doubloons. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Last summer, I volunteered at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and heard the sad and beautiful tale behind one of the city’s most beloved landmarks, the Escadaria Selarón. In 1983, a Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón, moved into a house next to the decaying stone staircase that led to the convent of Santa Teresa. He was inspired to transform the steps into a kind of ode to Brazil. Predicting that the work would only end with his death, Jorge spent the next 30 years adorning the 215 steps with colorful mosaics, using tiles salvaged from construction sites and—as the staircase’s fame grew—brought by visitors from around the globe. The stories behind those tiles gave the staircase a soul, he said. The nation mourned when Jorge was found dead in unexplained circumstances in 2013, on the stairs that now bear his name. But as I experienced myself on my last night in Rio, his spirit lives on in his loving creation. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
A tower of hubcaps, a sermon-covered Cadillac, a five-story wedding chapel shaped like a cake. Just a taste of what you’ll find at Paradise Garden off Highway 27 in Summerville, Georgia. It was the inspired creation of preacher Howard Finster, who built the oasis of junk-turned-to-art over two and a half acres of swampland starting in 1970. His purpose was, he said, “to show off all the wonderful things o’ God’s creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden.” The garden was originally called the Plant Farm Museum, but one day while repairing a bike, Howard had a vision of a face in a drop of paint that instructed him to “paint sacred art.” He did just that, incorporating biblical figures and Bible commentary in everything from murals to, eventually, album covers for R.E.M. and Talking Heads. When he died, in 2001, at 84, he’d created nearly 50,000 eclectic works of inspiring art. “The world began as a beautiful garden,” he once said, “and I thought it should end with one.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
These caverns in northern New Mexico weren’t formed by nature—it was carved into the sandstone hills with only a pickax and a shovel by Ra Paulette. The 69-year-old artist has no formal training and works without blueprints. He carved his first cave in 1985 as a hideout to help him overcome a heart-break. But when visitors left religious mementos behind, Ra realized his life’s purpose—to create light-filled “wilderness shrines” for spiritual renewal. He’s carved more than a dozen. His most impressive, outside Santa Fe, took nearly 900 hours to complete. Some have running water and electricity. All offer a place to pray and, as Ra puts it, be transformed. —Allison Churchill, contributing editor
This isn’t Stonehenge—it’s Iowa. The ancient stones of Iowa City’s Sacred Stone Circle came from a mysterious 4,000-year-old worship site on the Indonesian island of Flores. How did they end up in America’s heartland? In 2001, Doug Paul, a retired textbook publisher, met an art dealer who told him that the Catholic parish in charge of the Flores site couldn’t afford to maintain it and was seeking to sell the stones. Doug “felt the stones calling to him.” He acquired 400 acres in his hometown that he named the Harvest Preserve, to serve as the artifacts’ sanctuary. It took a ship, a train and several flatbed trucks to transport all 20 stones, weighing 90 tons combined, more than 9,400 miles to their new home, a spiritual haven where, according to Doug, “one feels natural communication with the divine.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
The Initiation Well in Sintra, Portugal, wasn’t designed to draw water from or make wishes on. It was meant to take visitors out of this world—to purgatory and back. It sits on Quinta da Regaleira, the fantastical property of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, a Brazilian-born billionaire and entomologist who in 1910 built a home as eccentric as he was, a Gothic palace with grottoes, secret gardens and hidden tunnels. The well’s staircase winds nearly 90 feet into the ground. The number of landings—nine—may have been inspired by Dante’s Inferno. At the bottom lies the cross of the Knights Templar. It’s said that whoever enters and exits the well will be reborn—a journey from darkness to light. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Visitors to an unusual art museum at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, Ukraine, won’t see any masterpieces—unless they use a microscope. The teeny-tiny creations of Ukrainian artist Mykola Syadristy—most smaller than a grain of salt—include an electric motor one-twentieth the size of a poppy seed, a chess set on the head of a pin, a rose inside a strand of hair and a camel caravan of gold in the eye of a needle. A former engineer, Mykola works on his art between breaths, between heartbeats, to ensure a steady hand. Each wonder takes about a month to create—and makes a lasting impression. –Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
The late Italian artist Giuliano Mauri said, “Nature is my liturgy.” One of his final masterpieces was the Cattedrale Vegetale, a cathedral made entirely of trees outside Bergamo, Italy, in a spectacular setting at the foot of Mount Arera. Mauri designed the 12,900-square-foot, five-aisle house of worship in 2001. Forty-two beech-tree saplings would grow within the confines of skeletal columns built from 1,800 fir poles woven with chestnut and hazel branches. The construction was carried out in 2010, a year after the artist's death. While the supporting structures will eventually fall apart and return to nature, the beech trees will continue to rise toward the heavens, eventually forming thick, leafy walls and a vaulted ceiling 30 feet high. Even in its developing state, the “Tree Cathedral” has rooted itself in the hearts of visitors, like one who called it “a perfect place to reflect and admire the majesty of nature.” –Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Where do heaven and earth meet? According to Chinese lore, just miles from Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province. In A.D. 263, part of Songliang Mountain collapsed, opening a portal that locals believed to be a link between God and the everyday world. The natural arch became known as Tianmen, or Heaven’s Gate. A temple was later built on the summit. Worshippers had an arduous climb, but modern visitors need only ascend several thousand feet in a cable car, take a bus up a steep road with 99 bends, and then climb 999 stairs—nine is a symbol of eternal life in Chinese culture—to see the ethereal view. As one sightseer said, “You feel like you are walking in the clouds.” –Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Deep in the woods near Blackville, South Carolina, there is a natural spring from which miracles flow. Native Americans believed the Great Spirit gave the waters healing properties—a legend enhanced by the experience of six soldiers gravely wounded in the Revolutionary War. After drinking and bathing in the spring, all six recovered. Lute “L.P.” Boylston, who inherited the land, felt the water should be free for all. He deeded the spring and the surrounding acre to “Almighty God, for the use of the sick and afflicted.” Public officials maintain the spring today, the only land legally owned by God in the United States. Believers say water from God’s Acre Healing Springs can cure stiff limbs, ulcers and cataracts. Others say vegetables washed in it stay fresh longer. Everyone agrees it’s cold, clean and wonderfully refreshing...for body and soul. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
A bedridden German nun, a curious French priest, a remote Turkish hillside. Were these the pieces to the puzzle of where the mother of Jesus lived out her days? It was long believed she been assumed into heaven in Jerusalem, despite a lack of historical evidence. But in the early nineteenth century, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, a sickly nun who had never left Germany, described precisely detailed visions of the Holy Mother living near Ephesus, Turkey—where John the Apostle wrote his epistles. In 1881, a French priest found a house on a hillside 10 miles outside Ephesus that perfectly matched Sister Anne’s accounts. The church didn’t take the discovery seriously until two more priests investigated, and talked to Christians from neighboring villages who had been making pilgrimages to the house to celebrate the feast of the Assumption for centuries. Today, Christians and Muslims, who also revere Mary, worship together in peace at the home of the most famous mother. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Down a narrow alleyway in the Croix-Rousse quarter of Lyon, France, you’ll find the Jardin Rosa Mir—one man’s answer to a miracle. Jules Senis, a tile-and-brick mason, had fled to France from Spain’s Fascist Franco regime in 1947. Diagnosed with terminal throat cancer, Jules made a vow to God: Save me and I’ll create something beautiful. His recovery astonished doctors. Jules spent the last 25 years of his life creating something equally astonishing—a magnificent garden with a shrine to the Virgin Mary and walls and pillars encrusted with seashells and stones. He named the garden for his mother. An association maintains the garden—ensuring that others can marvel at Jules Senis’s miracle. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Who decorates the Mystery Christmas Tree? The festive juniper growing on the median of Interstate 17 in Arizona, near the Sunset Point rest area, has intrigued drivers for almost three decades. The Department of Public Safety knows it’s a team effort. The anonymous decorators once sent its office a photo of the group hanging ornaments and tinsel—with their backs to the camera, of course. The mischievous elves also installed water barrels to keep the tree healthy during dry spells, an act that may have saved it from going up in flames during a wildfire in 2011. The fire burned furiously along the freeway—right up to the trunk—but only singed a few branches. Tom Foster, a retired Arizona Department of Transportation engineer, claims to know the elves’ identities, but he’s not spilling—even though the department disapproves of unauthorized roadside displays. “The juniper brightens the drive to Phoenix,” he says. “So we’re treating this as a special case.” —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
For centuries, villagers from Chiatura, in the Republic of Georgia, gazed up at the 130-feet-tall Katskhi Pillar in wonder. How was its tiny chapel built on top? It's a mystery yet to be solved. An eighteenth-century geographical survey says, "Nobody is able to ascend it; nor know they how." In 1944, climbers scaled the pillar and found the ruins of a second church and a crypt containing 600-year-old remains. This chapel was built by Stylites, Christian ascetics, around the seventh century. A modern-day Stylite, Father Maxime Qavtaradze, now calls the top of the rock home. A former crane operator—no fear of heights—he descends a ladder to pray with visitors, but prefers his perch in the heavens. "It's up here in the silence that you can feel God's presence." —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Imagine following Moses through the parted Red Sea. How amazing would that have been (well, as long as you weren’t Pharaoh)? Crossing the moat of Fort de Roovere in the Netherlands may be the closest thing. The seventeenth-century moat once provided protection from French and Spanish invaders, but it had become a barrier to cyclists and joggers enjoying the newly developed recreation area. Challenged to build an unobtrusive walkway, Dutch architects Ad Kil and Ro Koster turned to the Bible for inspiration. The “Moses Bridge” is made of a special wood that’s treated with antifungal coating, with dams on both sides to keep the water level constant and underwater pumps to prevent flooding after rain. It’s nearly invisible from afar—and now welcomes visitors from around the world: French, Spanish, even Egyptians. —Allison Churchill, Contributing Editor
Patients in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London faced a dreary view to the west—a narrow alley and the dingy brick of the building next door. In 2012, an architectural firm, Studio Weave, had a bright idea: the Lullaby Factory. Disguising drainage pipes and air ducts as clarinets and whimsical horns, they created a 10-story-high sound machine. The hidden factory’s lullabies can be heard through each patient’s bedside entertainment system or via listening pipes at street level. Sights and sounds to soothe the little ones or anyone who might pass by. —Diana Aydin, Associate Editor
Build me a tree house; I’ll provide the material. That’s the message Horace Burgess, a minister from Crossville, Tennessee, received when praying one day in 1993. For years, Horace sawed, drilled and hammered—without any blueprints. God kept the wood coming, much of it recycled from barns or sheds. What resulted is a 97-foot-tall structure nestled in the woods. Its 80 rooms include a chapel, a spiral staircase and a wraparound porch. It’s a masterpiece in the spirit of Noah’s Ark, held together with more than 250,000 nails. The “Minister’s Tree House” is not currently open to the public, but if you’re driving down I-40 in Tennessee, take Exit 320 and make your way to Beehive Lane, where you can see Horace’s creation in all its inspired glory. —Diana Aydin, Associate Editor
If you ever fly over the Pampas, Argentina’s vast plains, you may see a startling sight: a grove of more than 7,000 eucalyptus and cypress trees south of Córdoba—planted in the shape of a guitar. The story behind Estancia La Guitarra began when a farmer, Pedro Ureta, married a woman named Graciela. One day, Graciela, inspired by a flight over beautifully shaped fields, suggested sculpting her favorite instrument into their farmland. Before her dream could be realized, she died, pregnant with their fifth child. With no landscaping training, and fending off wild animals that fed on the saplings, Pedro and their children spent the next 35 years growing this testament to the resilience of true love. —Jessica Toomer, Digital Editor
In Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, deep inside the Arctic Circle, where in winter temps fall to 40 below and the sun never rises, thousands of visitors come to “chill” at the Icehotel, carved from blocks of the frozen Torne River. An essential amenity is the ice chapel, built each December in consultation with the clergy of the town’s 400-year-old wooden church, who also lead the chapel’s services. On Christmas Day, the chapel is consecrated with a service attended by locals and visitors alike. Around 100 weddings and some 30 christenings—using holy water poured from a warm thermos into a wooden font—are held in the chapel before it melts, in early April. Open to all, free of charge, the chapel offers a unique place to pray, says presiding minister Sölve Anderzén. “It’s not just the cold—there is a total silence, no disturbing sounds. The church is sparsely lit with candlelight. You adjust to the coldness.” —Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
Outside the tiny town of Waterloo, Alabama, a mile-long wall made of weathered stones winds through the woods. It looks ancient, but was built by hand over the last 25 years by one man, Tom Hendrix, in tribute to his great-great-grandmother, a Yuchi Indian named Te-lah-nay—Woman With Dancing Eyes—driven from Alabama along the infamous Trail of Tears. For Tom, each rock represents a step Te-lah-nay took on her journey. Every weekday, from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Tom welcomes visitors to meditate in the wall’s prayer circle and add stones of their own. Stones from 127 countries and territories have been added so far. —Diana Aydin, Associate Editor
Nearly 40 million people flow through Times Square, New York City’s beating heart, every year, dodging taxis and pushing through crowds, dazzled by the neon lights and video billboards. But if you stand still a moment on a gray metal grate at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, just above Forty-fifth Street, the sounds of the hustle and bustle slip away, replaced by soothing, hypnotic tones, like distantly ringing bells. It’s a hidden sound-art installation by the artist Max Neuhaus. Max says, “For those who find and accept the sound’s impossibility...the island becomes a different place.” An oasis of calm at one of the busiest crossroads on earth. —Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
Frescoes cover the walls of the Catacombs of Commodilla, one of Rome’s countless subterranean Christian burial-chamber-and-chapel complexes, built starting in the second century. After Emperor Constantine’s conversion, the catacombs fell into obscurity until 1578, when one was discovered by accident. Using clues from early Christian literature, an Italian scholar, Antonio Bosia, began to locate the forgotten sites. The work of this “Columbus of the Catacombs” continues to help archeologists unearth priceless artifacts and grants us a window into the lives of early Christians. —Tanya Richardson, Contributing Editor
Just inside the North Carolina state line you’ll find the dunes of Bird Island State Reserve, and a singularly odd sight—a black metal mailbox overlooking the Atlantic. A note inside explains that a visitor to the beach received the vision of a simple mailbox as a gathering place where strangers could share inspiring thoughts. The visitor returned to create exactly that. Beachgoers discovering the mailbox left prayers, wishes, personal stories and poems. Thirty years later, the Kindred Spirit Mailbox is maintained by locals thankful for the anonymous soul who built this peaceful place of communion. —Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
If Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, looks familiar, it’s probably because it inspired the fictional Jedi Archives seen in Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones. The facility’s star exhibit—the legendary Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels created by Celtic monks circa 800 AD—would amaze even a Jedi master. One twelfth-century writer observed the 340 pages are so amazingly detailed “you might say that all this were the work of an angel, and not of a man.” Viking raids and an eleventh-century heist that removed its bejeweled, golden cover couldn’t destroy it. The library rotates the pages on display to shield the fragile vellum from harmful UV light. —Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
The Watts Towers of Los Angeles are 17 soaring structures meticulously erected by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia from 1921-54, using nothing more than scrap metal, mortar, glass, ceramics and hand tools. In 1959 the city tried to topple them, arguing they were unstable. Steel cables were attached to each tower and pulled by a crane. They didn’t budge, and the crane experienced mechanical failure. Today, admirers marvel how one man, a simple laborer, could assemble such creations that have survived storms, earthquakes and the ravages of time.—Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
Eight miles north of Šiauliai, Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses, Kryžių Kalnas, stands sentinel over the surrounding farmland. Nobody knows who put up the first cross there, only that it happened during Lithuania’s 1831 uprising against czarist rule. Under Soviet occupation, those who lost loved ones in the resistance added crosses. Several times the Soviets bulldozed the hill. The crosses reappeared the next day. Today, over 200,000 crosses cover the hilltop, an inspiration for those who struggle for freedom. —Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
The Hermitage of San Colombano monastery in Trambileno, Italy, was built into a rock ledge 394 feet high sometime before 1319. Legend says that Saint Colomban saved a nearby village from a dragon. The villagers began building a church in his honor, but awoke one morning to discover that their tools had been moved to a cave higher up on the rock, a cave where monks had prayed as early as the eighth century. The church was built there instead. –Adam Hunter, Managing Editor
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