Here’s a brain teaser for you: One special place sets you free to make all places special; but if all places are special without one particular place being special then no place is special!
Huh? Sorry this comes on a Monday morning, but it never hurts to get the intellectual juices flowing early!
It’s the concept of “sacred space” that is at the heart of most serious theology. The revelation that a particular spot holds sacred meaning and the corollary truth that if I don’t have a concept of sacred space then all spaces, all places lose something important. It is a paradox of revelation that my recognition of sacred space; such as an altar area, a church building, a plot of ground, a burial space, a “holy” place; is absolutely necessary for me to be able to see the “sacred” in all of creation.
Think about this for a moment; if you set aside a place in your home as the family altar area and make a portion of your living space dedicated to your focused devotion to God, you create a discipline that has the potential of “infiltrating” your whole home. That one, special, spot affects the whole house.
But that’s only true if you purposefully participate in “keeping” the spot “holy.”
In our Scripture Lesson today we read how God promised Abram (later his name would be changed to “Abraham”) the land of Israel for his people. Look at Genesis 13:12-18. The relevant verse for our topic is the last verse: “So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.”
Interestingly, it is at this sacred spot near the Oaks of Mamre that Abraham and his wife will show hospitality to “three angels” that will become for we Orthodox an icon of the Holy Trinity.
Notice how Abram makes this spot special; he builds an altar to the Lord and worships. He makes the spot special; he makes the place “holy.”
That word “holy” is so misunderstood. For too many of us, when we think of the word “holy” we almost have a “magical” idea about it. If something is “holy” we imagine it has “mystical” powers or is somehow something “different” than “normal” things. This is a weakness that makes the word “holy” into something totally different that what it really is.
“Holy” literally means “set apart for a specific use.” If something is “holy” then it is used only for one, singular, focused, purpose and for nothing else. So, a church building is “holy” because it is only used to worship God. A chalice is “holy” because it is used only to hold the precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. And you are “holy” when you reserve your life for God alone and live only for His purpose in your life.
So, Today, where are the holy places in your life? Where are the holy places in your heart, your home, your family, and your community? Are you “keeping” them holy or is the holiness of this or that place merely some distant memory kept alive by weak nostalgia? Make a space holy in your home, your heart, your community and then “keep” it holy by focusing your devotion and your purposeful love in remembering the “holy” purpose for which that space exists. Setting a specific place as holy in your life, as sacred, as special, also keeps the chance alive that all places in your life can become holy as well.
During this “holy” season of Great Lent, let us labor to make all times holy by keeping this special time holy!