Touch

Downtown, Los Angeles, CA.
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA.

One of the oldest built sacred spaces in the city of Los Angeles is Our Lady Queen of Angels, but more commonly known as “La Placita.” The early Franciscans established this small chapel and enclosed courtyard, but today it is a symbolic and meaningful sacred space claimed by the Hispanic community. La Placita is a place of constant activity and movement. A large mural on one side of the building contains a long multi-tiered stand that holds decorative candles. Each candle lit represents a heartfelt prayer or petition. The inner courtyard holds a concession stand selling tamales and other Mexican fare. The chapel itself is a dark and solemn space, while the courtyard is a bustling family space. Only the hourly ringing of the church bell sends vibrations through the quiet chapel to break up the solemn atmosphere. To the right of the entrance sits a basin of holy water to touch and mark the forehead and heart. The whispered prayers of devout men and women can be heard throughout the quiet space. Many parishioners hold rosaries in their hands as they rhythmically touch each bead. Each row of benches is also equipped with kneelers giving the devout the option of a more earnest prayer posture.

To experience touch requires intimate contact. Touch does not allow us to sense from a distance or even to process a large field of sense data at one time.[1] Instead, touch is often experienced as one small point of contact at a time, like the drops of holy water or the beads of a rosary. As we enter a sacred space our skin feels immediate coolness or warmth as we shift from one space to another. We respond to tactile differences like weight and textures. Sadly, touch is rare or limited in most Christian sacred spaces. Perhaps the things our culture deems as holy are objects that cannot be touched by the imperfection of human beings. Our modern spaces have created neutral, clean and pure spaces that also deter touch. As a result, our spiritual practices are often missing the intimacy of touch. The tactile sense is eager to feel, to make, and to move. Perhaps it would change the practice of our prayers to feel different textures, natural and/or created, and to bring sacred objects and sacred symbols closer to our being.

Introduction  Smell  Sounds  Sight  Taste

[1] The Color of Angels : Cosmology, Gender, and the Aesthetic Imagination, 148.

 

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