“It is space on earth that is made holy, not because of the place itself but because of what God does for humans in that place.”—James F. White
One of the essential elements to consider when praying the hours, whether you gather in community or pray alone, is the place in which you pray. Thinking with intention about the space will help you to see place as a gift—as a place “set-aside,” as a “sacred” space—rather than as an ordinary, utilitarian space.
This intention can also aid you in stepping out of ordinary time and into the kairos time where God longs to meet us. Such purposeful thinking about holy space is not new. It is in keeping with a long tradition of the use of space in worship dating back to the elaborate and detailed instructions given to the Israelites for building the Temple in Jerusalem, as found in 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. This intention was reflected by the early church as worship moved into basilica and with the building of cathedrals. Jesus had holy space in mind when he said this:
The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. (John 4:21, 23a)
With these words, Jesus was giving divine approval to the idea that sacred space was no longer centralized in one area of one temple in one city; it could be found anywhere in God’s creation. This was certainly a comfort to the Samaritan woman at the well, who represented a people long ignored by much of the culture around them. The Samaritans, and the space they inhabited, were under God’s grace and purview.
Decades later, the dispersed Jews that were part of the early church living throughout the Roman Empire found great comfort in these words. Travel was dangerous in many parts of the empire and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not to be undertaken lightly. They learned to establish sacred spaces in houses and secret places where they could worship in security.
Jesus’ words can bring that same comfort for people around the world today. They may comfort the woman who cannot travel to a house of worship for fear that she will be jailed or killed by government officials. For her, sacred space might be the corner of her one-bedroom flat where a small icon of St. Nicholas gazes down upon her. God will meet her there. Jesus’ words may comfort the man who might have to live out the rest of his life in isolation as a political prisoner. For him, sacred space might be a little patch of floor lit by the sun for two hours each day. God will meet him there. They may comfort the single father working 16-hour days in order to support his young children. For him, sacred space might be found during one 30-minute meal break when he can gaze out a factory window to watch clouds pushed by the wind. God will meet him there.
+ Excerpted from “A Holy Space” by Nate Risdon, in Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life by L. Farrer and C. Schmidt (Cascade Books, 2010).