Encountering God in our worship-spaces.
As we make our way through the weeks of Lent, and practice the disciplines which help us to “keep a Holy Lent,” we keep alert to the possibility that we will encounter the God we follow in the course of our journey. There are places which become saturated with the worship of God and the prayers of the faithful. They are not magical. We cannot conjure God by visiting them and praying in any certain way. Nevertheless, we might trust that a place which has been home to so many people of faith and in which so many ardent prayers have been made, is as good a place to pray as any, and might be better than most. The sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church, Fargo is such a place for me. In the early afternoon when my mind is weary of thinking and my fingers weary of typing, I sometimes go to sit in the sanctuary and listen for God. I do not stay for long - perhaps 10 or 12 minutes - but I go to simply be present to God and to seek to hear in the magnificent silence of the worship space a word which comes from out of the silence. We can, of course, pray any time and anywhere we like. God is not confined to our places of worship. And yet, I feel a richness, a solid rock of trust in God when I encounter places where people have worshiped for many years. I feel connected to them as my prayers are woven into their prayers. In my recent book about pilgrimage I wrote of another such place:
“Sometimes a place becomes a place of encounter. Many pilgrimage destinations are places where people over many years have felt an encounter with God occurring. The site becomes a place of pilgrimage because it seems to be a place where the veil between the ordinary and the holy is very thin. After a time, the place becomes immersed in the prayers of millions of people of faith who have visited and prayed over thousands of years, and those prayers too have a way of sanctifying the place. On a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I found myself with a free day in Jerusalem. I walked to the Church of Saint Anne, a small church with a long history. It is dedicated to Anne the mother of Mary, mother of Jesus. The ancient story is that the church is built over a grotto where Mary is said to have been born. The historicity of this claim is uncertain. However, I sat in St. Anne’s for hours on my free day in Jerusalem. I prayed, I journaled, and I watched as countless pilgrims came and went. St. Anne’s marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, so nearly every pilgrim to Jerusalem finds their way to St. Anne’s, if only for a brief glimpse inside before beginning the walk of the way of sorrow. As I sat quietly amid the churn of hundreds of pilgrims coming and going, I was keenly aware of the many prayers that had been offered to God in that space since its creation in the early twelfth century. By the time I left hours later, the historicity of the claim about the church being over the place where Mary was born had become totally incidental to me. What was undeniably real, faithful, beautiful, and true was that the place was made holy by the faithful people who came and offered something of themselves to God in that sanctuary—as I myself had done.”
Lang, Paul H. The Pilgrim's Compass (pp. 64-65). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.
As we make our way toward the Day of Resurrection one of the things we might do with more intentionality is to wonder about the sacred spaces in our life. Do we treat those spaces with the reverence due to a place where we are about to have an audience with the Almighty? When I visit Cistercian monasteries in order to be alone with God I am always touched by the reverence the monks give to the place of worship. Each enters and departs by pausing, turning to the altar and making a slow and deep bow. I have never asked my Cistercian friends about their reverence of the worship space, but I find it to be a beautiful expression of their confidence that they are with God when the enter that room.
Daily Collect: Lord God, you promise that we are given a place in your kingdom, and a way to follow you there. We give thanks that you remain with us on our journey of faith and pray that you will help us to hallow the sacred spaces in our life, that we might see how deeply they are imbued not only with your love, but with the hopes and aspirations of our spiritual forebears. May our prayers join with theirs and be woven into the fabric of a deep and abiding faith. We ask it in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.