May 14, 2009

Sacred Space?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 7:48 am


I was part of a discussion last night on a chapter in Bruxy Cavey’s 2007 work The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus.  The specific chapter under discussion contended that, because of the sacrifical work of Jesus on the cross, the ministry of sacrifice that took place at the Temple was no longer needed, and therefore the place of sacrifices — strickly speaking, the altar, but more generally, the Temple itself — had outlived its usefulness.  This means, Cavey contends, that the whole Temple cult and the religiosity attached to it no longer had any place in the lives of God’s people, for the Lord had removed Himself from the box of location-boundedness and stretched out his presence into the whole earth (though he had always reigned over our world).  There was a breaking-down of the wall that held sacred and secular spaces apart.  A problem arises, Cavey claims, because the Christian Church has not always understood this, and thus the impulse to build magnificent houses of worship with altars at which the sacrifice of the cross is re-enacted through the mass.  God no longer dwells in buildings made by the hands of men: the rending of the curtain in the temple upon Jesus’ death points toward this.

So far, I take little issue with Cavey’s thesis, but the problem arises in the interpretation of what Cavey writes.  That is to say, what he proposes may sound radical to some (many?), and when something radical is suggested, there is the possibility that the voice of moderation will be lost and the nuances of the argument become obscured.

I do not mean to suggest that Cavey himself believes what I am about to say, but the chapter is written in such a way (and purposefully so, for a strongly worded, simple, clear argument is often more effective than one that readily admits the vagaries of the topic) that some readers may take him to mean that one should never set foot in a church building again, or that there is absolutely no merit to the idea that we may be more open to God in certain places.  For we in our humanness, have the impulse to “religify” certain places, and therefore we often find ourselves feeling closer to God in places which we have designated for such a purpose.  I wonder if the Temple or the Tabernacle were not really about God, but about us, because He knows that it is easier for us to worship when we believe and can see God’s presence and power manifested in a certain way and a certain place.  The temple was His gift to us, to satiate the religious impulse, to cater to our frailties and foibles.  And yet Jesus’ coming to break down those walls between sacred and secular space was also a gift, so that, contrary to our natural inclinations, we might worship the Lord anywhere and bask in his presence at any time and place, instead of needing to go somewhere to find Him.  He made Himself accessible to us in a new way.  But both facets are true at the same time in our experience: we can access God at any time, but certain places can hold a unique power over us.

The point, then, is not so much about one consistent sacred space, but our need and desire to create sacred space or times at or within which we more readily experience our Lord, but I do not think Cavey’s argument leaves much room for this.  Case in point, our Good Friday service this past month was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have had.  It took places in our regular worship space, which has a gym floor.  There was nothing blessed or sacred about that space in and of itself, and yet, by the use of a few candles and some music, it was transformed into a place where the presence of the Almighty seemed greater.  It was not as if God necessarily showed up in a greater way, but rather that those in attendance were more open to what He desired of us and for us.

So I do not disagree with Cavey in theory, but I want his readers to understand that there is still room for us to create sacred space (as in the example above), or to seek it out (many people feel closest to Jesus when their are in the midst of his unspoiled creation).  God is not bound to a Temple or a church building and therefore neither are we, but there are those places and times in our lives where heaven seems to draw just a bit closer to earth and we are blessed to receive a glimpse through the veil, as it were.  These are special times, and let us not deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t need them.


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