Tuesday, December 20, 2005

seeking sacred space

okay, i don't have the time to provide this idea with the development it deserves due to lightway's commodify christmas campaign, but i still need to get it down on (virtual) paper.

for the first century Jew, sacred space was an absolute concept. they worshipped in the holy city of jerusalem and, as the covenant people of God, had varying levels of access to the temple. regarding the latter levels, Jewish women were allowed in the court of women, Jewish men were allowed in the court of the Israelites, the common priests were stationed on the periphery of the "holy place" and if they were lucky, like zechariah in luke 1, they were chosen to light incense within these confines at least once during their lives. finally, the high priest was able to enter into the "most holy place," where the ark of the covenant was kept, one time a year. in that space he offered payment for the people's sins and came as close as anyone could to encountering God. the temple itself, and the "most holy place" in particular, was the religious and perhaps even psychological focus of the first century Jew.

then jesus came along. through his ministry as well as his death he relativized the concept of sacred space. he hinted to such relativization during his conversation with the woman at the well, when he suggested that ultimately neither the samaritan temple in gerazim or or the temple mount in jerusalem would matter all that much since his followers would worship "in spirit and in truth" (jn. 4:24). furthermore, jesus shows a studied disregard for his contemporaries sacrosanct view of the temple by clearing out the check cashers and trinket peddlers on at least one, if not two, occasions (jn. records a "cleansing" early in jesus' ministry (2:13-25), while matthew (21:12-13) and the other synoptics record it as occurring late in jesus' ministry). moreover, jesus spoke quite clearly about the ultimate destruction of the temple - see esp. mk. 13 and mt. 24 - which would be catastrophic to the spatially oriented worship of the Jews. and finally, after jesus' death matthew tells us that the thick, heavy curtain that kept the "most holy space" of the temple hidden from mortal sight was ripped in two. this rending symbolized the end of formal separation between god and his covenant people.

so what is the upshot of all this? many things, i'm sure, but let's just focus on one. through the ministry and death of jesus the idea that god is geographically separate from his creation and, consequently, that his people are separated from one another due to some form of hierarchical holiness, was abolished. thus, i believe that jesus led us into a place where "sacred space" is a relational, rather than geographic, reality.

i am hesitant to think this way, because most of the eeevangelical babble about a "relationship with god" often seems superficial, if not a little irreverent. yet, i think that it is important for those of us who follow jesus - or even those of us who do not know what to make of jesus but would like to keep in step with his life of mercy and compassion - to realize the sacredness of our relationships. this shift from a geographic to a relational understanding of holiness has many implications that i'm ignorant of and a few of which i(think) i am aware of. here are a few of the latter.

-offering hospitality to one another and extending an empathetic ear is a legitimate spiritual discipline or practice. abram and sarai kept in step with the former practice and so, unexpectedly, stumbled into a direct encounter with the divine. we need to constantly keep our ears and hearts open in our encounter with others, for in those instances we might stumble into holiness and receive a deeper revelation of god's goodness, beauty and truth.

-our religious buildings can be useful, occasionally beautiful and sometimes even necessary, but they are not essential to the spiritual life. rather than, or perhaps in addition to, inviting people into our religious clubhouses, we need to work hard to carve out physical, psychological and emotional space within our communities and selves where others will feel welcome, wanted and free.

-in our personal - but never individual - lives, we need to incline ourselves towards and lean into God's presence. in a media saturated age, one of the most important spiritual practices is leaving the i-pod on the nightstand, turning the radio off on our ride home and occasionally throwing a blanket over the television or hiding it in its cabinet. rest assured that there is solitude that lies on the other side of loneliness. we need to walk through the windswept silences of the latter so that we can enter into the holy heart of the former. to paraphrase uncle freddy, we need to listen even to the most mundane moments and ordinary experiences of our lives, for it is often in those moments that we realize that "all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

-concerning narnia, we need to make sure that there are asses in those seats. this is a once in a lifetime evangelistic opportunity people! after going to such great lengths to support mel gibson it would be foolish for us to (e.o.e.-over) c.s. lewis!

-your thoughts and reflections are welcome.


Agent B said...

thanks for the teaching.

W. Wilson said...

Jeffy Jeffy... I'll be following in your footsteps in less than two weeks, as I too am doing a message back at our home church (New Year's Day). It's extremely encouraging to see these latest thoughts of yours, because quite honestly, I've been planning on doing the message in a very similar plane of thought.

I really want to focus on the restoring hope and reality of how Christ makes all things new... mainly, on how he restores us to the ultimate relationship in which we were originally created to have with the Father. I'm like you, I don't want to use "personal relationship" in such a way that is superficial and watered-down. I really want to show how the newness of Christ (through his death and resurrection) is what brings us into a whole life-changing approach to the Father... the old has gone, the new has come. In other words, all of our fears, pride, shame, hesitation, etc. can become our past because Christ makes all things new.

I could always use any of your insights on any of these matters...

Thanks again for your thoughts...

Landis said...

Much needed words during this advent season. Bless you.

kidpositive said...

while i agree with the implications you've outlined with regards to communally-implemented sacredness, i also find that prostestants have used the "relational" approach as a means of abolishing the need for physical, sacred space. we speak so often of 'talking to God' and the 'personal' nature of our relationship with God, that for many of us our relationship to God has become nothing more than a mental exercise, solely executed within the confines of our minds, regardless of the outward physical surroundings. while such informality might be constructive in breaking down the heirachal boundaries for talking to God, i think it betrays a more fundamental need within each of us to eschew the noisiness of the world and focus solely on God. put another way, i think our informality in how we relate to God has lead to a complete lack of discipline when it comes to "going into your closet pray". Jesus spent a lot of time alone, in prayer, and it would benefit us if we followed his example.

the problem, however, is that protestants have viewed God in such colloquial terms that we've developed this tendancy to quickly shun any notion of 'formally' approaching God. we can 'talk to God' any time we want, whether it's in bed or on the toilet. i think we'd do much better to approach our prayer life as more discipline than desire. of course, that's if we even begin to approach is at all (in the communal setting, that is). prayer has become such a personal, individual issue that we never teach it anymore. at least, i wasn't taught prayer as a discipline.

if we don't set aside a space in our life that is devoid of noise, then our prayer life will always carry noise as a fundamental quality. that's why i've lately been very keen on the idea of creating something akin to a prayer closet within our home. this would be a closed off space where we could go to cast off the crap of the world and focus of God. of course, this really isn't possible right now in our current living situation, but i'm hoping it will be at our next place of residence. if we were to start incorporating something like this as a systematic means of following Christ, then i think it'd have profound impacts on the quality of our daily spiritual lives and our posture towards God. of course, such space wouldn't be the sole place of communing with God. it would, however, serve as a large force of encouragement in our lives; a foundation, of sorts.

i think there's a great need for individuals to have physical spaces that are intended solely for solitary communion with the divine. if we were to approach this issue more systematically, then we might find it much easier to turn down the noise in the rest of our life.

g13 said...


i couldn't agree with you more. the fact that spiritual boundaries have been broken in Christ does not mean that we do not need sacred space(s) in our own lives which are dedicated to communion with God.

i have several such spaces in my life and i guard them rather fiercely. i think it is beneficial for everyone to have a space (be it a special chair, closet or corner furnished with an altar, the base of a pin oak in a secluded wood, etc.), rhythm (running, walking, genuflecting, etc.) and path (be it liturgical or physical) that draw their minds to the goodness, beauty and truth of God.

thank you for this much needed clarification.

kidpositive said...

although we both agree about the need for such space, what are your thoughts about the need for teaching that we need such space? in other words, we can keep talking of these things, but at what point do we realize that these things are important enough to be taught in our churches?

mikey said...

I like the idea of our "personal but never indiviudal" lives, but what exactly does that mean?

g13 said...


i think that it means that we are personal beings with unique configurations of aptitudes, abilities and ambitions. however, our distinct personalities and unique configurations do not detract from, but rather deepen, our interdependence relationships with one another and our communities as well as our participation in the divine. at least that's what i think.

craig, i'm not sure how we can teach it. lemme think about that one for a while and get back to ya.

Before Girl said...

I can say as a Wiccan, a personal, sacred space is pretty much a fundamental thing. A place to leave "the worldly crap behind" as someone mentioned, a place to pray, commune, settle myself mentally and emotionally, to take a breath out of time and focus on now.