Sacred Space and Time If we understand Ultimate Reality and Sacred Power as theorganizing principles of a religious world, then creating SacredSpace and Sacred Time are the modes of access to that realityfor religious people. Time and Space are ordinary (profane) until they are madespecial (sacred) by those who want or need to enter them. Rituals help religious people construct sacred space/time andare the scripted behaviors that they perform within it. Myths arethe stories that explain why these times and spaces areimportant to create and inhabit for a particular religious group. The most important function of sacred time and space is itsability to orient religious communities; to give them a meaningfulspace in which to dwell. Religion sets boundaries and ordershuman life; sacred space and time are among the most powerfulordering mechanisms that religion offers to human beings.
Types of Sacred Time “Timeless Time” or eternity, which is the abode of the gods,spirits and other immaterial, immortal beings or theimmeasurable nonmaterial realm of sacred power. Theimportant feature is that this time is paradoxically notmeasurable. Creation stories or myths sometimes explain howtime that we experience as humans (linear, progressive andirreversible) began. See, Genesis 1 for example. Holy days on the religious calendar—commemorations—thatmark divine or supernatural events: Easter (resurrection);Passover (liberation from Egypt); Christmas (birth of ahuman-divine savior); Shavuot (Torah given to Moses onSinai); Eid al-Adha (near ‘sacrifice’ of Ishmael); Ramadan(revelation of the Koran to Muhammad). The sacred timehumans recreate on a cyclical basis is an attempt toovercome the linear progression of ordinary, profane time andto experience the ‘timeless time’ of the Sacred.
Sacred Time• Sacred time represents orcommemorates the intrusion ofsacred power into the ordinaryworld• Qualitatively different fromordinary or profane time• Certain extraordinary actionsmay be required, or normalactions forbidden in sacred time• Religious people often recreatesacred time on a regular, cyclicalbasis: holy days, calendars,rituals and rites, pilgrimagese.g.
Two Forms of Sacred Time Primary: The sacred intrudes into thehuman realm Some myths, like creation stories,describe these primary experiences ofsacred time. Miracles and stories about miraclesrecord episodes of “sacred time” Religious practitioners claim to haveprimary experiences of sacred timethrough meditation, trance states, orother techniques that suspend normalstates of consciousness. Near death experiences can also beexamples of entering ‘sacred’ time’,although they are not necessarily tiedto pre-existing religious belief. Religious people create sacredperiods in time tocommemorate a supernaturalevent Holy days or times are usuallymarked by a beginning ritualand an ending ritual Sacred times are usuallyconnected to sacred spaces.These can be as small as aMuslim prayer rug or a Jewishtallit or as grand as theKa’aba or the St. Andrew’sCathedral.
Sacred Space• Marks or commemorates a placewhere Sacred Power or UltimateReality intruded into the profane,or where religious people maycome into contact with this poweror presence.• Sacred space is marked by thesame ambivalence thatcharacterizes sacred power. Accessis usually regulated to mitigate thedanger of inappropriate contact.There is almost always a protocolto follow; special actions or dressmay be required; sometimes onlycertain individuals are authorizedto enter or perform sacred actionsin these spaces.Screen shot of a virtual Buddhist shrine available as an iPhone app. Sacred space is sometimes portable;now it can even be virtual. Virtual sacred spaces eliminate the restrictions that traditionally accompanyentering sacred space, leaving the individual responsible for creating his/her own encounter with the sacred.
Moses at the Burning Bush Myths can contain stories of divine-humanencounters, like the Biblical story of Moses andthe burning bush. Here, the sacred eruption into profane space isrevealed to Moses as an alteration of the naturalorder. A bush burns but is not consumed. A voicecalls out but no body is present. When profane space has been touched by theSacred it becomes sacred too; humans musttreat the space differently. Here Moses must remove his shoes in thepresence of the sacred. The ground has becometoo sacred for ordinary shoes. Although the divine voice speaks to Mosespersonally, Moses hides his face – fear andfascination are often the mixed human responseto an encounter with the Sacred in religious myth. Neither Jews nor Christians memorialize thisancient encounter in ritual, but it is frequentlydepicted in Christian art. Mosaics, stained glass,statuary, icons, paintings, and frescoes arecommon media for depicting sacred beings andevents in non-iconoclastic religionsByzantine mosaic of Moses at the burning bush, commemorating Moses’ divine call to redeem Israel from slavery: “Take yoursandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father …’” (Ex. 3:5-6)
Creating sacred space Sacred sites anchored in natural phenomena were once considered the center ofthe world. These sites provided an axis mundi, or point of connection between thephysical, visible world and the invisible, spiritual world of the gods or ancestors.Indigenous cultures, like Native American communities in the U.S., for example,have struggled against the forces of assimilation and the demands of secularsociety to be able to maintain their sacred connection to the land. The SanFrancisco Peaks in Arizona are a good example of this phenomenon, both from thereligious and the secular perspectives. For most Western societies in modern times particular geographic sites or naturalfeatures of the landscape are less likely to be sacred or to serve as physicalcenters of a religious world. This is mostly because contemporary populationshave migrated, or been uprooted and transplanted by means of wars, exile,colonization, and slavery. The roots that once connected people to a specific pieceof geography have either been lost or, where retained, have necessarily been madeportable. Modern religious communities often build sacred spaces in the absenceof any naturally orienting features of the physical landscape. Instead of sacredmountains or trees, we have cathedrals and temples, shrines, and mosques. When original sacred geography is unavailable, members of religious communitiesmay travel on sacred journeys called pilgrimages to visit those distant, sacredsites.
Types of sacred space Natural Especially trees, mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and any unusual or odd features or events ofnature. Awe-inspiring natural phenomena are seen as evidence of divine or sacredpresence. These features will usually be designated as sacred either by taboo (regulatingaccess) or by physically marking the site off from the surrounding landscape. Buildingsmay be erected alongside the site and rituals may be performed in or on the site. Buildings Shrines, temples (stationary fixtures that house sacred objects or mark sacred sites. In theU.S. temples can also function as congregational meeting places) churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. Not sacred spaces in the technical sense of the wordalthough they may contain holy objects and designated sacred spaces within (Catholicaltar, Jewish ark for the Torah). These buildings are used for congregational gatherings,which include occasions for marking sacred time. Objects Prayer rugs, tallits and Torah scrolls, household altars or shrines, roadside memorials …(these are used to create small, often personal and portable sacred spaces for prayer,sacrifice, or other forms of contact with the Sacred).
Art and Music Art and idolatry are interconnected concepts in religion.Iconoclasts (Muslims, Jews and some Protestant Christians)consider images and statues to be idolatrous and forbiddenaccording to their religious laws. In most religious traditions, imagery is rich and crucial to thereligious experience. Icons in the Orthodox Christian traditionserve as focal points for encountering God; Hindu images ofthe gods serve as temporary (or sometimes permanent)‘residences’ for sacred power. Music is a ubiquitous feature of religious worship. This can bein the form of ritualized chanting, congregational hymn-singing, or a more formalized “performance/audience”experience. Music frames ritual activity, which in turn signalsthe beginning and end of sacred time.
Image Sources Year of Grace Liturgical calendar:http://www.mccrimmons.com/product/207/1992 Virtual Buddhist Shrine:https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ishrine-virtual-buddhist-shrine/id328373556?mt=8