UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Sacred Earth

Awe-inspiring photographs capture major and lesser-known sacred sites

By Daniel Benson

Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power
By Martin Gray
(New York: Sterling Publishers) $23.95


One of the more revealing details about Martin Gray’s Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power is the publisher’s classification on the back cover: photography. The publishers saw this as a picture book rather than a spiritual companion or guide. That’s a shame because the book, while it has limitations, does have something to offer the seeker and the potential pilgrim, as well as the fan of good photography.

Gray is first and foremost an exceptional photographer. He documents some 1,000 sacred sites in stunning images — from Scotland to Sudan, from Myanmar to Peru — taken over 20 years. Among my favourites is the Buddhist temple in Sanbangsa, Korea, where sunlight pours through a hole in the roof during repair work. Another is of the misty view of the Avebury stone ring in Wiltshire, England.

Each photograph is accompanied by a brief history and explanation of the site’s significance. As a catalogue of both major and many unusual and lesser-known sacred sites, the book is admirable in its breadth and quality, as well as the selection of sites. Readers will discover awe-inspiring holy places and regions of the world.

For the armchair traveller, or as inspiration to move beyond the arm-chair for a first-hand look-see, the book is a good introduction to sacred places. It falls short, however, in its lack of interest in the contemporary human definition and experience of sacred place. What draws people to these sites today? Is it the ambience, the history, the beauty or some mystical power? For Gray, the answer lies where all of these intersect. But one further element is necessary: the faces and voices of the pilgrims themselves, who are curiously invisible throughout the book. Where are the people who see these places as holy ground today? Without this broader perspective, the reader is confined to Gray’s own photographic interpretation.

Gray’s survey of sacred sites keeps the promise of a good book of photography: fabulous photographs with descriptions sufficient to inspire the reader. A bit more depth might have launched the book onto the bookstores’ spirituality shelves and into personal libraries.

Daniel Benson is the executive minister of communications for The United Church of Canada and an avid amateur photographer, writer and theologian.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image