Our annual Celtic retreat is coming. We hold it in August on a beautiful parcel of undeveloped land on Camano Island north of Seattle. There are no buildings. Our sanctuary is a cathedral of trees – cedar and maple and alder that rise above is in a breathtaking green canopy. I particularly love to sit in the early mornings before anyone else is awake, drinking in the beauty of God’s awe inspiring creation. This is a sacred space for me, what is often called a thin space where the veil between heaven and earth seems to be translucent and the glory of God shines through in a special way.
Special places where we feel almost physically embraced by the love of God are important places of prayer for all of us. Be they a comfortable old armchair we return to day by day, a special place to walk or a garden seat that invites us to stop and smell the roses, they should be nurtured and preserved. However we don’t need these special places and we certainly don’t need churches to create a sanctuary in which we can meet God. God very reluctantly gave the Israelites permission to build a place of worship. I think he knew that temples and churches would limit our understanding of sacred space and places in which we meet and commune with God.
If we expect to meet with the One we love wherever we walk, listen look and learn, all of God’s creation becomes a sacred space where we can interact with God, experience the love of God and see the story of God unfold. As C.S. Lewis expresses it: “Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.”
God’s first act in the newly created world we call Earth was to create a garden in which to walk, talk and share a loving relationship with humankind. This sacred space was alive with the presence of God and I am sure that as Adam and Eve looked around them everything they saw, touched, smelled and tasted reminded them of their creator. The tragedy of our present condition is that we are not only separated from the presence of God, we are blind to the sanctuary that is God’s entire creation and deaf to all that speaks of God’s love throughout our created world.
God is constantly revealed through the creation as Psalm 19: 1-4 relates so clearly:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
Sociologist Lisa Graham McMinn explains: The wonders of the earth call out, inviting those who are mindful – who hear, see, taste and smell – to praise and honor God whose creation brings us pleasure and sustenance.
Nature has always been a wonderful stimulant to my prayer life but as I learned to see the entire creation as a sacred space, its revelations became even more profound and my ability to see, hear and listen to God was expanded far beyond the church building. The whole world and my interactions with it became an invitation to look for God at work, listen to what God was saying and question what God was doing. These interactions help me to understand the story of God and how it is enacted in our world and in my life. A walk in the mountains, the planting of seeds, inhaling the heady perfume of my favorite rose, caressing the soft fur of our golden retriever often draw me into a place of deep intimacy with the God whose loving presence is expressed in all I see, hear, feel and smell.