By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Spirituality is not only light, it's shade and shadow
St. Joan of Arc church in Las Vegas. - photo by Jerry Johnston
Traditionally, spiritual moments are moments filled with light.

But as I travel around, I find that many churches especially Catholic churches are just the opposite.

They offer us moments of shade.

A little church in Las Vegas is like that. St. Joan of Arc is known as the Mother Church because its the oldest Catholic church in the city. It sits in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, just a stones throw from all the eye-popping neon and ear-popping dance music.

But more than light, the little church offers shade. A small garden on the grounds has a fountain, benches and many shadows. Even inside the church, shadows dominate. The stained glass is dark blue, and the deep brown of the roof beams blends with the deep brown of the benches. The mural above the altar is faint and understated. The source of light is muted and indirect.

Inside, the small crucifix above the altar seems to say, I may be the light of the world, but I'm also the shade and silence when you need to flee the blaring, glaring world.

Spiritual experience may be like a city on a hill, but it can also be the shadow that led the Israelites through the desert.

It is the gourd that gave shade to Jonah.

It is the shadow of the wing that covers us.

The St. Louis Jesuits (named for St. Louis University) sing of such things. The groups song Holy Darkness has the lines:

Holy Darkness, blessed night,

Heavens answer, hidden from sight,

As we wait you, God of Silence,

We embrace your holy night.

As the watchman waits for morning,

And the bride awaits her groom,

So we wait to hear your footsteps,

As we rest beneath the moon.

Whatever the world is, the spirit is always the opposite.

When the world turns dark and cold, the spirit turns warm and bright.

When the world gets loud and crazy, filled with flashing signs and bright distractions, the spirit is a shadow a corner of shade filled with cool silence.

As Ive roamed the West, I almost always find a refuge from bustle and harsh glare of the cities I visit somewhere in the heart of town. And that escape from urban insanity is, more often than not, a small church like St. Joan of Arc filled with inviting shadows.

Sitting in the deep shadows of a church is like returning to a womb.

And I feel more at home in those shadows than I do outside in the hot, blinding sun.
Sign up for our e-newsletters