A&E » Arts

Unearthing sacred spaces

Author, journalist seeks sacred centres in Havens in a Hectic World: Finding Sacred Places



What: Book reading w/author

When: Friday, May 22, 7 p.m.

Where: Whistler Public Library

Cost: Free

Everyone has a sacred place, somewhere they've been, or somewhere they go, to be at peace, for just a few moments of quiet and calm. For Star Weiss, discovering these personal oases has become so fascinating that she has lovingly cobbled together an entire book of places and spaces that are considered sacred by the people of British Columbia.

Weiss spoke to everyone from murderers, prisoners, terminally ill cancer patients, cloistered nuns and, yes, Whistler's own original ski bums, in the process of writing Havens in a Hectic World. So it's probably a good thing that she's no stranger to the art of the interview - she's been a journalist for over 30 years.

But this book was unlike any other project she's previously tackled.

"Havens was my first commercially published book and even after many, many years as a journalist and writer... it was a real wake-up call to me, how long it takes to really research and properly prepare a manuscript like this," she admitted with a laugh.

"Havens actually started out as an article for a magazine, looking at the many places that people considered 'sacred.'

"Doing that story made me realize, 'boy, there's a whole book here!' And then when I got closer to it, I realized, 'no, there's a whole book just on the West coast.'"

Every person Weiss spoke with seemed to instantly know what a "sacred place" was - at least to them - ultimately offering Weiss an amazing array of destinations throughout the province, from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland to Whistler and as far as the Haida Gwai and Vancouver Island.

Some places, like the ski slopes of Whistler, are somewhat obvious, whereas others, like the downtown eastside of Vancouver, are a bit more surprising.

"I think there's this intuitive quality, and this is one reason I love the subject - it's very inclusive without even tying it in any way to a religion or belief or faith system," Weiss said. "When you talk to someone about 'sacred place' they get it."

Weiss points out that B.C. actually has the lowest percentage of people in North America who identify with a church, synagogue or mosque - or any faith group, for that matter. Despite this, she couldn't shake the feeling that British Columbians still have a deep-seated sense of spirituality.

Could this spirituality be inspired by the natural surroundings, or our "spiritual geography?"

The question niggled at the back of her mind for years, as she continued on in other journalistic pursuits. Then, she got breast cancer.

"Breast cancer is a real wake-up call and I realized a) life doesn't go on forever and we don't know for sure that we'll be here for the allotted 85 years or whatever, and b) if I really want to write a book on a subject that's close to my heart, maybe I should do it without waiting forever," Weiss recalled. "When you're facing something like that in life - any sort of crisis situation that makes you think of your own mortality or reevaluate, you realize, 'I want to find some answers for myself,' and what better way than to ask other people and make them my guides."

The finished product of her quest, Havens features a range of regions in B.C. And while Whistler wasn't an obvious choice for inclusion in her book, Weiss stumbled across an article about the old Whistler Skiers' Chapel, which led to the greater topic of the spirituality of Whistler's natural surroundings as a whole.

"This has been my own personal odyssey, but I never realized all the places it would take me and all the people it would lead me to," she said.

Weiss is at the Whistler Public Library this Friday evening to read from her book. And don't be afraid to come out and tell her about your own sacred spaces.