Claiming Sacred Ground

For generations Europe has experienced a dramatic decline in Christian religious practice. This is a trend that seems to be underway to some extent in the United States as well, with the rise of the so-called 'nones.' With abuse scandals, greater educational opportunities, and increased understanding of the very human origins of holy books like the Bible, people are turning to other paths and often opting out of organized religion. With this reality and changing demographics in rural areas, more and more church buildings are being abandoned. In the Church of England there is a specific ceremony for desacralizing a church, which means it is no longer exclusively for church use. For most Protestant churches it's simply a matter of holding a final service and calling it quits. Does this mean that we are losing sacred ground?

In the Hebrew scriptures there's the well-known story of Moses seeing a burning bush in the wilderness. When he approaches, a voice from the bush speaks, telling him to remove his sandals, for he is on holy ground. The concept of special, sacred space isn't limited to Judaism and Christianity, of course. Native Americans in North America hold certain places in special esteem, such as Tsé Bitʼaʼí (Shiprock)  in northwestern New Mexico. Muslims are called upon at least once in their life to make Hajj (a pilgrimage) to Mecca, located in what is now Saudi Arabia. The Japanese have shrines and temples reflecting Shinto, Taoist, and Buddhist devotion. This is just naming a few religious systems and their sacred sites. But, what about the rest of us?

The prevalence of holy ground in religious belief not only now but going back into into early human history (Stonehenge, The Kaali Meteorite Crater Field, Arunachala Hill, etc) indicates that this is a concept inherent to our species. It's also one we can see in operation still today, even beyond the walls of churches, temples, mosques, and shrines.

Is there a summer camp you went to every year as a child, or your grandparents' home farm, where sunny, golden memories were formed? If you go there now it's almost as if you can hear echoes of what was. It might also be your childhood home or even a school you attended. Events that took place there, possibly some that were not-so-great but others that fill you with nostalgia, seem etched in the very fabric of the place. Of course, where they are really engraved is on your soul, and you carry that with you wherever you go.

We make places sacred by what we do in them, and through the memories made while there. They are hallowed in our minds as we make use of them, such that a back yard as much as a little country chapel can be made holy to us through wedding ceremonies, baby naming rites, or coming of age events. A rented hall has meaning not because of the architecture but due to how we make it special in our own lives.

Never feel restricted in what you can claim as your holy ground. Whether a beach or lakeside park, a cathedral or the back room of a pub, or really anywhere else, is consecrated to our reminiscences by us and for us.