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Sacred Spaces and Thin Places

 There is both, something very human and something very spiritual, about us that congers up memories of significant encounters when we're exposed to familiar stimuli.  A room that makes us feel as we once felt.  A smell that brings us back to a time and place.  A pied piper's song that charms our spirit to another world.  

Often people speak of "Sacred Spaces."  The Celtics called them "Thin Places"... where heaven and earth intermingle.  They are often places where God HAPPENED to us.  We love marking some ground as a little more special than other ground. I recall very vividly when my father, the history teacher, took me to the see the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.  He had retold the story of Wolfe and Montcalm's clash many times to classes over generations (and his eldest son too) so it was like we were on hallowed earth. It was as if he could nearly see the ghost of General Wolfe in his brilliant red jacket laying slouched on this back, dying on the ground like in the painting on our wall.

One of my favorite, "Sacred Space" stories is that of the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford England.  This pub was where CS Lewis (Narnia) and J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) met every Tuesday morning along with other writers and disciples... for 30 years. Their group was called "The Inklings." They'd meet, enjoy a pint or two, and challenge each other about how to paint word entry points into The Kingdom of God.  Not many have done this as artfully or effectively.

“The Bird is now gloriously empty, with improved beer, and a landlord wreathed in welcoming smiles! He lights a special fire for us!…I know no more pleasant sound than arriving at the B. and B. and hearing a roar, and knowing that one can plunge in.”
- - J.R.R. Tolkien on The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford

Clearly this was a very special place for these "pen is mightier" prophets. And few could write sacred spaces better than they. I have some places kinda like this and have even written about my "Churchill Room" that I'd love to have one day.

I googled some photos of tourists in this pub and read some online reviews of this simple, could be anywhere, establishment. I even watched some YouTube videos of people who made the pilgrimage to this literary landmark to drink and eat steak and kidney pie while sitting where their heroes sat. They either kind of seemed underwhelmed, puzzled by it's normalcy... or were caught embarrassing blurting forced "woo hoo" type group enthusiasm.

"This is it?"  I'm sure some thought. Is it possible that this space is any less thin or sacred today? 

I think it's that sacred spaces and thin places are in the eye of the beholder, or more accurately... in the spirit of the experiencer.  It's a place where God HAPPENED to us. Or even where God facilitated his Kingdom coming with friends.  It's an Ebeneezer Stone like Samuel raised in 1 Samuel 7 to mark the time where God helped his people to victory.  In fact the Holy Land is littered with stones and markings of where God HAPPENED.  It's good to remember it... but it doesn't mean that THAT'S where he STAYS.

Moses didn't go back to the burning bush when he needed to hear the voice of God although I'm sure there were times he'd think, "I'm dry and if only I could get back to that bush... but I'm way far away from my sacred space." But he couldn't and wouldn't dare really, because God had moved him onward.  It wasn't that the pub or the Plains of Abraham that were MORE sacred or thin... it was the company of gifted men or warriors as appointed by God. 

 When our church moved from a small, dirty and dank old bar laden with character to a unit of a mall... some left our family.  They left because of what we had done to their sacred space and thin place.  What we did was meet felt needs of a community by creating affordable housing... thus opening up the story of The Kingdom of God to others. The great part is that when we began worshiping in our mall... the place got thin too.  What an unfortunate misplacement of value on PLACE instead of PRESENCE.

Spaces and Places are nice.  They can be special for us. But it's the Presence of God that makes it sacred or thin.  And the presence of God roams about the earth and goes wherever he's welcomed and offered a chair at your table.


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