Only sacred places.

Wendell Berry beautifully writes in How to be a Poet;

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

The Bible opens with the story of God intentionally planting humanity in a garden, Genesis 2:8 declares, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the many whom he had formed.” Humanity wasn’t left to wander about aimlessly but was given a place and a responsibility, verse 15 reports, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” This passage in Scripture introduces the idea of a “Sacred Place” a place that was set aside by God as a meeting place, where the creature and the creator could interact. 

The place of divine fellowship was a space of privilege, but these sacred places weren’t without requirements. The man was instructed by God to “…work it and keep it.” When sin entered the world the entrance to this garden was shut off by God, but not without a promise of redemption. God promised that a redeemer would come through the seed of the woman; we understand that the seed was Christ. 

In Christ the idea of a sacred place was restored, but unlike Genesis, it was no longer confined to a geographical location. Paul writes these words in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The sacred place has now become our body, which in reality means that everywhere we go we bring into that space the Holy Spirit that inhabits us. For the Christian, then, there is no such thing as a sacred/secular divide. Everything we do and everywhere we go is transformed by the holiness of God. 

What are the practical implications of this?  We should understand that we have a responsibility to the body that God has given us. Some have mistakenly concluded that Christianity only concerns itself with the soul. But the Newer Testament is clear that just as Christ had a resurrected and glorified body that we will have one as well. How we care for the body is important to God, remember that the humanity was instructed to “work and keep” the garden which served as the divine space of interaction, so now we should also “work and keep” the body God has filled with His Spirit. 

Consider Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily exercise is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” It struck me when rereading this verse, that I’ve often missed or outright ignored that first part about having “nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” My Evangelical upbringing would want me to connect this with worldly amusements or miss the point entirely by applying it to pedestrian entertainments like television and movies, but I believe it goes much deeper than this shallow interpretation. I miss the sacredness of godliness when I blindly subscribe to sentimentality, excessive expressions of emotion that often accompany what passes for profound spiritual experiences these days. I miss the sacredness of my own body, when I substitute mere minimalistic notions of plainness of style for the textures of symmetry, color, and harmony and call it holiness. My efforts are the exact opposite of holiness, it is the soiled sanctimony of my first parents who attempted to hide their shame behind a solitary leaf. It wasn’t the leaf that saved them, and it certainly won’t me. We need not the leaf, but the sacred tree of sacrifice.

Flannery O’Connor beautifully writes, “We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggest its opposite. Pornography…is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it simply an experience for its own sake.” The religious traditions of my youth emphasized a denial of the body except when it came to using it expressively in worship. This overemphasis on emotional expressiveness in only a vertical direction served to truncate the wholistic capacities necessary to interact and influence all of God’s creation in flourishing relationships as their design intended. What many of us were left with was the guise of religious piety with little to no real power to love life. Like the sexual objectification of body parts in pornography, our bodies were only a vehicle for easy spiritual gratification when employed in acts of charismatic worship or when compliant to the governing dress codes of our church, every other use of the body was secondary and/or demonically inspired. Had we actually understood the Imago Dei, we would have realized that worship is not a choice between utilizing our bodies in only one capacity as defined by dogmatic assertions of moralism, but rather it is a complete designation that encompasses all that we do to the glory of God. Or to paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, Christ looks at our bodies and declares “Mine!”

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

― Abraham Kuyper

According to the Apostle Paul it is important what we allow to fill our “Sacred Place” and that just as the body benefits from the value of exercise, our whole person benefits from godliness. This transformation that has started in us will be fully experienced when Christ returns restoring the sacred place designation to all of creation. As Romans chapter eight points out, “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be reveled to us, for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” 

As we continue to walk in the responsibility of our calling, God uses the impact of our lives to restore the sacredness of all of creation to the rightful place of divine blessing, including every part of us, mind, soul, and body.

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