ARTICLES, SERMONS & DISCUSSION
Space & Holy Place
just started a book about the spirituality of place.
This article is not about that book (I’ve only read two pages
so far), except to mention that it begins by sounding a familiar
warning, which is this. In these days of globalisation and the internet,
and with everyone so busy, we are in real danger of loosing the
enchantment of particular places: the Wild Garlic Walk in
Lastingham during May, the purple heather on the Moor in August, the
atmosphere of a particular farm we knew as a child, the house we once
spiritual elusiveness we may feel is beautifully expressed in these
lines from T. S. Eliot’s
‘Little Gidding’ in Four Quartets:
would be the same, when you leave the rough road
turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
only a shell, a husk of meaning
which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
at all. Either you had no purpose
the purpose is beyond the end you figured
is altered in fulfilment.
loss of the idea of ‘a special place’ is shown in the way we so
often, now, use the word ‘space’ as opposed to ‘place’. We speak
of ‘living space’, ‘office space’, ‘exhibition
space’ and so forth. And
cyberspace. A church may presumably be called a ‘worship space’.
sort of usage belongs to a time of a rapid turnover of addresses which
many of us have had, and also to the recurrent ‘change of use’ that
may have been applied to particular buildings or areas.
may also be ‘sacred space.’ This term is nowadays used by new-age
writers, on Feng Shui and other things. But it has also been used by
anthropologists and liturgical scholars. The Jerusalem Temple built by
Solomon was actually a schematic model of the created universe; and the
famous ‘Veil of the Temple’ divided the visible world from the
Christian Church is ‘sacred space’, since the features of the
building symbolise parts of the Christian faith and its antecedents.
There is the orientation of the building towards the rising sun, the
altar as the place of sacrifice, the font as the place of welcome and
initiation, and so forth.
what of place, as opposed to space? There exist, as we
know, well recognised ‘holy places.’
month we published an article on Lourdes – clearly one of the
world’s generally accepted holy places. Others are Glastonbury,
sacred place carries memories – memories not just of peaceful
pilgrimages but often of some intense and difficult spiritual endeavour.
The pilgrimages, the prayer, the sense of peace, the healing
properties of the place, may be recognised only later.
They are likely to depend on the features of the terrain
(proximity to water etc) and the spiritual input from human beings.
may not have access to why a place first became holy. But as T.S.Eliot
goes on to warn us in a few lines on from the passage quoted above
(which is placed in Lastingham Crypt):
are not here to verify,
yourself, or inform curiosity
carry report. You are here to kneel
prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
an order of words, the conscious occupation
the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
what the dead had no speech for, when living,
can tell you, being dead: the communication
the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
the intersection of the timeless moment
England and nowhere.
holy place may become neglected, like a beautiful garden that is
overgrown. Churches certainly do have their ups and downs. Holy places
must be looked after: swept, maintained and prayed in.
can also of course be unholy places, where unpleasant things have
happened. These too need to be prayed in, and the Christian sacraments
offered if possible.)
Christian church is both sacred space and holy place: sacred space
because it is a model of the Christian story, and a holy place because
within it ‘prayer has been valid’.
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