"And you shall make response before the Lord your God, 'A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous." (Deuteronomy 26:5)
This statement always resonates with me, though I would rephrase it to capture my life. "A wondering US Navy Supply Officer was my father. And he was stationed here and there, until he retired and stayed in one place for 15 years. His wandering became my wandering, leading me east over the span of 15 years."
It's no surprise that my image of faith and the theology that I return to over and over again has to do with journeying. That's the story of my life, and I see that story echoed throughout the pages of the Bible and throughout the history of the body of Christ. The closest I get to a sense of sacred space is when I am in a place of incredible beauty, usually in the natural world. There I can sit and stay for a time, but I have never felt moved to "pitch a tent" and move in.
A few weeks ago, my spiritual director asked me what kind of flower I would be if I was one. The question took me by surprise and I had to stop and think. Eric is the one who pays attention to flowers, how they grow, how to care for them, and what they're called. I know the basics, but that's not where I focus my attention.
After thinking for a few minutes, I reflected that I pay more attention to birds, noticing migration patterns, looking into tree branches to find the songster and identify the call. The sky lately has been filled with geese, ducks, and great blue herons returning from their winter sojourn; that's where my attention is drawn.
It was early in my first call that my theology of journey ran straight into the congregation's theology of place. They were a rooted community, able to recount their history with ease, proud of the building their ancestors had raised. This is where I learned that the color of the carpet in the sanctuary is worth a knock-down, drag-out fight, much to my astonishment. I just didn't get it, and it was several years of pastoral misses and unexpected conflicts before I realized that my experience of life and faith as a journey made as little sense to this body of Christ as their experience of life and faith in place made to me.
I don't believe this is an either/or conversation, or that one theology is "right" and one is "wrong." After all, in the right time, Solomon built a temple to the Lord that provided a sacred place for worship to generations. At the right time, Christ came as the Word made flesh to a specific place in order to proclaim Good News. Altars are set up to mark encounters with the Divine, and every year we return to the manger, Golgotha, and the empty tomb.
Instead of either/or, there is a tension between sacred place and faithful journey. After all, we begin from somewhere, and we usually arrive somewhere at the end of the day. Faithful journeys are full of encounters in sacred space, and sacred space is the result of faithful journeying. But have we lost sight of the journey we are called to in our effort to claim and maintain sacred place?
"Go, and make disciples of all nations."
What if we released our frantic grip on the sacred places on our lives and journeys? What if we let buildings and sanctuaries be a place where we pause in our sojourn for a time, breaking bread with Christ in our midst, gathering strength and courage, and then embarking again on the journey? What if we moved towards a more balanced tension in our theology of place and journey, and applied that theology to our actual ministry and mission?
What if the Holy Spirit is unsettling us so that we will set out on a new journey of faith, following Christ out of our buildings and sanctuaries and into the neighborhood? What if it's time for us to find new sacred space, through faithful journey?