Monday, January 26, 2009

Holy Places

The Fifth Page for January 25, 2008 Rev. Darrow Woods
What makes a place “holy” or “sacred”? Did those ancients who erected monoliths at Stonehenge do so to create a holy place, or was it in response to some quality of the location that they had already observed? (These days, if you were choosing a location for a new church, especially in a developed urban setting, your considerations would likely have mainly to do with zoning, access to major transportation arteries, and affordability.)

While serving in a previous congregation, I had the opportunity to sit in on meetings with an architect who specialized in the renovation of existing churches. It was fascinating to watch how he sought to balance the desire to retain the “churchy-ness” of the structure, with the need to modernize, and make the building more accessible, and more amenable to the use of technology (lcd projector, large screen, audio system, room-darkening shades). It is not always easy to sort out what is essential, and what is merely familiar, or traditional.

Do we make a place holy by how we regard it, and what we do in that place? I can think of several churches in which I have felt more alive, more vital, and more connected, simply for walking in the building. I have also been in at least one that felt like a kind of spiritual “black hole”, that sucked life and joy out of people who came there to worship.

Some of the spaces I have been in, that seemed the most “prayed in” are actually not called churches by those who worship in them.

I spent two years working and studying with Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends. This denomination began in the 17th century when a man in England named George Fox came to the powerful realization that he did not require a priest or church, or any ritual to mediate for him the presence and power of God. Part of what Quakers offer to the world is the reminder that God is always present, and at work, within us, and around us.

Quakers call their places of worship “meeting houses”. In my experience, Quaker meeting houses are very plain, unornamented structures, with simple furnishings. My favourite ones have lots of windows. This seems fitting in a denomination that often speaks of God’s presence in each of us as the “inner light”.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NIV)
You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.