By Steven Norris
“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Wendell Berry’s words frame my own thinking this Lent. As I reflect on my own circumstances, I want to encourage us all to think about how we might reclaim “sacred space” in our individual and common lives together.
What is sacred space? Johnathan Z. Smith, the late University of Chicago professor and an expert on religious ritual, describes sacred space as a place of clarification or “a focusing lens” where the human and divine are “transparent to one another. It is a place where, as in all forms of communication, static and noise (i.e. the accidental) are decreased so that the exchange of information can be increased.”
In other words, Smith defines sacred space as a specific location where we can tune out all the mundane things that threaten to distract us and tune in to the voice of the Spirit. For me, one such place is my home. It is the place where I can hear the Spirit in sacred moments — through nature as I sit on my porch, through the words of a good book over which I can linger, or on my knees in prayer at my bedside. These moments invite a deep and profound connection with God.
But as the pandemic invaded our world, the static and noise Smith describes intruded into the sacred space of our homes. For months, my home became not only a place to eat, sleep, and retreat, but my primary office as well. Our spare bedroom became a makeshift classroom in which my wife could teach. The kitchen table became a schoolroom for our children. The living room became church as our family gathered around the television instead of a church sanctuary to worship.
What would it look like to reclaim our homes and sanctify them once again? Let me offer a few suggestions:
As much as possible, set aside one area as a sanctuary within your home — a bedroom, porch, or some other meaningful space — that is protected as “quiet space.” Forbid television, computers, Zoom calls, phone calls, or work. Let this be a space to breathe, be still, focus, and to be receptive to whatever the Spirit of God might be saying.
Similarly, if you need to work or do school from home, try to confine those activities to a dedicated space. You may not be able to dedicate a whole room, but claim one desk, one table, or one chair for the task to prevent it from taking over other spaces in your home.
Visit your sacred space, if only for a few minutes, each day and listen. Be still. Breathe deeply and intentionally. Learn to recognize the cues your body is sending and how your surroundings impact both mood and attentiveness. Your family schedule may not lend itself readily to these sacred minutes, but with a little creativity you can open up the space to hear the affirmation of God: “You are my beloved child.”