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Are Some Places “Sacred Spaces?” by Kary Oberbrunner

Ancient mystics held a unique belief that the Divine inhabited certain geographic regions in a more significant manner than others. Translation? A phenomenon some call holy ground, thin places, or sacred spaces.

In the book of 1 Kings we meet Namaan, “the captain of the army of the king of Aram, a great man…highly respected. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper” (5:1). Namaan became a believer in sacred spaces—evidenced by his request to the prophet Elisha. The Scriptures tell us this leper followed the prophet’s orders and bathed himself in the Jordan River seven times. As a result of his faith in God’s Word, he experienced a dramatic healing from his leprosy.

With his skin restored like the “flesh of a baby” he packed up ready for the road trip home. But before returning to his homeland, Namaan asked permission to take two mule-loads of earth from Israel back with him. Turns out Namaan wanted to memorialize the location where God healed him, assuming that taking a little of the dirt also meant taking a little of the Divine.

Thousands of years later Celtic sojourners used a word term called “thin places” to designate a location where two worlds seemed to touch. In such regions, the veil between this world and the next embraced into one reality—barriers blurring momentarily.

For those of us who orient our lives to the God of the Bible, how accurate are these perceptions? Are there truly places where God is more present than others?

Though passages like 1 Kings 5 seem to affirm the idea of sacred spaces, others seem to question them:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10, TNIV)

Is God present everywhere at the same time in the same manner? Maybe on the other side of every moment exists a potential encounter with providence? Perhaps God is simply waiting on us to acknowledge the truth—that every place is a possible sacred space—if we’re simply aware of His presence.

Personally, I encounter God in a sacred space once a year. Every Christmas season, my wife and I return to our hometowns to spend the holidays with our families. For the last nine years, on New Year’s Day I slip away for a few hours and engage in a deeply meaningful tradition. Regardless of the weather, I head out to Lake Michigan with my Bible and my journal in order to take a hike through the woods. On a particular sand dune overlooking a winter landscape, I sit and review my past journal entries from the previous year. In the process, I rediscover God’s faithfulness.

After reading, writing, questioning, and praying, I grab a handful of sand, representing the number of minutes in my upcoming year. I dedicate these minutes to God, asking him to lead and direct me. Then I throw that same handful into the air, symbolically offering it back to God. The puff of sand flies freely into the air and then, after a moment, it disappears—just like our lives.

My annual wintery wonderland inevitably screams of an experience where the two worlds seem to touch momentarily–a place where I get a glimpse of God. But is God more present on that sand dune than he is in my living room or am I just more aware of His presence in that moment?

I often wonder if these thin places crowd in much closer than we’re comfortable admitting. And more importantly, I question whether these sacred spaces long to interrupt our lives on a much more regular basis, if we will simply invite them.

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Do you believe in sacred spaces and do you have any in your life? Do you think the ancient idea of sacred spaces affects the way modern Christians view church?