HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE A SACRED SPACE? A quiet place to go to commune with God? Some place you can be alone to meditate?
I thought I had a pretty good idea of what a sacred space was and how I would define it. But my recent trip to the Northwest skewed my definition.
As I’ve talked about before on this blog, whenever I go traveling, I go with a desire for God to show up in a big way (different than when I’m at home, in familiar surroundings that I all-too-frequently become bored with and jaded to). I ask Him to show up and I, yes, expect Him to show up. Because He always does, some way.
But on this trip He didn’t show up in the ways I expected. (That really shouldn’t have surprised me since my out-of-the-box God is known for surprises.) What it did do, though, was humble me.
A MULTITUDE OF DEFINITIONS
Enclyopedia.com defines it as a sacred place, to be used synonymously with sacred space. It can be a place, or space, distinguished from other spaces. It might be a place where rituals are practiced or are directed toward. It has been defined by Jonathan Z. Smith—a historian of religions—as a “focusing lens.” A place where attention is focused on forms, objects, and actions revealed as holding some kind of religious meaning, because they perform a religious function.
Originally a sacred space was defined by Friedrich Schleiermacher (theologian, philosopher and biblical scholar) and Rudolf Otto (German Lutheran theologian, philosopher, and comparative religionist) as a place linked to religious emotion—some place that elicits an affective (emotional) response. It might not, however, physically resemble a place would bring to mind a sense of the religious, say, like a cathedral would.
In some cultures and thinking, a sacred place is not human-ordained as such, or arbitrarily selected. It is a place with unique character. It may be set apart through the selection of God or the collection of faith relics, including buried martyrs.
Clearly, the definition of a sacred place has evolved throughout time and differs among faith groups and between cultures. It seems to change by need, perception, understanding, and spiritual maturity.
As Dictionary.com states: “In short, a sacred place comes into being when it is interpreted as a sacred place.” That certainly gives wide latitude to possible definitions.
NARROWING IT DOWN
Christians are told in Scripture that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit to dwell within. And since that is the case, it doesn’t take much more thought to realize that wherever we go, we’re carting around a sacred space with us. We can’t leave the Holy Spirit home when it’s convenient; everyplace we go we are taking the Lord.
So when I was tempted to get frustrated by the lack of time I had communing alone with God on this past vacation, because I really wanted to enjoy some sacred space (read: quiet) time with Him, I began to look at my activities differently. I shifted my paradigm. I realized that I didn't have to seclude myself on some island, or become an island in the midst of a crowd, to experience the sacred.
At the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, I began seeing the sacred in magnificent glass designs the artist has fabricated, the colorful shapes impaled in the garden soil and displayed within the gardens. The use of his God-given talent in color and form.
At the loud (very loud) Chinese restaurant my son and daughter-in-law delighted in taking us to, I started seeing the sacred in being together with them. The four of us talking, laughing, planning, and listening. Loving together amidst a crowded room. Enjoying the smells, designs, tastes and service of delicious, satisfying food. Having an enjoyable feast together. Glorying in our time together, our getting together after having been apart too long. (We actually nearly ate our way through Seattle, so sacred spaces were enjoyed at many restaurants, including the fabulous Salty's on Alki Beach!)
I found sacred space in hiking up a trail to an alpine lake in the Cascades, in spite of the thick smoke from British Columbia fires being funneled into the area, obscuring the magnificent (awe-inspiring) jagged peaks from our view. Our son had so desperately wanted us to see and experience these mountains he’s grown to love so much, and beyond disappointed that we couldn’t see the mountains and cragged peaks looming near us, next to us, and in front of us for miles. The alpine flowers and meadows, which I could see, were sacred space enough for me, as was the presence of the engineer, my son, my daughter-in-law, and my adorable granddog, Nox, who outdid all of us in the hike, swim and fetch departments. (By the hike’s end, the sky cleared enough for us to feast emotionally and spiritually on some of those peaks, and I thanked God for the view!)
I found sacred space in a dog park, where mutts, purebreds, owners and professional dog walkers of various sizes and swimming and ball-handling abilities blanketed the path and designated shoreline of Lake Washington. And during a quiet time on a sofa, holding Nox in my lap, cooling off his hot pads. I found it in multitudes during worship service at an unfamiliar church, whose members welcomed us as cherished friends.
I found it on a path near Deception Pass on Fidalgo Island and in a bay window seat at the Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast in Langley on Whidbey Island. I found it again as I stood on our room’s private balcony after the smoke finally cleared, rain purified the air, and I sucked in my breath at my first view of glacier-clad, stratovolcano Mt. Baker looming in the distance. I found it in nibbling (actually feasting on) wild blackberries near a nature preserve.
I located sacred space again when an evening trip to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park blessed us with un-intimidated deer that were dining in the parking lot (what they were frantically licking from the blacktop we’ll never know); and a small pack of elk nibbling berries in the Hoh Rainforest.
And there it was again as I gazed upon the most western tip of the contiguous 48 United States and watched whales blow water from their spouts as they maneuvered around the tip of Victoria Island, Canada.
Our timing for our first visit to Hurricane Ridge could not have been better, (the breakdown of a ferry caused a late arrival in Port Townsend), as the engineer and I, and three other lucky persons, were unexpectedly treated to star and planet gazing, courtesy of an amateur astronomer who hauls his gargantuan portable telescope up the mountain 32 times a summer to treat the attending tourists or locals. As I viewed the clear image of Saturn, its astounding rings and orbiting moons, and watched the glacier-clad peaks recede into the twilight, I couldn’t help but hear the Psalmist’s words sing in my heart and head: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” How glorious His works are, and how sacred that space was that night!
All sacred enough to call me to return. Soon.
NOW YOUR TURN
Where did you find sacred space in the past, and where will it emerge for you this week?
Until next week.
May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).