Sacred Spaces: Where Heaven Meets Earth & Earth Returns to Heaven
Part 2: Sacred Spaces & Thin Places
“The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of the divine power and glory.” – Kallistos Warehttp://www.azquotes.com/author/30381-Kallistos_Ware
For the second part of this series on “Sacred Spaces,” I would like to explore the idea that, while all of creation is and always has been sacred, there are some places which are “more” sacred than others. Contrary to this premise, I have had people boldly proclaim to me that because God made everything, and since all things are sacred, there are no spaces or places that are “more sacred” than others.
For these same people, the inside of a church holds no more “sacred” or special qualities than, say a playground or pizza joint. This attitude has led to some pretty “desecrating” usage of what we have for centuries considered “sacred space.” But for Christians, who read and proclaim the revelation of Christ, of Truth, through the Holy Scriptures, it is a great fallacy to think in these terms. Let us think of this example first, that of the Holy Prophet Moses and his encounter with God in the burning bush:
4When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” – Exodus 3:4-6
Do you know that this same once “burning bush” still exists in the Sinai? It is at the site where, long, long ago, the Monastery of St. Katherine was built and still preserves some of the oldest continual worship and preserved artifacts of Christianity. Later in the story, the Old Testament image of Mount Sinai, as Moses was called by God and went up to him on the mountain, is truly one of the more awe-inspiring description in the Holy Scriptures:
”The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” – Exodus 24:16-17
And likewise, the experience of Moses earlier in his life, when he witnessed:
“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” – Exodus 19:18
When I was very young, we lived on the Western slope of Colorado and spent much of our spare time exploring the stunning and beautiful San Juan Mountain Rang. Once, when I was not more than two years old, I proclaimed to my parents as we were driving past Red Mountain, that, “God lives up there.” I was (and remain) utterly convinced of that reality.
No, I did not (I don’t believe or remember) see anything “beyond,” but the beauty and majesty itself proclaimed the wonder of God in my young mind, relatively pure heart and soul. Likely, we have all experienced some or many places which take our breath away. Perhaps because of the beauty, of the lighting, or the sound of the breeze, or those with whom we share that special moment almost outside of time.
The early Celts had a name, an expression or definition, if you will, of places such as these. They called them “Thin Places” – meaning a physical place wherein one could more easily perceive and experience or glimpse heaven. These are places where it is easier to go beyond the thin veil which separates what is normally invisible to our mortal eyes, hearts and minds. Here is a wonderful explanation, shared by Yale Professor of Divinity, Dr. Nora Tubbs:
“On the coasts of Scotland and Ireland there are certain sites that the locals call “thin places.” Thin places are not so named because the altitude is any higher or the air any thinner there. Rather, they are called “thin” because it is believed that in these places the distance between heaven and earth shrinks, and the veil between the two worlds is so “thin” you can actually perceive something of heaven itself.
The ancient Celts–sensing the deep spirituality of these sites–built many of their worship places on them, some still marked today by circles of stone. Later Christians also built churches and monasteries and cemeteries there. And people who visit these sites today sometimes say they lose all track of time and space while there, and they know–deep down inside–they are on holy ground. For in thin places, boundaries of time and space fade away. There is no yesterday, today or tomorrow–only eternity stretching forth in a timeless continuum.” – http://day1.org/1117-glimpsing_heaven_in_thin_places
In her online article entitled, “Where can I Touch the Edge of Heaven” by contemporary author, Sylvia Maddox, she puts it this way:
“In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called “Thin Places.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.”
– Sharlande Sledge, “Thin Places.” Nonpublished
I believe it is because of these sacred places, these thin places which are “on earth as it is in heaven” that so much of humanity has felt impelled to go on pilgrimage to holy sites, or to spend time in the desert or in the wilderness or in any place where our hearts and minds can more clearly focus on truth.
There are many “thin places” – sacred places – in this world, where we are more likely, if our hearts are pure and our minds desire to love and experience Christ. As Christ shared with us in the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8
And from the repentant prayer of the Psalmist, King David:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” – Psalm 51:10
So, how do we come to have, or develop, or reclaim that “pure heart” spoken of in the Scriptures, so we can better perceive and experience the thin places, the sacred spaces, and in truth “see God?” We will first approach this by exploring “Sacred Seasons” within the Liturgical Cycle.
That will be my topic in the next segment of this series.
SOURCE: Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo