Half Dome in Yosemite

Beholding Your Sanctuary

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Deck

My Grandma Sammie knew many psalms by heart and could quote them chapter and verse. Maybe she’s the one who inspired me one day almost twenty years ago to learn Psalm 63 (the first nine verses anyway). I studied it carefully to imprint the words on my memory.  When I came to the line, so I have seen you in your sanctuary, beholding your power and glory, I pictured my place of worship, Holy Cross Church, with its high ceiling and sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows.

Then, to my surprise, my imagination leapt out of the building and into Yosemite Valley with the distinct curve of Half Dome and the craggy heights of El Capitan soaring above me. Yet maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Isn’t nature as much the home of the Divine as my dear parish church? John Muir called the Sierra Nevada the range of light, and I visited those mountains every summer. Why wouldn’t my mind latch onto Yosemite as the sanctuary of the Holy One? Psalm 63 itself begins with sensual longing: my body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. It set me up to conflate God with the earth.

I returned to the mental exercise of memorizing the psalm. My soul shall be filled as with a banquet … Now came another image to mind, the morning of December 21, 1999, the last winter solstice of the millennium.

That day I went out before dawn for a walk along the ocean cliffs in Santa Cruz. What was purported to be the brightest full moon in a hundred years was setting in the west, swathed in swirling mist. For forty-five minutes it was my beacon and companion, and I was in awe. Finally, just as I reached my turning point, it dipped below the horizon. Show’s over, I thought sadly and turned around to start for home. What I saw then nearly took my breath away: a gorgeous sunrise had stolen up behind my back and was now in full bloom across the bay. I had only to turn around to see fresh beauty on the horizon. Here was the generosity of the Beloved on full display, sun and moon playing with the earth in a wild dance that seemed a secret shared between them and at the same time a wanton display for all us creatures to see.

Before King David composed the psalms, we were given nature as a scripture. Praying Psalm 63 is a way for me to celebrate the written Bible and the book of creation at the same time. Both help me find my way into the cave of my heart. At a time when I no longer take clean air or our democracy for granted, this is not a small thing. It might seem like escapism, and yes, it is a respite — like a walk along the ocean is — but the intention is to return to face COVID, the fight against racism, and wildfires with a hope and compassion I don’t have on my own.

Merced River, Yosemite Valley

Where do you perceive the Divine? What invites you into the cave of your heart? These are deeply personal questions, but if you feel like sharing what gives you hope in troubled times, please reply in the comments.

Published by

Mary Camille Thomas

Mary Camille Thomas is a native of Santa Cruz, California who considers herself lucky to be back after living in Davis, Germany, Los Angeles, Holland, and on the road in a motorhome. She is a librarian by profession, and her poetry has appeared in the Porter Gulch Review and Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs and Sacred Stories by Women. She is is currently working on a novel called Schatz and a collection of poems of the spirit.

2 thoughts on “Beholding Your Sanctuary”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s