On the Beach by Gary Heard

Today’s post is another written by Gary Heard, pastor of The Eighth Day – A baptist community on the edge of West Melbourne. It was first posted on Gary’s new blog Heard the Whispers which he writes with his wife Ev Heard. Gary and Ev have been part of the international core of Mustard Seed Associates for over many years.

It is reposted as part of the series Creating Sacred Spaces Do We Really Need Churches. 

The beach has never held much attraction for me as a place of recreation. Salt, sand, and seaweed clinging to my body has never seemed a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Nor does the idea of heading down to an unprotected stretch of scorching sand on an already taxing day. I have occasionally been coaxed by my children to the coast where, sometimes in spite of myself, I find myself enjoying the water. But it has not taken a tsunami to warn me of the power and the perils of the ocean, knowing that below the surface lie powerful and hidden forces with the capacity to overwhelm.On the Beach

Paradoxically, I love the beach as a place of contemplation. Sitting in a comfortable space (preferably away from the sand), I contemplate the intersection of two very different spheres of life interacting with one another as I watch the waves lapping the shore and retreating – an incessant rhythm with its own enchantment. I am drawn to contemplate another world below the surface – out of sight – one which I have occasionally explored with snorkel or scuba gear, but more regularly through the camera lens provided by Jacques Cousteau. In this contemplation, the beach is a border into another world, one in which there is an ill-defined partnership with those of us who live on the land.

The ocean is a vast expanse of life, operating by different rules and bringing different experiences. We have learnt some of the ways in which it feeds our own life above the surface, but much remains a mystery. We sail upon it, fly over it, swim in it, and sometimes dive through it, but we are never really part of it. It is much more mystery than knowledge, with forces at work visible only to the experienced eye, and then some more. I find my contemplation moving from the waves, with their indefatigable movement towards and retreat from the shore, to be a reminder of the love of God, never giving up on us, at times reaching further into our lives, at other times more distant. But as my thoughts move to the depths, I contemplate the life and secrets contained within. We have an uneasy relationship with the sea, never truly mastered, never fully appreciated.

It has intrigued me that Gospel stories record Jesus teaching the crowds while standing on a boat on the sea. Beyond the words of Jesus’ teaching, I wonder at the symbolism – Jesus upon the ocean, filled as it is with a richness of life partially revealed, yet largely unknown to us, and a power we barely appreciate. Learning to explore that mystery remains a daily challenge.

Check out the other posts in the series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

In the Back Yard by Gary Heard

In the Back Yard by Gary Heard

This morning’s post is written by Gary Heard, pastor of The Eighth Day – A baptist community on the edge of West Melbourne. It was first posted on Gary’s new blog Heard the Whispers which he writes with his wife Ev Heard. Gary and Ev have been part of the international core of Mustard Seed Associates for over many years.

It is reposted this morning as part of the series Creating Sacred Spaces Do We Really Need Churches. 

The back yard in my own family home was a battleground where test matches, football finals, and basketball championships were won and lost. Being the youngest in the family, any win was difficult, often requiring perseverance against the odds. Alongside broken windows, damaged fence palings and a dented rubbish bin found one could also discover bruised egos, a heightened sense of injustice, and some heated battles over rules, interpretations and application, some of which were referred to a higher power (parents!)

When invited recently to conduct a wedding in a back yard, I was drawn to reflect upon the significance of such places in forming key aspects of our identity. Most back yards are ordinary places, littered with strategically placed and creatively recycled pieces of furniture, vegetable gardens, trees and plants with a unique ability to conceal a tennis or cricket ball, and knick-knacks collected from holiday spots or favourite nurseries. Although they are closed spaces, back yards are open to the sky, bringing a twin opportunity to ground ourselves in particular relationships and settings, but also to dream of what lies beyond: open to the infinite wonder which the sky represents.

In the back yard I learned about justice. Being the youngest sibling, I was often out-played or outweighed in the rough-and-tumble of backyard matches. I learned to deal with injustice, to rebound when I felt cheated or overwhelmed, developing skills to deal with taller, faster, stronger siblings. These skills impact me to this very day. I certainly knew how far to push, and when it was better to let things go, learning to use my own assets in creative ways when a direct one-on-one contest was too daunting.

But back yards are symbolic of a much richer heritage. In preparing for the wedding service, I reflected upon the ways in which it symbolised a love grounded in the realities of relationships, not only of husband and wife, but wider family and community, affirming that love is planted firmly among family and friends, and grows out of the reality of our daily lives. Back yards are places where ordinary experiences are made ever richer by shared love, recollected through the years in family gatherings. Stories are formed, told and retold in this place, becoming part of our identity. And some threatening drops of rain reminded us all that in the back yard we are also exposed to the elements, requiring us to relinquish some control and enjoy the exploration and randomness which nature – and relationships with family and friends – can often bring.

I recall reclining in the backyard pondering the skies and my place in the universe beneath the wonder of myriad stars so far from the earth, illuminating the skies. Looking into history – for the light I could see twinkling left its source many years before – I pondered perspective and the bigger questions of life. And in later years I would sit in the back yard with my beloved, sharing dreams and hopes together, pondering imponderables, and simply enjoying each other’s presence. These dreams could be apparently mundane: we can plant this, we can build that… the source of an intimacy built with roots in common dreams, shared values, a mutual spirituality.

Jesus’ parables often have their roots in ordinary places – weddings, gardens, roadsides – because they are the repository where our identity is formed, and our perspective on the greater questions of life are shaped. They are the places where God can be found.

Check out the other posts in the series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

U2: Where the Streets Have No Name

I was recently sent this link to the U2 song Where the Streets Have No Name as a contribution to the series I was powerfully impacted by Bono’s quote, another powerful example of how a sacred space can be created in the most unexpected places, places in which God walks through the room.

“We can be in the middle of the worst gig in our lives, but when we go into that song, everything changes. The audience is on its feet, singing along with every word. It’s like God suddenly walks through the room. It’s the point where craft ends and spirit begins. How else do you explain it?” – Bono, Los Angeles Times 2004

What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me
What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me
I lift high the Cup of Salvation as a toast to our Father
To follow through on a promise I made to you from the heart

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me tonight
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name
I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to dance dance dance in the dirty rain

This video of Where the Streets Have no Name is a wonderful (and evidently illegal) clip of U2 performing on a rooftop.

Read the entire lyrics here

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Check out the other posts in this series

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

Adam’s Windmill and the Welsh Revival by Dyfed Wyn Roberts

Memories that Create Sacred Space.

Memories that Create Sacred Space.

This afternoon Tom and I head to Australia to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I have never looked forward to a trip with so much excitement and anticipation. Part of my excitement has been fueled by the memories book I have compiled for her. I know she will be delighted, but what has surprised me is my own reaction. I have loved sharing with my friends, even posted the shutterfly link on Facebook.

Mum’s family boat

Mum - early family photo

Mum – early family photo

The photos go right back to mother’s childhood.

Myself with brothers Nick, Rod and Greg

Myself with brothers Nick, Rod and Greg

Mum and Dad with myself and brothers Nick and Rod

Mum and Dad with myself and brothers Nick and Rod

They embrace my own childhood.

Aroney family wedding

Aroney family wedding

And they include photos of all my brothers and their families.

Myself age 9

Myself age 9

And of course there is my signature photo on Facebook

So why has it been important for me to share? Partly I think because this is a part of my past that few people know much about. It is 30 years since I lived in Australia. Most of my friends have never met my family. Yet they are an important part of who I am. Without them I am not whole. They draw me close to my family, to the friends with whom I share and to the God who has created all of us.

Family memories are important for all of us. They shape our lives and they shape our faith. And they created a sacred space that is as precious as any other place in which we meet with God. Like any sacred space, they should not be kept to ourselves. Memories of our family and upbringing are important to share – even the painful ones – for it is often in this sharing that we find the wholeness God desires for us.

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Check out the other posts in this series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

Today’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space Do We Need Churches?  is contributed by The. Rev. Daniel Simons, Priest and Director of Liturgy, Hospitality, and Pilgrimage for Trinity Wall Street. He can be contacted at dsimons@trinitywallstreet.org.

Trinity Wall Street via http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/

Trinity Wall Street via http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/

We worship in the architectural decisions of those who came before.

One of the great heritages that a church passes on is its buildings. Yet how we inherit the worship space of a particular time, make it our own, and hand it on to others is a delicate question. If we are mere preservationists then worship can be frozen, becoming itself an object of worship, which is idolatry and the death of lively spirituality. On the other hand, if we forget that we are just a tick of the clock’s hand in time and rebuild to suit the fad of the moment, we can mangle the coherence of a particular age’s architectural voice or leave behind a dated legacy that can’t speak beyond its generation (many churches are still cleaning up liturgical spaces designed in the ’50s and ’60s).

Trinity Wall Street is not exempt from these considerations. Our church (meaning the people of God) is housed in two spectacular edifices: Trinity Church, the third building on the site and now dwarfed by the elegant old skyscrapers of early Manhattan, but for many years the tallest building on the island; and St. Paul’s Chapel, a city treasure that is New York’s oldest public building in continuous use.

One of the tributes to the architects who designed Trinity and St. Paul’s Chapel is that the buildings have needed so little redesign over the centuries. Every time we put St. Paul’s to another use the founders would have never considered, we discover what perfectly designed proportions we’re working with. We have had dinners, concerts, dances, and classes there, and after 9/11 it was a clinic and a kitchen and a dormitory. And then, of course, we have worshipped in so many different styles there, and it all works harmoniously because those who built it were listening deeply to the poetry of the space.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t radically changed those spaces. Somewhere along the line at St. Paul’s, the pew boxes that had kept people warm in winter became charming but impractical, and all but two, including George Washington’s, were removed. And then, about six years ago, the pews were removed entirely. Having experienced the capacity of the chapel to be something much more than a church, Trinity’s leadership listened deeply to the need of the moment and decided that the bones of the building could withstand, and even incorporate, that radical decision. In the years since, that choice has proved itself to be a good one, and once-skeptics now comment on what a new range the chapel has.

I’m not making a case for removing pews; I’m making a case for listening deeply both to a building’s heritage and its call to mission in the moment. There are often ways of having both. This year we are beginning to consider a master plan to renew the interior of Trinity Church. Much of it is the boring but important stuff: heating/cooling/sound/light. Some of it goes into that deeper stewardship of prayer: shall we make some of the pews moveable so that we increase the flexible use of the space? How does the altar area relate to the people, and is there a one-sizefits- all solution, or do we want flexibility there too? How do we make the rear of the church more welcoming to visitors—more porous to the outside world while maintaining its coherence and integrity?

As the architects work on these questions, we are all wrestling with this tension: any change we make affects those who come after us. In the same way that our architects gave us such good bones to work with in these buildings, our work has to be thoughtful and careful enough to be appreciated by our spiritual descendants, who will have different concerns from ours that we cannot yet see.

Tradition is the process of handing on the past to the future. In that process we inevitably leave our own mark. In every age the call is faithfulness to the Gospel as we hear it, the call to follow Jesus in our own time.

Sidebar: Our mark in some ages calls for great reform, in some ages holding steady, and sometimes we are even called to leave the building entirely. Look at your building—what does it say about the community that built it? How has it shaped you and how have you shaped it? How does it help or hinder you in living out the Gospel now? What do you think God is calling your community to do or be in this next chapter of mission, and how will that be reflected and enhanced by what you do with your building?

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Check out the other posts in this series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

 

 

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Today’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space Do We Need Churches? comes from Richard Dahlstrom. Richard is the author of “The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Intimacy”.  You can look for him in the forest, where he’ll be listening for God’s voice amidst the trees.  If you can’t find him there, you can find him at www.richarddahlstrom.com

Listen to the trees

Listen to the trees

Jesus warned us that the Bible could get us into trouble.  He told the religious experts of his day that the searched the scripture, thinking that in them they’d find eternal life.  And yet, he goes on to say, they were unwilling to come to him that they might actually find life.  It’s as if the profound and life altering possibilities of intimacy with our creator had been reduced to a formula.  Take 15 minutes of morning; add a chapter of Bible reading; toss in a dash of prayer and presto!  Spiritual Maturity to go!

 

These formulaic criteria for spiritual maturity are always, always, getting us into trouble.  In a hyper-educated society like ours, there are lots of people who confuse the amassing of knowledge with spiritual maturity.  For them, Christ is found careful lexical studies of Greek words, long sermons, note taking, and Bible memorization.  The complaint of Jesus, articulated in the previous paragraph, exposes the reality that I can do all of this stuff and still not know Christ.  Instead, my so called knowledge runs the risk of filling me with pride and arrogance.

The problem isn’t the Bible.  The problem is our invalidation of other powerful forms of revelation, in particular creation.  One can’t read Psalm 19, or Psalm 104, or Romans 1, or Genesis 2 and 3 without recognizing that the entire cosmos is one endless sermon.  The heavens are preaching, from the rising of the sun, to the flinging of the stars through the nighttime sky, to the rising again.  That endless hydration cycle and the seasons preach of God’s provision; the bright green of new life each spring of Jehovah’s character as the source of all life; the mountains as places where the glory of heaven touches earth and we’re transformed.

For too long evangelicals have bought into the false dualism that exalts mind over body; heaven over the earth; and text of the book over the text of creation.  God’s in all of it!  We who breathe the air of false dualism daily, throughout our sterile concrete cultures, absolutely must find ways to listen to God once again in a context where the text of the book and the text of creation can intermingle.

That’s why, 17 years ago, my wife and I did away with our chemically supported lawn, and planted a forest in backyard – cedar, fir, hemlock, and redwood.  It’s grown into a sacred grove, a canopy of green that shelters life for birds and squirrels and provides a rich soil for other flora on the forest floor.  That’s where I sit most mornings, with a cup of coffee, and a Bible, to meet with Jesus.  The intermingling of Bible and creation has become, for me, the context in which God speaks to me most clearly, most profoundly.  I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness to, and love of, all creation every morning.  Various elements speak to me, such as new saplings, or fresh green sprigs, rain or wind or sun sneaking through the trees.  God’s alive in it all, shouting.  The book text interprets creation – the creation text interprets book.  Indeed, my backyard is a sanctuary, opening my eyes and ears to God’s revelation and preparing me for each new day.

May all of us find or create sacred spaces where the creation text and the book text can kiss.  It’s there we’ll find hope.  It’s there we’ll find transformation.  It’s there we’ll find Christ.

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Check out the other posts in this series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

 

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

This morning’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space Do We Need Churches? is written by Lynne M Baab. Lynne is the author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices, including Sabbath Keeping, Fasting, and Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She teaches pastoral theology in New Zealand. Her website has numerous articles she’s written about spiritual practices, as well as information about her books.

When I started this series I asked people to write about how they connected to God outside of church, but I have been reminded by many of the comments of the importance of connecting inside church buildings too. Lynne’s article is another good reminder of this.

Monastery

The first time I set foot in a Benedictine monastery, I knew many, many people had prayed over many, many years in that place. It was St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, and all the spaces felt sacred. I kept coming back every year until we moved away from that part of the world. In my visits there, my own prayers felt like part of a chain that spanned many years.

Around the same time as my first visit to the monastery, I discovered two sacred places in Seattle, the city where I lived. Places where I could pray easily. Places where I sensed the presence of God.

St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in Seattle, has a heavy hugeness to it. Its solidity speaks to me of God’s safety and stability, and the enormous empty space inside of it tells me God is so much bigger than I can grasp.

St Mark's Cathedral, Seattle

The Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University is small and quirky, with odd curves and angles. Its colored glass windows come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The baptismal font near the entrance is very large, and the water rises exactly to the height of the font, giving a smooth still surface much like the pool of water outside the door of the chapter. The stillness of the water in the font and the odd shapes of the building and the windows speak to me of God’s peace coupled with the challenge of God’s unpredictable call to us.

Church

Fifteen years ago, around the time of my first visit to the monastery, I was a newly ordained associate pastor in a Presbyterian congregation in Seattle, and I knew I needed reflection time in order to hear God’s guidance for ministry. In addition to the yearly trips to the monastery, I booked out one Wednesday afternoon each month for thinking, praying and planning. On those Wednesdays I parked my car a few blocks from Seattle University, and I walked a circular loop that took me to both St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Chapel of St. Ignatius. I brought my journal, and I sat in each of the two worship spaces journaling for a while. I tried to sink into the space and listen for what God had for me in each of the two very different places of worship.

Walking between the two worship places got me out into the fresh air. I always enjoyed the urban walk along sidewalks, businesses, parked cars and busy streets. As anyone who engages in urban walking knows, small but beautiful signs of God’s creation peek out everywhere. A baby in a stroller, a flowering bush, a pocket park with interesting landscaping, a window box with petunias. My Wednesday afternoon combination of fresh air with signs of God’s creation, plus architectural spaces that speak of God’s character, fed my soul in profound ways.

Two years after I began that monthly practice, I had a knee injury that prohibited me from walking very much, so I had to find new ways to reflect and meet God. I’ll never forget those spaces that spoke to me of God’s character, spaces where I heard God’s voice of love, felt the companionship of Jesus, and sensed the Holy Spirit’s guidance for ministry.

 

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Today’s post in the series Creating a Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches comes from Ryan Harrison. Ryan is from Denver, Colorado. When she’s not at her day job, she spends her time creating: writing and designing, or trying to build a community of love in her little corner of Denver. She always thinks about keeping a blog, but doesn’t currently have one.

Oak Trees England

Oak Trees England

A tree, my most sacred space…

When I first began my relationship with God, I was instantly thrown into turmoil in my relationship with my family. I still lived at home, and they exercised harsh restrictions in my life in order to keep me from walking on my new path. In fact, in one particular attempt to deter me, they took me out of Colorado for an entire summer, to prevent me from going to a certain church.

What they didn’t expect, what I didn’t expect, was the way that God met me in the pine groves of the Pacific Northwest. The trees towered over me, catching sun rays and bouncing them off their green needles and letting shadows twinkle across their trunks. They were playfully declaring the glory of the Lord. I saw God in those groves, catching glimpses of His promise to His people: to trade their ashes for beauty, to raise them up like oaks of righteousness. As I watched the sun snag on the pine needles, my heart was consoled: me, a living promise of roots that dug deep for water, deep for the nourishment that would grow me up into a towering tree, a sign of His faithfulness.

Six months later, I’d run deep into the forests of Switzerland, running to a clearing where I’d collapse, the trees covering me, standing at my side and my back as though God’s army of angels was there in those very leaves, in those swaying branches that covered me in a blanket of peace. I had left home and gone to Switzerland, not being able to stand what my family did to me anymore. Almost as soon as I stepped off the train that took me to my Swiss village, my family severed ties, in a way full of finality, sending me into a season of despair and tears. And so I’d go into my forest, and I’d wait on God to show me something. He had met me in the forest once before and I trusted Him to do it again. Without fail, I’d wait and the sun would dance into the clearing and dry the tears from my face, and I would rest in the promise that the waves wouldn’t drown me, they wouldn’t sweep me away. God would rescue–no, He was rescuing me. He was pouring love into my dying roots, reviving me.

More than a decade later my friend had to bury her brother, and her long time best friend, just shy of 40 years old. And as I sought to comfort her, I could see one thing as I prayed: my friend in a clearing with an army of trees at her back, holding her steady, keeping her on her feet in the moments when the grief was too strong and it threatened to crush her. And those trees? Her community, the people who committed to pursue a holy God and be raised up in His righteousness so that we could pour that healing balm that came from God alone on her wounded heart.

Her brother’s ashes are buried at the foot of a kingly tree, one that climbs high into the heavens, birds perching on the branches so tall you can’t see their shapes but faintly hear them, the rain falling through and becoming mist by the time it lands on you. What beauty and hope there is in that picture for me.

Trees are my sacred space, my cathedral where I meet with God. When I sit at the trunk of a tree, or run my hand over the gnarled knots in a tree in my neighborhood that has pushed itself up through the sidewalk, I know God’s closeness. Whether in the pine groves near Seattle, the forests in Switzerland, or the olive groves in Spain, I find a sense of home, my true home. When the aspens quake in the late summer with the autumn breeze moving in, their grace and strength remind me of my journey with God and nudge me to remember: anchor my soul in Him and He will help me stand tall.

I love walking through the doors of my church building, the worship echoing along the walls and the warmth of the chatter of loved ones rushing at me. I need that quirky old building to remind me that my job helping build the Kingdom is as sacred as anything else, joining God’s people to raise up the cause of the orphan and the widow. The building reminds me that my soul does not have only an inward journey, but also an outward one. But what my soul longs for most, is that secret place where I meet God, my most sacred of all sacred spaces, the forest. I need the stained glass of the glinting sunshine and the dew. I need the hushed whispers of the leaves and the wind. I need the intricate kaleidoscope of the bark and the sap. But most of all, I need the promise of the tender blossom returning in the spring after a sleepy winter, its scent drifting on the promise of His redeeming love.

Ryan Harrison

 

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

This week I am continuing the series on Creating Sacred Space – Do We Need Churches, with contributions from friends and fellow bloggers. Today’s post comes from James Rempt who lives in the Mustard Seed House here in Seattle.

Agave_parryi_in_flower_at_Anza-Borrego

The elation of discovery has often gone hand in hand with the joy creativity for me. In moments of discovery just as with acts of creativity, its often as if some transcendent melody, some deeper truth, strikes a resonant frequency within me.

I’ve never had a moment I can think back on when I successfully created a sacred space. But to be certain, since I was a young boy, I have always been excited by my own discoveries while exploring nature: a frog species never seen by my own eyes, color variations on a common flower, a new tree with branches low enough to climb. As I child I would map the green belt in my neighborhood based on the discovery of such things.

The first time I recall discovering a sacred space I was about 9 years old. It was a whole new kind of discovery.

My father and I were on our first trip to the American southwest. These trips would become a yearly tradition for my dad and I for the next 10 years, and even now, as I am 28 and he is 70, we still make it a goal to continue the tradition when possible.

I was fortunate to be raised by a father who invested in me, focused on me, and lead me into adventure while directing me toward a deeper truth. It’s no coincidence, for me, that on this trip with my earthly father I experienced a sacred space full of the presence of God the Father.

That day, my father and I had spent a long time driving. Our goal was to experience and photograph the wild life in and around Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California’s Colorado Desert. We had stopped at a store earlier that day to get sandwich fixings to prepare us for a late night of driving slowly along the open, relatively quiet roads, stopping to view scorpions, tarantulas, geckos and rattle snakes as they crawled across the solar charged asphalt.

Fonts Point Anza Borrego

We pulled into a large dirt turn out about 20 minutes after sunset. On the opposite side of the road from the turn out, the base foothills of some small mountains gently ascended. With our backs to these mountains, we looked south. My dad told me Mexico was in sight, but it all looked the same to me: an ever-dimming landscape of creosote bushes, tumbleweed, sand and dust.

About an hour previous, my father and I were driving, keeping our eyes pealed for “crepuscular” wildlife. I learned on that trip that crepuscular referred to animal foraging behaviors during dawn or dusk, a common characteristic of many forms of desert wildlife.

As my father walked around the car, he bent down and touched asphalt. “It’s definitely warm enough. Animals will be on the road”, he remarked.

He went around and opened the trunk, removing some rounded dinner roles, lunch meet and condiments from a small ice chest. In the increasing darkness, we quickly cobbled together a couple of small sandwiches while we leaned with our backs against the car, looking south. We ate in contented silence.

As my appetite became sufficiently quenched and the stars began to make their appearance, it was the stillness that suddenly drew me in. Never in my life had I experienced what I was experiencing at that moment: The gentle intermittent whir of the wind through the hearty desert brush was the only sound. I couldn’t see a single man made light. The air temperature was comfortably in the 90s, and within a few minutes there were more stars than I knew could fit in the night sky. It was like some invisible artist poked dozens of new pinholes in the darkening canvas above me each time I blinked.

As I continued to meditate on what was before me, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had ever focused on silence. It was almost like I had discovered silence for the first time; only this silence was mixed with warmth, the smell of desert plants, and 1000s of stars I never new existed. The physical sensations were nothing compared to the feeling deep inside me: something in this desert solitude was certainly the opposite of loneliness: it was alive, it was beautiful, and it was communing with my soul in some incredible way. “Be still, and know that I am God”, my mother used to always say. Here, in this space, I didn’t have to be still. The stillness that I discovered in that moment proclaimed God, and it just was, it wasn’t something I had to be. It surrounded me and drew me into a reassuring presence. It saturated the night. There was something about it that redirected all imagination and experience to God. This was certainly a sacred space that I had discovered.

In the years since, I have returned to the desert many times, and the sacred space is still there. My memory often turns to that first night, though, leaning against the car with my dad. Nothing quite compares to the amazement of that first discovery with my father.

What is a Sacred Space?

What is a spiritual practice

What is a sacred space

Over the last few days there has been an interesting discussion on my previous post Creating Sacred Spaces: Do We Really Need Churches? which has raised the question for me, and obviously for many others: What is a sacred space.

The forest one day and the café the next, from a mountaintop sunrise to the neon city lights; they do compliment and complete each other. Sacred is where the soul goes, not just what is there as prior.

Sacred is where the soul goes. I love that expression. A place is not sacred because it is set aside for the worship of God. Nor is it sacred because it is constructed specifically to glorify God. A place is sacred, ground is holy because we encounter God there. Think on Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. This bush was not unique, it was probably identical to many other bushes in the area. What made it special was that God was revealed to Moses in that place.

Sacred space is where we intentionally move towards an encounter with God. Moses could have kept on walking and ignored the bush, just as we so often do today when God appears in unexpected but ordinary places. It seems to me that we have confined sacred experiences and holy ground to church buildings that God never really wanted anyway. I love a couple of the suggestions that have been voiced on my previous post:

I do remember as a youngster in Chicago, some of my favorite things to do would be to go to those parts of the city where most would not. Have you ever experienced taking a date to go sit on the curb in a lesser part of town and discuss life with the local denizens? This too was holy ground at those times.

We can even extend that now to include other ethnic groups, other cultures, other nations. Though it may not be a face to face experience; when dialoguing with friends all over the word, finding new experiences through their thoughts and expanding my mind with different ideas,makes my computer one more holy place.

So what are the unexpected sacred places in your life? Where do you encounter a special relationship with God and what are the activities, experiences and conversations that make it sacred?