As our churches closed and worship services were suspended during the pandemic, one of things Christians missed the most was sacred space. The church sanctuary has always been “sacred space.” Just being in the sanctuary brought us a sense of peace and calm, encouragement and hope. Sanctuary symbols linked us to the past–to all the Christians throughout history who faced adversity–and helped us remember the victory of Christ. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding us and reinforcing meaning and purpose for our ministries.
The Holy Spirit is present still…only in a new way. Today we are learning to “keep our distance.” When we’re in lines, we keep the regulation six feet of separation from those before and behind. When we go for a walk, we wave to each other or call out our greetings from a safe distance. However, with intentional spiritual practice you can convert isolation into connection and celebrate sacred spacing. Here are five ways to do it.
- Pass the Peace
In sacred space we used to turn to our neighbors and shake hands, intentionally using spiritual phrases like “Peace be with you,” “The Lord be with you,” or simply “May God bless you,” and anticipating an equally intentional response “…and also with you.” In sacred spacing you can do the same thing. You can say these words aloud to those before and behind you, or passing by at a distance. You can quietly pray for more distant strangers with the same intentionality. And when you check out at a store, or pass any civil service worker, you speak aloud.
It is the intentionality of our words that makes this sacred spacing. Other Christians will recognize the liturgical formula and may respond accordingly. Others will recognize the peculiarity of the words which stand out from our usual, casual greetings. It will signify something special. They will think about it afterwards. Hopefully they will feel a sense of inner peace and community hope.
- Wear a Talisman
In sacred space we used to admire the sanctuary symbols, the stained glass windows, and other visible signs of faith. In sacred spacing you can do the same thing. A “talisman” is an object that you wear that has profound meaning. A wedding ring, for example, not only reveals that we are in a covenant relationship, but communicates a reassuring message of abounding love. A “talisman” is a devotional object that is both a symbol (a reminder of faith we hold dear) and a portal (through which God communicates hope to others). We can intentionally choose to wear a special “talisman” that symbolizes faith and proclaims hope when we stand in line or go for a walk.
The best talismans are unusual or unexpected. Today a cross on a chain is more a fashion statement than a faith statement. It is ordinary and rarely remembered. In sacred spacing, you wear a talisman that is surprising and profound. One might wear a rose or a flower, a sprig of holly or evergreen; an unusual broach or pin. Many Christian already have T-shirts from a youth rally with symbols of faith or words of encouragement. A talisman is memorable and powerful. Those who see it not only think about God but feel the presence of God.
- Spiritual Presence
In sacred space we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. In sacred spacing we feel the Holy Spirit between us. That six feet of space is only empty to the physical eye. If we look with spiritual eyes, we can see that the space is actually filled by God. The Holy Spirit continues to bind us to one another.
The best way to sense spiritual presence is not to look at empty space, but at real people. Observe those around you to see how they are special. Each one looks different, behaves different, wears different clothing, etc. When you are empathic with real persons you become aware of how the Holy Spirit connects you to them in compassion.
If you belong to a church that subscribes to www.MissionInsite.com (from ACS Technologies), you can train yourself to be even more empathic to the behavioral habits and spiritual questions of the people around you. Read the lifestyle portraits represented in your local community in the MissionImpact Mosaic Application Guide.
In sacred space we are used to passing the offering plate and giving a donation to the work of the church. In sacred spacing, there is almost always an opportunity to donate to a social service or health care program at the end of the line when you check out; or an opportunity to give to the poor or homeless after a walk; or give a gift of food to a neighbor.
The Holy Spirit is often associated with fire, and an act of charity is what “ignites” spiritual presence. There is always a blessing for someone other than yourself. The bond you feel with the persons before and behind you is extended to others who are out of reach.
- Virtual Community
In sacred space we are used to turning off our cell phones. In sacred spacing we keep them on. This allows us to share the moment of spiritual presence with our social network. There are many media options, but perhaps the easiest is simple texting. You shouldn’t break the confidentiality of others by sending a picture of the line, but you can text a friend with a prayer or a word of encouragement while waiting in line: “In line with H.S. and praying for u.”
In sacred space, we are tempted to use the silence to think of ourselves, our problems, and our personal needs. The temptation to self-absorption is even more powerful in sacred spacing. Just look how many people standing in line are oblivious to their surroundings and focused entirely on their own little world. What separates the “secular” from the “sacred” is our ability to surrender our egos to a higher purpose and to prioritize the needs of others over our personal concerns.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Bandy is an internationally recognized author,consultant, and leadership coach for Christian organizations and faith-based non-profits. He is the director of Thriving Church Consulting, and has authored many planning tools that interface with the demographic research engine of www.MissionInsite.com. You can reach Tom through his website www.ThrivingChurch.com and his blog www.SpiritualLeadershipWaystation.com.