Two years ago, I decided to attend Saint Stephens Episcopal Church. I thought that I needed a different worship experience. I was feeling discouraged about my faith and thought a change in practice and place would help. Sometimes when people talk about their “spirituality” they speak about having the need to experience more of the sacred. Unhappy with my own tradition, I thought that the rituals and traditions in the Episcopal Church would possibly instill a sense of the sacred in me. I found the liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday to be a solemn and sacred event, but it wasn’t what I was looking for, it eventually left me feeling hollow.
I worked at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, located in the redwoods near Santa Cruz the summer after my freshman year of college. When people would come to the retreat center on pilgrimage to the redwoods, it was common, almost cliché to hear them ask, ”What’s it like to live in God’s country?” Is God especially present, more apprehensible or closer in some places more than others? “Taking their cues from the teaching of Jesus, the earliest followers finally came to realize that they didn’t need holy buildings or special places to meet with God. They saw themselves as living stones, built together into a new organic temple, made up of the people of God. They believed that the Spirit of God dwelled within this relational temple, this sanctuary-as-community (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22) and that their entire lives were altars upon which to offer sacrificial love to God and others (see Romans 12:1). Because of Jesus, they understood that all of life is holy and every relationship sacred.”
In a lecture series during the Missio Conference at Fuller Theological Seminary, speaker Alan Hirsch said, “What we’ve ended up with are vague reflections of what Jesus was in the gospels.” He points out that the reason for this is that we have built our religious systems over the top of it. In doing so we have obscured the centrality of Jesus in our lives. Hirsch refers to the writings of Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity. He insists that one way we have subverted the Gospel is by the sacralization of time and space. The idea that some days are more holy than others and some places more sacred can be subversive when these things become important in themselves. The Scriptures point out that all of the earth is the Lord’s, without distinctions.
Bruxy Cavey says, “The Western practice of referring to church buildings as ‘churches’ (rather than the building where a church meets) can work against our ability to see this truth. Some Christians not only call the buildings they meet in ‘church’ but they also call a special room where they hold Sunday services the ‘sanctuary,’ a word that means the sacred place where God dwells. And, to confuse our minds just a little bit more, at the front of the sanctuary is often a big table called the ‘alter,’ a word that refers to animal sacrifice in the Old Testament ritual. But the only alter, the only place of sacrifice Christ-followers should need, is the alter of daily decisions of our lives, where we offer God our energies and agendas, our choices and our lives, where we offer God our desires as “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).
Like my hope in finding something more in the Episcopal Church or the sacral adoration of nature, I have often sought a “sense of the sacred” rather than the face of God. But on a positive note though, Leonard Sweet says, “Ritual is not the way, the truth, and life, but ritual is a reminder that there is a way, a truth, and a life. Rituals fix you in space and time. Change your rituals and you change your ‘fixings.’ Change your ‘fixings’ and you change your realities.” These limits and directions can help us frame our activities; fix a center, orient ourselves. All places are not the same; just as all days aren’t the same. Setting them apart establishes differences that can help provide order to life.