Book Review: Havens in a Hectic World

"Havens in a Hectic World: Finding Sacred Places” by Star Weiss, TouchWood Editions, ISBN 978-1-894898-69-0

"We all need havens that feel safe, where nothing is expected of us, and where, despite our solitude, we feel connected to others and to the natural world”, Star Weiss writes in Havens in a Hectic World. As I write this review, I’m sitting in one of my sacred places – a room in my home where there is no phone, TV or computer. The table I sit at has mementos from my travels including goddess images from Crete and some sagebrush from the BC desert. Sometimes a great blue heron flies in to land on one of the fir trees.

Among the stories Star Weiss includes in her book of sacred places are those of people who have also found refuge in a building – the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Ismaili Jamatkhana in Burnaby, Quadra Island United Church and Congregation Emanu-el, the oldest surviving synagogue on the west coast of North America. Most of the sacred places though, are outside by a mountain, a waterfall, in a forest or garden, or on a river or ocean beach.

Star’s experience with breast cancer helped her take "a wider, deeper look at people and places”. She shared her journey with friend, Sharon Hall, who later died of inoperable cancer. At Myra Falls in Strathcona Park, Sharon felt that cleansing, constant roaring was better than any drug. (The book includes maps of all the locations described.) It’s these personal conversations and connections as well as Star’s reflections on her own spiritual journey that make this book so appealing.

Along with Star and her interviewees, readers and spiritual seekers get to travel to Haida Gwaii, Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island, a labyrinth drawn in the sand at Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park in Metchosin and the Buddhist Sacred Meditation Garden at William Head Institution. Every pilgrimage includes the unexpected!

Among the First Nations sacred sites are the Tsartlip reserve in central Saanich and two mountains sacred to the Coast Salish people – YAAS and LA’U WELNEW. Of course there are people connected to all these sacred sites and it is through their reverence for place and Star’s sensitive approach to story that we learn about them.

Star was changed by her journey to sacred places but admits she remains a skeptic. Skeptic or not, I trust that as a provider of sacred space for stories, she realizes her gift.

Mary Ann Moore is a writer, poet and creativity facilitator living in Nanaimo.