January 7, 2013

Making Sacred Space

I spent a few hours cleaning my apartment this weekend. There’s something satisfying about caring for your own space, and something almost soul-feeding about the work, about moving a broom across the floor or doing dishes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I attend a church called St. Lydia’s that combines dinner with our liturgy. We meet in a rented space. We cook and clean together, setup the tables with candles and decorated napkins. In a sense we make the space sacred with our work.

In the church we spend a lot of time thinking about our space—the purchase of property or construction and upkeep of a church building. Actually, this is true not only of the church, but of human beings. We are physical, incarnate beings, and to ignore our physical place in the world is a mistake.

It’s instructive that the story of our faith begins in a manger, a temporary shelter. The Israelites spend a lot of time without a permanent home, and Jesus had no permanent place to lay his head. We are first and foremost a community of people, not something constructed with bricks and wood and capital campaigns.

At the same time, much of the story or our faith involves seeking out a place to worship and live. Mary and Joseph ultimately created a sacred space in the manger, and Jesus sanctified each dwelling he was in through his presence and the work they did together. Though the space we inhabit does not make us a church, they are an important part of our communal life.

Today, this means being a good stewards of the property what we have, without inflating its importance. We may no longer be wanderers, but we should not take the steeples and pews for granted. We should be stewards, attentive to our physical space without making an idol out of it. The manger teaches us not that it doesn’t matter where we are, but it’s our work and our presence that makes a place holy.