I recently wrote:
“The location for the event set the mood for contemplation nicely. Spending a day in a building 199 years old and worshipping in a building 238 years old (for a congregation celebrating 375 years years together) forces you to consider a broader span than we normally contemplate. Holy places draw us in, safely, opening us to more than we could get elsewhere.”
Upon rereading that passage later, I wondered, “did I leave the reader thinking holy places had to be old?”
For me, at the particular event, at my point in life, the historic nature of the buildings greatly enhanced the spiritual renewal I experienced through the events of the weekend. The history, role, and impact the buildings possess in relation to the spiritual history of the nation shaped my thinking as we contemplated ideas concerning the future of the broader Church - capital C. The age of the buildings helped, me at least, put the ideas into historical context. Similar discussions occurred in these buildings over their years of service.
Holy places that shape many do gain more recognition through time. Holiness is a characteristic separate from the construction and comes from the spiritual power felt in the location. The place does not require sanctification or dedication. It does not even require construction. Throughout the Bible, we find holy places wherever people encounter God. Moses had the burning bush and how many other natural locations. Jonah had the belly of a big fish. Prophets and apostles had mountain tops.
I have a small clearing in the wooded area at the back of my parents’ property.
The holiness of a place is always personal. I have been to many grand cathedrals in Europe and been dazzled by the art and architecture but felt nothing spiritual despite centuries of worship in the building. I have been in unordained sheet-rock halls and been silenced by the spiritual power in the place.
My experience in Providence motivated me to consider the holy places I have encountered. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without these various holy places. My holy places shaped my life. That natural clearing in the wooded area at the back of my parents’ property has possibly never had another human in it, yet it was a place where I had a deeply heartfelt conversation with God. When and where I will find the next holy place that shifts my life’s direction is up to God. My job is to be ready when it happens.