Sacred Places/Communal Spaces

I inhaled deeply as a wave of euphoria came over my body. Like a shot of post-surgery morphine, all physical pain and mental anxiety was replaced by a pervasive sense of well being. Yet, unlike the drug-induced euphoria with its sleepy after effects, every cell in my body was crackling and fully alive.  

Lake Superior’s shores, the vast blue expanse of water with its mercurial nature, once again had her way with me.  Having just returned home after a few weeks on Madeline Island, I pondered how Lake Superior had claimed Tim and my collective souls over 30 years ago when we ran a resort on the edge of that crystal-clear water.  While this job included many unglamorous tasks such as doing cabin laundry with a ringer washer, line drying bedding, cleaning toilets and greeting guests at all hours, Tim and I still rate our time running that resort as one of our top life experiences.  As for me, I can say that from the moment I stepped on her rocky shores, Lake Superior, (to borrow a phrase from one of Tim’s song titles), had a hold of my heart.  The lake’s powerful effect on me is as intense today as it was three decades ago.

With Superior’s effects still lingering in my body, I began to reflect on how places and spaces have the power to enhance our sense of well being. How taking the time to be in those geographies that make our heart sing can serve to honor our self-worth.  While our self-esteem and sense of value certainly comes from within, and from our spiritual beliefs, physical spaces can serve to magnify our emotional anchors.  

While there are places, often in nature, that can provide sustenance to the spirit, as  Lake Superior does for me, there are also social places that connect us to one another and provide nutrients for our inner lives.

Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called, “The Great Good Place” where he coined a term: third place. He asserts that we live in three realms; home, work and inclusively social places (third place). Places where people gather, hang out for the pleasure of good company, social vitality and communion with others. 

While I can think of many compelling third places in my life such as our local wine bar and coffee shop or the local Pub on Madeline Island, it is the Corrigan Farm in Northeast Iowa that is unrivaled in its ability to provide the rich broth of communal emotional nourishment.  

The northern tip of Iowa where rolling hills, fertile farmlands, high bluffs and trout streams run through the landscape are where my siblings and I spent our childhood summers on our grandparents farm, helping to milk cows, feed  chickens, lift freshly cut bales of hay onto a wagon pulled by an old orange Allis Chalmers tractor. 

My sister Dolora vividly remembers her nine year old self standing in one of the pastures, stretching her arms out as far as they could reach and asking our Grandma if she would give her just that yard or so of land so she could have it forever and ever.

While my grandma could not grant the desires of my sister’s childish heart, Dolora and my family’s dream to own land in Northeast Iowa became a reality when together we bought land in the area and built a pole barn on the property.  A section of this barn includes a little cabin where at any given spring, fall or winter weekend you might find our parents, siblings and their families and aunts and uncles gathered, talking and laughing around our 12 foot dining room table. The huge conference room table is an artifact from our now closed grade  school. Our meal might be venison that was hunted on the property or freshly caught trout from nearby Big Paint Creek. Everyone pitches in cooking or bringing in rainwater from our collection tank to wash dishes. Multiple games of Euchre will follow dinner.   Every spring we head out in a pack to find morel mushrooms with the veteran fungus foragers helping the less capable spotters. As dusk gives way to the night, eight to 10 mattresses and sleeping bags will be spread out on the floor around the cabin and further conversation and laughter trail off as the last of the tribe falls to sleep. 

In the early morning, with dew still on the ground, we enjoy what we have come to call our “glorious morning”.  This ritual consists of grabbing lawn chairs and a cup of coffee and sitting behind the pole barn to watch the sun rising over the rolling farmlands and distant timber.

As we pack up to leave the farm, feasting on childhood memories and making new ones, we are better off by far then when we arrived there, at our third place, a place where significance matters.


Sacred Places

  • Reflect on the places you feel most fully alive, your spirit is renewed, you are most fully yourself, or you feel a sense of joy. Describe those places.
  • Now consider the following questions:
  • What about those place(s) call to you?
  • What effect do those places have on you?
  • In what ways does being in that place replenish your spirit?
  • How does taking the time to be in that place honor your self-worth?
  • Determine if you feel called to be in that place.
  • Commit to a way and timeframe to make that happen.

Communal Spaces Exploring and Celebrating Your Worth

  • Read one or both of Ray Oldenburg’s books – “The Good Great Place” or “Celebrating the Third Place”.
  • Reflect on what a third place means to you.
  • Consider your needs for social connection and community (e.g. friendship, emotional connection, intellectual stimulation, social and political change).
  • Consider the following questions:
  • What places meet those needs for you?
  • What needs do you have that are unmet or could be met to a greater degree?
  • Identify where or how you might better meet your needs.
  • Commit to taking an action to more fully meet your needs for social connection.

Communal Learning

  • Read about the ways places and spaces nurture the mind, body and soul of fellow Significance Matters readers. Go the Your Stories tab on my website. Insert link.

3 thoughts on “Sacred Places/Communal Spaces”

  1. As someone with whom you generously shared the resort on Lake Superior all those years ago (and the magical bonfires on the shore at night) – your home on Madeline Island – and the Corrigan land/cabin in Iowa, I can say that you really do know how to choose magical places! I remember fondly our trip to Herbster and seeing meadows of blooming lupines of all colors between the masses of trees. Playing bluegrass with Tim around the fire at Yellow River with all your family, and staying at the cabin at night.

    I think my special place is our little acreage where we have lived for 40-some years. I take great joy in all my flower beds, hosta beds and more recently, my plantings for monarch butterflies, the abundance of birdsong in our trees, growing vegetables, our cats and kittens, sitting outside in the twilight with a glass of wine listening to the cicadas, in winter watching the birds at our feeders and seeing our trees covered in fresh-fallen snow. Not to mention the big round oak table in our kitchen that has been the center of so much music from all the members we have had in our band through the years, as well as many many family gatherings.

    When we have been away, it is always so good to come home again.

  2. This post is so beautiful and your descriptions of Iowa are so vivid I can feel the love of place coming off the page. And Superior does have a mysterious sacred power over many—including me! For me, it has been a place for rebirth and transition and healing…thanks, as always, for sharing your depth and reflections. You are amazing.

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