1. What is a Sacred Space?

Sacred Places 1: SACRED PLACES

A place which is sacred to one person may mean nothing to everyone else.  It may not even be possible to identify where it was.  The important thing is that at some point God met a person and changed their life.  In the Bible we find that God met Moses at a bush, which seemed to be on fire.  It was a place out on a hillside where Moses was looking after his father-in-law’s sheep.  To Moses that place was sacred ground.  It changed his life.  God met Elijah in a cave where he had fled to escape Queen Jezebel.  Where that cave is nobody knows.  For Elijah it was a sacred place.  It changed his life.  God met Isaiah in the temple in Jerusalem - Solomon’s temple, which was totally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.  Where in Jerusalem it was nobody knows.


Turning to the new Testament God met Peter and Andrew, James and John as they were looking after their fishing nets - Matthew was at his business.  God met Paul on the road to Damascus.  Where all these encounters happened no one knows.  For the disciples and later St. Paul they were sacred places.


The point I am making is that God met people in their own everyday life.  It may be in a well-known place but can be anywhere, unmarked yet for the person concerned it is sacred; a place where their life was changed.  All the people concerned knew God before but on these occasions there were life changing consequences.


Looking back over the years, on different occasions I have had a strong sense of the presence of God.  There was my ordination as deacon in York Minster, a visit on holiday to a remote religious site on Crete, taking a service of Holy Communion in Rievaulx Abbey using an original altar and later taking a service in the crypt at Lastingham Church originally founded by St. Cedd, who is buried there, and St. Chad.  All of these are memorable occasions and at the time were holy ground.


Years before I had been doing my National Service in the army.  On one occasion I had been on guard all night at Tidworth Garrison ending at 4.00 pm on a Sunday in November or December.  After a quick change and a meal I set off for the evening service at the Garrison Church.  At that point National Service was something to be endured before going on to university to read mathematics with the prospect of teaching or being an accountant.  On the way I had to pass several barracks on the badly lit road.  As I walked along I suddenly knew that I was to be ordained.  There was no question “should I or not?”  It was a conviction.  After the service one of the ladies serving a cup of tea asked me “What are you going to be?”  I replied “Be ordained”.  Although I had been to other services there, I had not been asked that question before.  Again I had to write a letter to my parents before I went to bed that night telling them of the change.  Years later one of my curates, when I told him about this, said that that compulsion to pass it on is similar to the disciples having to tell others about the Resurrection immediately after it had happened.


Having looked recently on my computer for details about the barracks at Tidworth, much of that area has become a building site.  Whether or not the road is still there I do not know.  On that road God changed my life.  For me it is a sacred place but not for anyone else. 


Chris Hawthorn.



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