Saturday, January 5, 2008

8 categories of the sacred

What makes a space sacred? Is there one defining criteria for a space to convey or reflect the sacred? For some it is location. The sacred must be in a distinct place. That understanding is called by many geopiety; a certain place is more holy than another place. We see that regionally in the USA when people yearn for "home" places where their family comes from, places with deep meaning and story. Globally we see that in Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem, Kyoto and Nara, Rome  and other world centers for religions. 
For others, the sacred must have certain personalities, certain persons to teach, preach, lead and infuse gatherings with their charisma. In western celebrity drenched culture, stars of all sorts gather adoring crowds around them. From Rick Warren to the Pope, people cluster around personalities.
Others require the sacred to have a specific sound and a musical style. That again varies by taste and preference for Gregorian chant sung in Latin to Jars of Clay chorusses. Music is a highly volatile topic for many, who long for one type of music and disparage other types of music. Many of us have gone through worship wars with committed and intense people advocating their brand of sacred music.
As I reflected on the sacred, read the Bible straight through twice, underlining all references to sacred space with note in the margin that looks like this: "Ssp", and visiting 29 Romanesque churches in France over the years since 2000, I propose 8 realms of sacred space that must be in a relationship with each other. Over the next months I hope to make a case for each of these categories in a distilled form that invites comment and feedback. There may only be 6 categories or there could be 13 categories. I've landed on 8:
1. Transcendence
2. Immanence
3. Prayer
4. Leadership
5. Safety
6. Time
7. Beauty
8. Meaning


Kalon L said...

What makes a space sacred? I think a space is sacred when it has been the locus for an experience with God. And since God controls these encounters, any space can become sacred, and no space is intrinsically sacred.

I will comprehend a location as sacred when I can imagine a man-God encounter there even if I were not involved (e.g., I believe Mt. Horeb to be sacred not because I had an encounter there but because Abraham did.)

I had no sense of a sacred space when we visited the Holy Sepulchre, but was profoundly touched standing alone by the Sea of Galilee and imagining Jesus there calling on some fishermen to follow him. The shore of the Sea was sacred for me but not the church. Why not? Because all of the icons and structures and church territorial squabbles simply made it impossible for me to understand that space as the place where Jesus was crucified. So for me it wasn't sacred, but obviously for countless others it is.

donnjohnson said...

Thanks Kalon. So much of what happens between people regarding sacredness and space affects our view of it. When there are terrible squabbles (or genocide) we are repulsed. My argument (or journey) has more to do with the converging of the 8 qualities than any geographic coordinate or architectural style. So maybe even the use of the term sacred space sends a wrong signal.

Page Ariel said...

Perhaps I am taking this too far on a tangent, but I feel that we are called to view every place we set our feet to be a "sacred space." I haven't found any Biblical text to back me up, but I strongly believe that because the literal definition of "sacred" is "devoted to a deity," we cannot confine "sacred space" to categories as if it is something that can be achieved. As Christians we are devoted to a deity (God) therefore, wherever we go on this earth, we are constantly aware that God is with us, God is omniscient, God is everywhere. To say that one place (physically or emotionally) is more sacred than the next would be to deny that God is undertaking holy doings all around us all the time. The times when we are struck by worship or by beauty (mountaintop or ancient cathedral) are simply moments when we are finally seeing a sacred space for what it is because it evokes a sense of wonder. Sure, it takes meaning to recognize it, but in the purest sense of the term, "sacred space" is constantly around us for God calls us to constantly wonder at His holiness.