There has been more conversation with my long time secular friend, whose first love is physics. He wondered what I meant by by the terms sacred time and sacred space, observing that cosmic physics has something to say about the nature of time and space. It was a good question wading into deep water. It took some time of reflection to gather my thoughts and sketch them out in the brief piece that follows. In it, I speak only for myself.
He was right that sub-atomic and cosmic physics provide some tangible insight into the nature of time and space while having no interest in whether they can be sacred. The easy out is to say that sacred time and space are holy mysteries to be lived into, not puzzles to be solved. Of course there’s more to it, but our little brains living in our little world are unable to grab more than a vague sense of them. I suppose that’s why we call it entering the cloud of unknowing.
I’m going to split hairs by using holy space and time to replace sacred space and time. Common usage of sacred space and time tends to be taken as an hour in church, or a bench by a gurgling brook, but what I mean is something different, so I’ll call it holy space and time to give more clarity to my thoughts on the subject.
I’ll start with time. Humans live in linear time recording history as timelines. History begins in the mist of mythology and works its way forward until it gets to us. The future is envisioned, anticipated, planned for, experienced in the passage of time, and then it fades into the mist of the unknown lying only a short way ahead. Nevertheless, our years on earth leave a trail behind that changes conditions for the future and contributes its own piece of history for others to discover.
That’s true as far as it goes, but our island home lives in cyclical time as it orbits the sun and its seasons come, go, and come again. Even we recognize what we call the cycle of life experienced by creation. In a sense, our linear lives are like a tangent passing along the edge of the earth’s circle for a brief few years, leaving its marks. As mysterious as it sounds, it still feels like cosmic geometry. Physics tells us that time cannot be restricted to geometry, whether plane or dimensional. It is more fungible than that. We have no idea what limits it may have, if any. It is the realm of Holy time in which we encounter God’s presence. It’s not the same as the Eternal Oneness understood by other religions, neither is it antithetical to it. It’s not pantheism, even though all creation is sacred.
The God we encounter cherishes creation, and engages with humankind, guiding it toward the abundance of life, even though there’s remarkable resistance to being guided anywhere not of our own choosing. He/She is unfinished with creation, watching over toddler humanity no better behaved than a herd of naughty three year olds. We have been given the opportunity to mature into reconciliation with each other and all creation, able to enter into the fullness of holy time and space, yet no one is forced to go there.
In this life the best one can do is get a foretaste of holy time, and then only at moments. There are Buddhist and Christian disciplines intended to expand those moments a bit longer. The life of prayerful asceticism required calls few, certainly not me.
The rest of us are sometimes able to enter brief encounters with holy time in holy space. It’s not space we can search out, but only discover ourselves in. Celtic tradition calls them thin places. Such spaces were often commemorated with a sacred tree, spring or pile of rocks. Monks built huts around them. Churches were built on top of them and then cathedrals. For whatever other purposes they served, they were meant to set aside sacred spaces where holy space and time had once been experienced and might be again.
Like anything sacred, there is abundant opportunity to corrupt it through selfishness, greed, and self righteousness. Power and profit are just lying there to grab.
Obviously there is more to be said, but as one Virginia matron said to me after a lecture on theology years ago, ”That’s enough of your glib palaver’, so I’ll stop here.