The following post is the third in a series that is excerpted from my upcoming book Return to Our Senses, which will be available in mid November.
One of my favorite events each year is a prayer retreat Mustard Seed Associates holds 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.
Creation Speaks of God
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. We also need places to gather for worship. I particularly enjoy the transcendent wonder of the magnificent gothic cathedrals of Europe. Their splendor beckons us into a special place of communion with God. However we don’t need these places built by human hands to create a sanctuary in which we can meet God.
God’s first act in the newly created world we call Earth was not to construct a building, but to create a garden in which to walk, talk and share a loving relationship with humankind. I am sure that every corner of this sacred space, this living temple, was alive with the presence of God. Every part of it revealed God’s loving care for humankind. I have no doubt that as Adam and Eve looked around them everything they saw, touched, smelled and tasted reminded them of their creator who loved not just them but the very earth from which they were formed.
Early monastic communities created walled gardens as an attempt to re-create this Edenic paradise.These enclosed spaces often centered around an apple tree, representing both the tree of life in Genesis and the Cross of Christ.
God was very reluctant to allow the Israelites to build a temple as a place of worship. I often wonder if a temple made from bricks and mortar was ever God’s intention at all. I think God knew that temples and churches would limit our understanding of sacred space and confine even further our expectations of places in which we meet and commune with God. Perhaps God was even more grieved that these people, touched in a special way by the divine presence, felt they needed a structure built with their own hands and not God’s hands in which to worship. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we do away with our churches. All I want to suggest here is that we learn to take our experiences of God’s abiding presence, and the awe inspiring revelations of church meetings out into the world.
In the New Testament it is not the stone temple that is seen as the place where God dwells, it is the body of Christ. Together we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Jesus Christ himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22).
In the revelation of the new heaven and the new earth we are returned to a temple free culture. God’s light revealed in Jesus Christ, illumines everything. We are no longer blind and deaf and dumb. We see God’s living, vibrant, loving presence everywhere. We hear God’s voice in every moment and we shout God’s praise in every action. Finally in this new heaven and new earth we walk and talk and communion with YWHW, the breath of life, the lover of our souls, no matter where we are and what we are doing. (Revelation 21: 22-24)
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 in Letters to Malcolm: “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.”
This post is excepted from my new book Return to Our Senses which is now available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15.