In Uncategorized on December 20, 2005 at 1:17 pm

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.


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