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The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces

The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces
by Jon Cannon
London, England: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2013
224 pages
Reviewed by Monique CM Keffer

Every spiritual direction training program teaches the importance of sacred space. When a spiritual director meets with a spiritual directee, he or she chooses a meeting place that is welcoming and feels contemplative and, above all, safe. In other words, spiritual companions know that when it comes to nurturing spirituality, place matters. That’s why Jon Cannon’s book The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces is so fascinating for spiritual seekers.

As a scholar, teacher, journalist, and presenter, Cannon has worked to create thorough and captivating works such as Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World That Made Them. A similar kind of study, Cannon’s new book Sacred Spaces examines not only cathedrals but also temples, synagogues, mosques, and many other types of religious sites.

The sacred spaces are featured in awe-inspiring, full-color photographs underscoring the fact that these places are works of art. From the first two-page spread featuring the Druk Wangyal Chortens of Dochula Pass, Bhutan, to the photo near the book’s end of the eighteenth-century Temple of Azure Clouds in China, the reader is taken on an unforgettable photographic journey. As if that were not enough, Cannon discusses each aspect of architecture necessary for the reader to grasp a rich depth of understanding of each of the places. The span of time covered is unparalleled, reaching from the world’s oldest known “temple-like” structure from c. 9000 bce in what is now Turkey to temples of modern Buddhism. The real treasure uncovered by this book is, as Cannon describes, “a history of the places of worship of each faith, emphasizing what they reveal about the belief system itself” (6). Each site’s hidden or forgotten meaning is translated and then revealed in a language readers can understand.

The work offers spiritual seekers a study of the world’s religions, their sacred words, and images of spirituality. In addition, ecumenism is furthered intrinsically by the obviously intertwining and parallel aspects of each faith’s story. The tale this book has to tell isn’t just a historical one but a metaphorical one, describing the arc of belief itself, therefore readers cannot come away from this text without a deep respect for the importance of spiritual belief to the human condition. Cannon also offers an enlightening description of sacred geometry and cosmology using the solid foundation of architecture. In addition to all of these interesting aspects, it is fascinating to approach this story as one that mirrors the companioning process. Cannon listens deeply to each structure’s story, unfolding the complexities of that structure’s faith, just as a spiritual director listens to a spiritual directee, uncovering the hidden intricacies of his or her beliefs.

Monique CM Keffer, MA, is a writer and spiritual director in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, USA.

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