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:
Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 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.
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. It is this “encounter” at the Oaks of Mamre that will forever change the lives of all the faithful and will reinforce God’s gracious revelation of Himself to His creation. Talk about sacred space!
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. But “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. You are “holy” when you reserve your love, your devotion, your time, talents, treasures for God alone. It is single mindedness that makes holiness. It is exclusive devotion that creates sacred space. As an aside, this is why we Orthodox don’t have “multi-use” space for our worship and Divine Liturgy. No, our worship space is exclusively used for that purpose, and the reason for this exclusivity is because we understand that, when we worship, we do so “for the life of the world.” We make one, specific, space holy so that every place can become holy!
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. It’s all about being Orthodox on Purpose
P.S. Did you get to hear the Faith Encouraged LIVE program last night on the Feast of the Annunciation? Not to worry. You can hear the recorded version at AncientFaith.com. By the way, thanks for our listeners in New Zealand! A big shout out to the Land of the Kiwis! Thanks for being a part of the Faith Encouraged Family!
Just had an FB conversation in a comment thread about this the other day… i do have half an office at home that is my sacred space where I meet with God. I keep that half uncluttered with business papers and such (that goes on the other desk on the other half of the office). And while it’s true that “you can talk to God anytime, anywhere” (and I sure do!) there is something very settling, very grounding about having a spot that is just HIS, for He and I to meet. and tho my morning prayers (when i don’t oversleep, pray for me, please) may be bleary-eyed and not entirely coherent, there is no better way to start my day off right than putting God first…and no better way at all to end the day with my evening prayers and Bible readings at the end of the day. Just something about having that spot, with candles and incense and such, that keeps me coming back, even if i don’t actually “feel” like it. and yes…it does help me see the sacredness out there in “ordinary life” and especially in people, who are made in His image. I have a long way to go, but I’m creeping along and am so thankful this article so well expresses what I tried so poorly to express the other day. 🙂
Thanks Kat. Please pray for us.