Recently in my travels I picked up and read an old classic (from 1957) The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. In this book the author looks at the world outlook and basic mindset of religious man as compared to modern, “secular” man. Eliade describes the function and logic of sacred space and sacred time. I found it interesting.
We, of course, are BOTH religious and modern, so in some sense we inhabit both worlds. We go back and forth with amazing agility.
My understanding of sacred space is that all space is sacred. All space comes from the hand of God and God is present in all of space. There is nowhere that you can go where God is not. Anne Lammot, an author I enjoy, has a funny and touching chapter in her book Travelling Mercies about finding God in the ladies room. All space is charged with the presence of God.
So why do we think of some spaces, churches for example, as sacred in a way that the grocery store or the parking lot are not? It is not because God is more present in the church than outside it, but that we humans find it harder to see, hear and sense God’s presence there. Being busy humans we forget that all space is sacred. In Church the high ceilings, the colored windows, the statues of saints, the candles, the smell of incense and the crucifix remind us this space is sacred; not (I would argue) to distinguish it from all other spaces but to remind us of the sacredness of all space. The space in the church has been set aside (or to use more religious language, “consecrated”) to evoke, remind, impress upon us the sacred nature of all space. Some spaces, like churches, breathtaking natural scenes, cemeteries and places where great tragedies occurred (like battlefields or the Twin Towers site in NYC) are better at evoking the sacred for us than other places (garbage dumps for example).
One sacred place with which all of us are familiar (pun intended) is our home. Every home is a sacred place. Every Christian home is indeed a church, the “domestic church,” and so is a sacred place. The home may not be fancy (the first home of the Holy Family was a stable, and God’s Love was more preeminently present there than any mansion!), but if Christ is present there in the hearts of the member(s) of the family, then it is truly a domestic church. While the domestic church does not need to be a McMansion, it does need those symbols that help remind us that this is indeed a sacred place. So I hope that in your home you have several of these symbols and that you pay attention to them. As a boy I had a plastic holy water font in my room that would glow in the dark. A very good symbol (and one I hope you have in your home) is the crucifix or a cross, which reminds us of our Christian identity. A Bible that is displayed on a coffee table or in a cabinet is another great symbol reminding us of the Word of God dwelling in our hearts. Pictures or icons of Saints (St. Paul of course!) remind us of our call to live in holiness. Passages from Scripture in needlepoint or other versions can be reminders of that to which we are called. I remember when I was in Turkey, in the homes we were fortunate to visit, every Moslem home had beautiful calligraphy of the Quran in Arabic, which is much the same idea. Also, small statues of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart of Jesus or one of the Saints, can remind us we too are called to be a holy people.
How we live our lives is, of course, vastly more important than what we hang on the walls or put on the knickknack shelves, but these items help remind us all-too-forgetful humans that our home is indeed a sacred space and hopefully call us to act and treat each other accordingly.