Attitudes toward the Holy Land: spiritual places and sacred spaces

When I was younger, I saw church buildings as being different to other places. I couldn’t imagine us gathering there to watch an important sports match and all screaming and waving our supporters flags. Neither was it even thinkable that we could hold one of our regular social functions there, with beer flowing and people making all sorts of colourful jokes. The church building was a holy place; a sacred space for serious religious activity where God (and the minister) was watching. So, from a young age I started thinking of some spaces as spiritual and others as not. Later, when I became a Christian, it didn’t stop. I dreamed of climbing onto a plane and visiting Israel – the Holy Land! The place where the dramas of Scripture unfolded – where Abraham walked, where David reigned, where the prophets are buried and the events in the Gospels took place.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Jerusalem and Galilee seemed somehow sacred to me all those years ago, as if God is more present there. Do you also feel like that sometimes? It still seems to me that the Jews and the Promised Land remain at the heart of His purposes for the earth. Some people would even say that God does acknowledge ‘sacred spaces’ (after all, the Old Testament is littered with examples of special temples and altars and mountains etc.). All this makes me wonder whether it is wise to talk about church buildings as ‘God’s House’ or to dress up and act more ‘spiritual’ in them than we do elsewhere. I’m not sure.

Do you believe that some places are more spiritual than others? Are there sacred spaces in your life where you find it easier to pray or worship?

As I have grown up, I have found that certain places DO bring me a sense of connection with God that I don’t experience in others. Perhaps it isn’t that these places and spaces are more ‘spiritual’ in themselves, but they do help me to position my heart towards God and focus on Him. On the other hand, I hope as I grow older that I will have to the maturity to connect with the Lord in more and more places that previously felt ‘unspiritual’ to me. Hopefully I can be spiritual in a natural way whichever place I am. Hopefully everything will be sacred, even when I am having fun.

Maybe I could invite the Lord to come and watch sport with me next time (I luckily don’t do flags), or even better – perhaps I could bring a cold beer to church when I visit the town of my youth again 😉

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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5 thoughts on “Attitudes toward the Holy Land: spiritual places and sacred spaces

  1. Yes, I’ve thought about this before and share many of your thoughts so I don’t have much to say, just this:

    I don’t think—as you suggest more so at the mid/end of your post—that the ‘sacred’ and ‘spiritual’ are comparable terms to be held up against the ‘profane’, ‘ordinary’, ‘material’ or ‘anti-spiritual’.

    I think we hurt ourselves thinking that God is only or even mainly spiritual. This tends to elevate him and his biddings to an other worldly status leaving anything else not directly or explicitly tied to God as mundane, while in all reality, EVERYTHING is imbued with divine/eternal/spiritual elements and consequences.

    And more to the point, I think it is important to remember that sacredness has more to do with a thing or place being devoted to a specific purpose (e.g. a sanctuary to house saints who want to commune with God) or reserved for a specific function (e.g. the altar—or the closet mat—to kneel and pray). More to do with this than the underlying natural effect that this thing/place/activity is indeed ‘spiritual’ in some sense.

    So, this “reservedness” aspect of things ‘sacred’ can by attached to anything in life, any place: it can be the way we cook (food for the temple), the way we dress (not to cause pride or others to stumble), the work we undertake (for God and not man), etc.

    And so I think it’s important to keep these words—’sacred’ and ‘spiritual’—and their distinct definitions in mind when talking about these matters, otherwise things become blurred that might not should be blurred.

    Thus, though anything can be ‘sacred’ and everything be ‘spiritual’, the two terms are not the same—though certainly they be related and fall under similar domains of usage.

    • Hi Lylelife! Thanks for sharing that, I never really thought of the difference between sacred and spiritual in that way before but I think it will be very helpful to me personally. On that note, do you think its helpful for Christian communities to dedicate sacred places of worship like cathedrals? How do you discourage the view then that a ‘church building’ as more spiritual (not sacred 😉 ) than other places?

      • Howdy JC, I think because the daily hustle and bustle of this life naturally drives our focus from the one constant variable in our eternal life (which has already started now), it is always and of essential importance to have established locations of worship where one can quite naturally re-orient oneself towards the divine, stripping off “the worries of this world” that we not be choked out and live fruitless lives.

        It is equally important though, as we leave this places unburdened, to walk out with a renewed realization that because everything is spiritual (i.e. has spiritual ramifications) our lives in every aspect must be devoted to godly aims (i.e. sacred).

        As for your last question, can you rephrase that? I want to be sure I get what you’re asking before I answer… 🙂

  2. To rephrase, I guess I am asking: do you think it is a good thing that Christians create locations for worship that provide an escape from real life? I know that it is good to sometimes “strip things away” as you say, to refocus, but maybe it also tempts us to think that we have to leave our crazy natural life to “go and worship on that mountain”, instead of “in Spirit and in truth” as Jesus said. When I was in the Notre Dame cathedral, it gave me this same sense of other-worldly emotion derived from the architecture and the lighting etc. I almost felt like it manipulated me, whereas others would say it was “helping” me. But should we rely on external things to inspire these feelings in us, or is that the Holy Spirit’s work? In a sentence, how do we stop Christians getting a Temple syndrome and forgetting that they are the temple of God? Do you do change the architecture, or remove all the spiritual decorations? Meet in homes maybe…?

  3. JC, sorry for the silence. My best friend got married and it was a big deal. But, now I’m back…

    “should we rely on external things to inspire these feelings in us, or is that the Holy Spirit’s work?”

    In short, it’s impossible not to be affected by “external things”—there is always a stimulus to which we are responding. But you’re talking about a specific feeling of grandeur, an awareness of something beyond ourselves. And to this I’d respond, “yes” and “no”. If I’m at a spot where I’m inundated by the pressures and worries of life, it sure would be nice to walk into a place and be awed by something beautiful and drawn to something bigger than myself—especially if this place pointed me towards the person of the triune God. (I feel like God has built his own arenas for doing just this… one you’re familiar with might be Jonkershoek; it was for me). That’s the “yes”.

    But certainly these places or theatrics shouldn’t be relied upon, wholly—and maybe even consistently partially (but this is probably to be decided by the individual). Over time, these stimulants would lose their punch, and more drastic effects would be called for—when in all reality, God in all his glory is ever sufficient to captivate our attention and fullest desires. So, it seems that too much reliance might in the end detract from the intensity of our engagement with God as they distract us from him and dupe us into relying on them. That’s the “no.”

    On the whole, however, God’s spirit is most certainly the entity moving in us to will and to work for his good pleasure. This element should always be the most contributing factor to our growing admiration and worship of our King.

    “how do we stop Christians getting a Temple syndrome and forgetting that they are the temple of God?”

    Teach it. Romans 12.1-2. By the renewing of your mind.

    Live it. Engage the body during the week. Do “temple stuff” (e.g. pray, accountability, read, communion, serve, heal, etc.) at work, in your home, at friend’s houses, at grocery stores.

    I don’t think the answer lies in removing a building, but in expanding what goes on inside it to people’s everyday lives outside of it.

    (My wife helped me out with these answers. What a helper!) 🙂

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