Have you thought about sacred spaces? Is there a sacred place in your life? By a sacred space I mean a place that because of an experience, its architecture, or the activity in it, you are drawn to a conversation or experience with God.
I walked into somebody else’s sacred space the other day. I was down in Dania Beach, and went to check out the old First United Methodist Church of Dania. Years ago a group of us worked hard at keeping a United Methodist presence there on US-1, but a few years ago they sold the church. I wanted to see what has happened to it.
The building has big gold domes on it. There are crosses on those domes, indicating that some version of Orthodox church has taken over. As I walked around the building, an older lady shuffled towards the church from the parking lot. As I looked her way, she immediately started shaking her head. “Do you speak English?” I asked her. She shook her head with more vigor. But she motioned me to follow her. We went to the front door which was unlocked, and I, mistakenly, held the door for her. She shook her head. I insisted. The AC felt great—why wouldn’t she go in?
When the woman saw my stubbornness, she raised her eyebrows a little, and then—out there on US1—she began a whole ritual of genuflecting, crossing herself, and kissing the ground, and… I saw why she wanted to spare me holding the door for her. When she was done, she looked at me, smiled, and walked in. I smiled too, but looked down, and put my hand on my forehead in apology and reverence.
What we would call the Narthex—the gathering space inside the building before you enter the Sanctuary proper—was a store. You could buy any number of icons and iconography. You could stock up on thin prayer candles. I don’t know what else they had, it was all in Russian. The storekeeper welcomed me and answered my questions.
Then I walked into the Sanctuary. I had worshiped there with an African American church—the lively music still resonating in my head. But…
Now.. The front 2/3’s of the pews had been removed. They had covered the chancel with tall curtains covering the whole front, providing the backdrop for large icons, life-sized icons of Jesus, Mary and angels, and an altar full of flowers with candles burning all over. I had walked into Russia, right there on US1 in Dania Beach.
As you looked around the Sanctuary, the icons got smaller but more prevalent. In that open area left by the pews, way to the left, was a prayer station where my older Russian guide prepared herself for prayer.
I sat away from her very aware that she had invited me into her sacred space. It wasn’t as sacred to me—too many memories of the church past flooded my heart. But I could tell I was in a sacred space, and I could see whose, right there in front of me. So it became sacred to me too. And I prayed. Too cheap to buy a candle though.
I hope this place today is sacred for you. I hope that church this morning provides a physical space to connect with the transcendent, that the space we carve out with brick and mortar, but also the space we carve out in the course of this day, will allow for us to meet God here—to find His comfort, to find His will, to find fellowship in our worship.
If I knew how to genuflect and cross myself, I would have done so on my way out of that most amazing space. A Russian lady had invited me to encounter God that afternoon, and I did. I was grateful.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and bless His name. For the LORD is good, and His loving devotion endures forever; His faithfulness continues to all generations. Psalm 100:4,5