Holy Ground, Sacred Ground. Third Sunday of Lent 2019


Do you have a place you revere as holy or sacred ground? Is it a geographical location? A building or a room? Or, is it, perhaps, a place within your heart? What makes it sacred for you? Did you have an experience in that place that brought you to a deeper understanding of God’s role in your life?

Is that where you fell in love with your spouse or life partner? Is that the spot that inspired you in a creative project or helped to make sense of the desires for your life?

The first reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is from the Book of Exodus and tells us about the call of Moses to lead his people away from the misery of their life in Egypt, into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” It includes the image of the burning bush. God calls and Moses responds with a line that is common in scripture: “Here I am.” God says, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

As I look back on significant points in my life, I usually associate them with sacred ground, whether figurative or literal. Those places become icons for the important moments in my life. I cannot always go back to them, but they are always with me. Evoking the memory of them brings me back to the grace of that time in my life.

We all have similar spaces. We cannot always retreat to them. Sometimes they’ve been destroyed or something takes away their special nature for me. It may be that something unpleasant becomes associated with a place that was once my version of the burning bush.

Try to imagine the deep sense of violation experienced by Indigenous Peoples when they see ancient sacred space destroyed by mining companies.

Of course, sacred ground does not have to be an actual place or building. It’s any place or experience where I feel a sense of the divine presence, a sense of being at home.

There is a beautiful line from the writings of Etty Hillesum. She was a Jewish woman who kept diaries about her life in Amsterdam during the German occupation in the early 1940s. “We are at home. Under the sky. In every place on earth, if only we carry everything within us. … We must be our own country. When we discover that, the capacity for dwelling, wherever we are, becomes ours.”

When I am imbued with the attitude that Hillesum describes, I can find a place of “home” even in challenging and difficult circumstances. That is what helped a number of survivors of Nazi concentration camps. They emerged without their souls being destroyed.

We all have that capacity for a peaceful inner space, although it is buried deeply in many people. There is another kind of sacred ground in people’s lives, an element that we must be reverent around. Think of the woman who is grieving the loss of a loved one or the man who has dealt all his life with the painful memories of a childhood trauma.

The other must show reverence around those sacred spaces. Reverence shouldn’t be equated with avoiding conversation about the painful areas. Rather, it’s a respect where the experience of the other is truly treated as sacred space. That shapes the conversation between two people. The spiritual experience of all of us is sacred, but some require a deeper listening.

Take some time this next week of Lent to remember the spaces that have been holy and sacred ground in your life. How do they still speak to you?

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 01:28h, 24 March Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • John Montague
    Posted at 08:52h, 24 March Reply

    One sacred space for me is Loyola House in Guelph, especially the Jesuit cemetery where some people I knew very well are buried.

  • Roger Yaworski, SJ
    Posted at 09:59h, 24 March Reply

    thanks for writing this Philip.

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