When I was small, I was told that God could see me all the time. At five, you believe most things grown-ups tell you, and I saw no reason to disbelieve this piece of glad tidings. Even then, I knew there was a deep disconnect between myself and the omnipotent shadow who was even more powerful than our church pastor. I would burrow fearfully beneath the sheets and blankets in bed and hope God wouldn’t spot me as he peered through the window. It was easier in the daytime as there were more diversions like treacle sponge for school dinner or playing hopscotch in the playground which meant I wasn’t worrying so much about God.
But now I’m much much older and I think differently. Thank goodness. Some people have to live with that shabby image of God until the day they die because they don’t have the true privilege of being shown anything else.
Now the notion that God is everywhere is still true for me, but it means the polar opposite from what it meant to my small self. God being everywhere is now a comfort. God is everywhere, inside and outside me all at the same time because I am loved.
But, like a lot of us, I have a place where God feels especially close, largely because I’m not distracted by my online Sainsburys shop, or the third series of ‘Succession.’ I guess a lot of us have these places. The garden, the shed, the hills. It’s the place we go to when we want a bit of precious alone time with God. Sacred space.
For me it’s my cathedral church. Battered by internal small church politics, exhausted with trying to reach a God who I didn’t even like and I was pretty convinced didn’t like me, I slipped into the back of Evensong one freezing January night. And a different God introduced herself slowly to me and invited me to to just curl up in a pew at the back, let the music wash over me and just rest. If I liked, I could sing the hymns.
And over a number of years, I discovered a smorgasbord of ritual and colour, ceremony and sacramental devotions totally alien to my childhood church. The wounded part of me latched on, maybe because it was so different and I was always picking fights with my juvenile experience. I’m not perfect. But what drew me was the opportunity to communicate without the need for words. I’ve always struggled with words in church, and signs and symbols and music began to speak for me when I couldn’t.
I have found a ‘liminal space’, the place where I stand on the threshold, a place of transformation, the place between what is familiar and what is unknown. Before I discovered the cathedral, I struggled with the familiar. I knew most of the words in ‘Redemption Hymnal.’ I could recite all sixty-six books of the Bible. I knew all about sermons and extempore prayer and witnessing and what it took to be a soldier of the Cross. And while I wouldn’t say that familiarity bred contempt – it bred a deep desperation that none of it touched me at the place where I longed so much for connection.
But the Cathedral offers more than the merely familiar. It connects the familiar to what| I can only describe as ‘otherness.’ It offers a sense of presence. It doesn’t promise connection all the time but it offers the possibility.
I am wary of putting God in a church, or even in a cathedral. I am wary of presuming that any idea of love or reality can be placed inside a box of our own construct. But the Cathedral for me is a holding place, a place where I feel held and can hold on. And being human, and mortal with all that implies in terms of doubt and distrust and the certainty of making mistakes and of being absolutely fallible, I need support. Props if you like. A sacred space. Room for my soul to breathe and dance.
Now I’m really not knocking other traditions. If you connect with a very different form of worship– God does too. (Although she and I might just have a problem if your church excludes people). God is present ‘where two or three are gathered together,’ even if she sometimes winces at messages preached from fundamental pulpits. I can imagine her exclaiming, ‘I didn’t say that!’ as she puts her head in her hands.
Let’s just be kind to one another. We are Christians after all.
I guess that for St Francis – our Third Order very favourite saint, the rolling hills around Assisi, the trees and olive groves, the birds, the animals, even Brother Wolf was his cathedral, his sacred space. And I think he would be the first to say – go where your heart is, where you feel connected, where you feel free to praise our Creator and know that you are loved. For me, that is my cathedral.
Where is your sacred space?