High above Waimea Bay on Oʻahu we went to see the Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau, driving along a twisty and winding dirt road to climb up there, even scraping the bottom of the car at one point! Once there, my brother Dan and I got out to walk around while Mom stayed in the car. I did not want to approach the Heiau as a tourist, tramping around within its consecrated borders since that space had been made sacred by those who built it; as a priest myself, I am sensitive to such things.
Sacred space has nothing to do with whatever particular denomination to which one might belong. Sacred space is a part of the physical world that has been dedicated for no other purpose than for meeting the Divine. Through ritual and purification, a spot on the earth is set aside (which is the meaning of the word “consecrated”) as a portal between our created world and the Eternal.
So instead of going inside the borders I walked all around them. I was particularly taken by the one end that I, being a priest myself who serves at an altar, thought of as “the altar”. I just stood there imagining the ceremonies performed long ago, only feet away from where I was.
There is a yearning inside us which leads us to build altars and temples, a yearning almost like a homing beacon which guides us through the Eternity into which we entered at the moment of our first hā (breath). That yearning prompts us to reach higher than ourselves, to build altars that raise us up and to declare that this spot on the earth serves no other function than to be in contact with the Divine.
Standing there that day, even as an Orthodox Christian Priestmonk, I felt a tug of affinity with those priests who had functioned so long ago at that altar within that heiau. It was a strange moment for me, a moment completely outside of time, feeling as I stood there like one more priest in a long line of priests.