Sacred Places, Sacred Moments

This past Sunday, our pastor talked about the names of God, and in doing that, spent a little time with the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3). As Moses got close to that bush, he was instructed to remove his sandals, for this was holy ground.

While our pastor had an excellent sermon about Yahweh, the concept of holy ground is what I want to look at. Notice that this holy ground was not in some magnificent temple nor was it in some dramatic wild place. It was simply the ground near a burning bush. And notice that even the bush is not some huge, towering tree. It is a rather ordinary bush (though the fact that it was burning and not being burned makes it not such an ordinary sight!). What made this holy was that it connected Moses to God.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” ¬†That moment for Moses was certainly sacred, too, for it definitely challenged him spiritually. Mark Nepo in his book, The Book of Awakening, uses Heschel’s quote for a meditation about facing sacred moments. He says that often we want to build a road to somewhere other than where we are rather than open doors that wait before us. Those doors that wait before us are sacred moments that can connect us to God.

I think it is easy to get caught up in taking a “road” to some magnificent national park to be inspired there by God’s creation when we may be missing sacred places and sacred moments that are not so dramatic. It is interesting that Jesus rarely went to some dramatic temple for His sermons. And indeed, He was more likely to talk about lilies of the field than the dramatic cedars of Lebanon (that lived during His time and were indeed dramatic).

I love dramatic places. I love to go to the redwoods and be impressed by these tallest of trees. I love to go to Yosemite and be impressed by massive mountains of granite. But sometimes I feel that those are the only places where people feel awestruck by God’s creation. If you can pause and be open to sacred moments all around us, you can be awestruck by a spider building a web, something truly amazing and a sacred moment for me. Or maybe it means getting down to the level of a flower growing quietly beside a parking lot, yet sharing its beauty for all. That is a sacred place for me (and seriously, maybe I should remove my shoes just to reinforce the importance of such places).

I admit that I have always had a place in my heart for such small things. Maybe that comes from growing up in Minnesota where there are not so many dramatic parks. But I think it goes further. I believe that if we are to respect and care for God’s world, we need to see all of it as important, not just the dramatic places. With an open mind that lets us “face sacred moments”, as Heschel says, watching a spider build a web can be an amazing sacred moment, kneeling before a flower can be kneeling on holy ground.

The flower is a datura or jimsonweed in a parking lot in Pasadena. The spider is called a common orb weaver and was in my front yard.

— Rob