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Sacred Space: Is It Still Necessary?

As the prophet said: "For the times they are a-changiní." OK, it was really Bob Dylan in the 1960s, but it also reflects a change occurring within Christianity today. And it is happening under your feet and before your eyes. The sacred space of church is becoming less sacred in and of itself. Let me explain.

First things first: what is "sacred space"? Sacred space is a place which is sacred, a place set apart for God. It is a place where, upon entering, people understand that they are to focus on God. The purpose of sacred space is to draw your attention away from your outside activities and redirect it toward God. No one has to say anything to you to prepare you: merely by entering such a place, the settings are designed to lift your gaze upwards to God.

Sacred space is not a regular living spaceólike in a homeówhere people come to worship and thereby turn it into a sacred space. An example would be Christians gathering for a home Bible study. While that space is "sacred" for a short time, it is sacred because of the activity: the surroundings, the objects in the room, have little or nothing to do with preparing Christians to focus on God.

A chapel in a hospital, for example, would be a sacred space. As soon as you enter (at least the ones I have been in) you know this room is set aside for focusing on God. How so? You might see a table with a Bible, a kneeling bench, and a cross or crucifix. Even without seeing the sign "Chapel" on the door, once you enter you have no doubt of the purpose of the room.

Stained glass can aid in establishing sacred space. If done properly, one can sit in a pew and be reminded of God by looking at the stories told in the windows. The Stations of the Cross also create sacred space.

What are the Stations of the Cross? This is a worship aspect frequently found within Catholic Churches. The Stations involve fourteen different scenes from the time Jesus was in Herodís palace being condemned to death until His body is placed in the tomb. The scenes are on the wall and arranged in order around the room. They can either be painted, sculpted, or carved. In Catholic practice, a person will stop at each of the Stations, say a prayer, and meditate on each scene. In addition, a worshipper sitting in the pew (or before or after the service) can look around the room and see representations of Jesusí sacrifice.

The fourteen scenes are as follows: (1) Jesus is condemned to death; (2) Jesus takes up His cross; (3) After carrying the cross for awhile, he falls; (4) Jesus meets Mary, His Mother; (5) Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross; (6) Jesusí face is wiped by Veronica; (7) Jesus falls a second time; (8) Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem; (9) Jesus falls a third time; (10) Jesus arrives at the place of crucifixion and his garments are taken off; (11) Jesus is crucified; (12) Jesus dies; (13) Jesusí body is taken down from the cross; and (14) Jesusí body is laid in the tomb.

So by sitting in a Catholic Church one can look around and see the story of what is known as the Passion of Christ. Even without the liturgy or sermon one can receive a message from God.

©2007 Mark Nickens

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