I’m preaching in a couple of weeks on the topic “Stand in holy places” so obviously I’ve been thinking about that for a while! As much as anything, I need to try to articulate some of the thoughts rolling around in my mind, so I’m going to share them with you…
What makes a place sacred?
Some places are built with the intentionality of making them sacred–churches, mosques, synagogues…but they may or may not be sacred. Other places were built for who knows what reason–but something has occurred that sacralizes them. Often that seems to be some sort of crisis event–in the U.S., I can think of the way in which people respond to Ground Zero–the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack. I visited there while they were still clearing it–and despite all the noise of the equipment, there was a sense of something sacred.
Some are old enough that we don’t know why they were created–but the sense of mystery calls and challenges us to recognize the mystery of who and what God is.
Other places are not man-created at all. They may be by lakes…on top of mountains…
So what is it that makes a place sacred?
I think there are several aspects…
One is that there is a public acknowledgement of the need for forgiveness–and a willingness to give it. The first place I can remember being aware of as being sacred in that sense (although as a young child I could not put it into words) was the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral in England with its altar. While the war had been over for several years when I lived there, the English people were still feeling the results–and there was still much reconciliation and healing that needed to take place. To see this bombed-out cathedral–with the cross and the prayer for forgiveness–made an impact on me that has never left.
Another aspect is openness. Openness to listening for God’s voice–however it comes and whoever it comes through…and openness to recognizing that God may very well be calling us out of comfort zones and into places / situations / understandings that are not easy to deal with.
A third is the willingness to see God in the face of each other–and to respond to each other from that perspective. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree. We’re not. But we have to deal with difficult issues in ways that affirm the importance of each person–what my faith tradition calls “the worth of souls.” Each soul! That isn’t easy, either…and unfortunately, far too often we fail. But we have to keep trying.
Sacred places…they’re the places where we meet God…and they’ll be different for each of us.