We know some spaces are special. They produce memories and transport us to a past time. Driving through the small, Georgia town where I grew up floods me with recollections of family, friends and moments that shaped me. Though these places are special to me I do not recognize them as universally sacred; that is, not everyone who drives by the home where I was raised will feel the rush of emotion that I do.
There are a few of dimensions to sacred space. In the course of this series we examine several aspects to what makes land, space, geography sacred. One factor is everyone who enters a space senses something unique regarding the turf upon which they stand. In 1989 on a business trip to Washington DC, for the first time I walked through the Vietnam Memorial. I was deeply moved. The long list of names of soldiers who gave their lives in that conflict moved me to tears. More so however was the volume of flags, letters for all to read, medals, photographs and more, took me to a deeper place of sorrow. This memorial was baptized in the grief of a nation. It was solemn and hallowed, I knew in my heart this was a sacred space. I sensed the presence of Almighty God. I lingered there for hours connecting with a few of the names, people who had perished in this war.
In 2012 my wife and I were in New York City with friends and we visited the 9/11 memorial. It was a similar experience as the Vietnam Memorial. What was profound there was the memorial was designed in the footprints of the two towers and they had become “wells” with cascading, falling water. I felt the deep sorrow of that tragic day and I sensed this falling water represented the tears of those who were still grieving. Once again this proved to be a sacred space.
Walking in places full of history, often filled with tragic moments, sets a space apart from all others. Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields, Coventry Cathedral in England which was destroyed in the bombings of WWII, standing on the spot where Christians were martyred for their protestant faith in the mid 1500’s in Oxford all have a profound sense of the consecration.
Sacred simply means set apart. Being in a liturgical tradition that celebrates the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion weekly there is a picture that has always stuck with me. At the church we have beautiful, ornate vessels we use as a part of the service. Hewn from precious metals, scribed with artistic flair and design, these chalices are used to hold the sacrament. We treat them with great care and respect; we clean them meticulously and store them in special bags that resist tarnish. Could you imagine taking one of these blessed objects and pouring ourself a soft drink in one for you to consume? You would be quickly scolded for such a common use of a “sacred” item. These vessels are not sacred in and of themselves but we have attached to them a reverence because they are set apart for sacred use.
In the same way specific landscapes set apart, the very dirt possesses something we recognize as sacred. In these spaces we have the opportunity for encounter, a chance to peer through to see eternity. I love this quote…
“If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred – ever brushed against the holy – you retain it more in your bones than in your head; and if you haven’t, no description of the experience will ever be satisfactory.” ― Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Spaces, Looking for Wisdom on Holy Celtic Islands
Ponder, reflect and consider those moments when you have brushed up against the holy. I believe they are more common than we think; our problem in this fast paced, hectic world is that we sprint through life rather than walk. Slow down, be still and discover the sacred in your own life.