Sacred Spaces: Where Heaven Meets Earth & Earth Returns to Heaven
Part 1: Sacred Places & Desecrated Places
“There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.”
– Wendell Berry, from “How to be a Poet” Given
The idea of “sacred spaces” came to mind as we drove back home from a clergy deanery meeting up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I tagged along with my hubby and very much enjoyed seeing other clergy, clergy wives, and friends who live in that area. Fr. John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, inspired us all with his talks about “Becoming Human.” Some of the ideas he posited were more certain germane in inspiring this piece.
As we drove along our 500-mile journey homeward, my inner contemplation was focused on the topic of how we encounter God and become “human” in the very real sense in which Fr. Behr shared in his presentation. That led me to explore the concept of sacred spaces, which I soon discovered could be a multi-faceted topic if covered judiciously.
So, let’s start at the very beginning… as in “In the beginning…” Yep. That one.
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5
Although it may and should be obvious to all, after each of the days of creation, God proclaims the reality, “it is good.”
So, what does that mean? What is “good?” I love to learn about the origins of words. In this case, according to Merriam Webster, the origin is thus:
Middle English, from Old English gōd; akin to Old High German guot good, Middle High Germangatern to unite, Sanskrit gadhya what one clings to.http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/good
Quite interestingly, the word “God” has the same origins (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/god)
So, what is God saying when he proclaims, “it is good”? Think about it…
In Orthodox Christian prayer life, there is a certain prayer/hymn sometimes called, “Oh Heavenly King” which is sometimes also called the “Prayer to the Holy Spirit.” These words are either chanted or sang at the beginning of many liturgical services, meetings, etc.:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life – come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. http://oca.org/orthodoxy/prayers/trisagion
It is the “Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life” part that I am most interested in pondering at this point. Who art everywhere. Who fillest all things. So, the God of All, Creator and sustainer of all life everywhere is not somehow severed and separate from His Creation. The very creation itself, because of this, is sacred. To share that thought in another way. First from the great psalmist, King David:
A Psalm of David. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” – Psalm 24:1
And then from the New Testament Acts of the Apostles:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring. – Acts 17:28
Just as God created all things, He has not abandoned creation, but loves mankind and all of creation, giving Himself and His own Son for the salvation and redemption of all.
“The very harmony of creation, its preservation and governing, teach us that there is a God who has put all this together and keeps it together, ever maintaining it and providing for it.” ~ St. John of Damascus
Also, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, this concept is also shared in these words:
“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” – Hebrews 2:10-11
In this passage, the act of “sanctification” is brought into the mix. Sanctification being the act of making holy, consecrating, making or becoming sacred. That brings us to another word which is good to explore more deeply. What do we really mean by “sacred”? The origins of this word come from Middle English and Latin:
Middle English, from past participle of sacren to consecrate, from Anglo-French sacrer, from Latin sacrare, from sacr-, sacer sacred, holy; akin to Latin sancire to make sacred, Hittite šaklāi- rite http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacred
For those of us who believe and perceive that God indeed is the Creator and Sustainer of all, it is clear that what He made, that which He still imbues, is sacred, holy, consecrated. All places in heaven and earth holy, sacred, good. That brings us back to the foundational premise in Wendell Berry’s poem shared at the beginning of this piece, that “There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places.”
I love science things. Last night, I watched a fascinating segment on “60 Minutes” which talked about “The Collider.”
After discussing the very real possibility of the existence of a multitude of dimensions, another insight shared by one of the scientists interviewed declared that of the entire vastness of the universe, only about 5% is “visible” or “matter” as we know it. The remaining 95% is “invisible” – dubbed “dark matter” by scientists.
It is called dark matter both because it is not visible, and because, thus far, we are ignorant of its composition and properties. It goes without saying that of that 5%, we as the human race know very, very little. Of the 95%, well, we know nothing. What does that have to do with the sacred? Think back to that “everywhere present and fillest all things” concept. That makes my extremely non-brilliant mind just go “wow.” Or, far better expressed by the Psalmist:
“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” – Psalm 104:24
Now, let’s go back to the remainder of that Wendell Berry quote, which shares, “there are only sacred places, and desecrated places.” Yes, first let’s again define the word. To desecrate literally means to de-consecrate. To treat a sacred place or thing (or person) with violent disrespect, to violate the holy, the sacred. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desecrate
Without getting into the huge theological realm fraught with misunderstanding and confusion concerning “end times,” eschatology, and the particular reference in Mathew 24:15, among other places, regarding the “abomination of desolation,” for this purpose, let’s keep our experience of “desecration” here, now and related to our own lives.
I can think of many examples of the crime of desecration, or “attempted desecration” in my own life and recent times. I say “attempted desecration” for a reason, but I won’t get back to that in this segment of the series. But, back to desecration as we know it: Think of genocide, anywhere it takes place or has ever taken place in the history of this world. Think of Chernobyl, and the impact for other environmental and ecological disasters. Think of the rape of rainforests and other natural resources. Certainly, the leaders of the old Soviet regime consciously desecrated churches, monasteries and cemeteries during their reign of power. Bells were melted, crosses shattered, churches imploded, other holy places turned into brothels, or trash collection sites, or the place where animal manure was dumped.
Think also of the very state of being and becoming truly “human.” Think of the ever creeping world view of the material – where nothing is sacred, nothing is holy – where all life is spent merely as “computers, consumers, calculators and copulators,” as per the explanation in several lectures and writings of Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory. This is one such talk, referencing the excellent C.S. Lewis piece entitled the “Abolition of Man.”
“Lewis says that for human beings to see, know, love, adore and offer fitting thanksgiving for all that is good, true and beautiful in human life, and so to remain fully and truly human, they must possess and cultivate the uniquely human faculty that differentiates them from angels and beasts, and, we must also add today, from the artificial intelligence of electronic technology. Lewis calls this faculty the “Tao.” He says that it may also be called the “image of God” or the “spark of divinity” or the Law or the Logos or the Heart. (Today, if he knew Orthodox literature, he might have also said that it may be called the Nous.) Whatever one calls it, it is the faculty whereby human beings intuit and contemplate the basic truths of human being and life that ground all ratiocination, discourse, conversation and disputation. Lewis claimed in 1944 that if the methods of education prevailing in the schools of his day prove to be successful, this uniquely human faculty will be obliterated, and human beings as we have known them will no longer exist. It will literally be “the abolition of man.”
I am convinced that what Lewis foresaw has happened, and is still happening with ever more catastrophic consequences, in our Western and Westernized worlds. It happens that men and women who once were human are simply no longer so. They have become nothing but minds and matter, brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators, constructers and cloners who believe that they are free and powerful but who are in fact being destroyed by the very “Nature” that they wish to conquer as they are enslaved to an oligarchy of “Conditioners” who are themselves enslaved and destroyed by their insane strivings to define, design, manage and manipulate a world and a humanity bereft of the God who boundlessly loves them.”
In the above mentioned context, what do we see, or experience, or participate in which is “desecration” or “desecrating”? As for myself, I can say that anytime I look at any aspect of life without seeing God (speaking here of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as being intrinsically within it, I am desecrating His creation in my own mind. And also not recognizing the holy in my own corresponding mindset and actions. No, we as Christians do not, should not “worship” creation. We worship God alone, he who made the heavens and earth. But, we can and must reverence His handiwork. People, creatures, other living things, the earth itself. We cannot say we Love God and then hate our brother, abuse or treat anything else in creation callously.
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”- 1 John 4:20
Our relationships must be humanized and our inter-human relationships saturated with love. In addition, we most certainly can and must love, respect, care for and become conscientious husbandmen, in the fullest agricultural and environmental sense of that word. Just as we, as Christians, must lay down our lives, pick up our cross, live for “all mankind” and think of others first, as gardeners and caretakers or creation, we also need to consciously and carefully steward every aspect of our lives and the world around us.
After all, there are no unsacred places.
But then again, are some places “more sacred” than others? Next time, I will begin to explore that idea, whenever I get to that!
SOURCE: Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo