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Sacred Space

January 10, 2021

There is a “bank” in our local Super Stop. Really an ATM with humans in an alcove outside the cashier lines. It was robbed yesterday afternoon.

“Oh my God!” Was the response, repeated 100’s of times on social media. The shock was real and the fear was not just about lost money, but a lost sense of safety. This act was a violation of the one common place that the whole town uses at some time during the year, many several times a week. It is a part of our lives.

What is Sacred?

The rhythm we follow sets up expectations. We all felt threatened at the Stop & Shop every time we were there in early Quarantine, until months of masks, distance, even aisle shopper directions made a new pattern we felt safe with. Return to expectation.

We expected Notre Dame was a Beacon of Paris. Most of those seeing it burn had the expectation of permanence. That expectation was never true. Notre Dame was built and focused on God. Of course, Notre Dame is Sacred.

The United States Capitol was built to bring a country together, during a Civil War. Hundreds of thousands died to preserve that building’s purpose (or to end it.)

But Stop & Shop?

Well, we all now wear masks, not because we are following orders, but because we do not want to get or make others sick. We do not wear them to facilitate robbery, but it does. I have never known anyone who has ever gone to the bank at Stop & Shop. But it was a part of the pattern of our lives.

Patterns get disrupted, changed, ended. Our town and the shoreline east and west of it had a trolley, long gone, then some cars and some paved roads, then The Eisenhower Federal Highway System. The Town was a few thousand, then ten thousand. Now more. And lots of cars. And Stop & Shop.

When any pattern changes in how we must live – the trolley, the highway, the masks – we are, mostly, threatened.

When the Capitol, that has no function for almost all of us other than image, is invaded – albeit by a mob that is removed in three hours – many say a Sacred Space was “desecrated”. The Rioters are not just idiots damaging, even killing, others (and being killed), they are agents of evil, existentially threatening our lives. Unless we end their leader’s presidency in a week.

“Sacred” is the way we define what matters most in our values.

We value, more than everything, our lives. So a threat to our way of living, like the burglary, by the masked amid the masked at a Super Stop & Shop changes our sense of safety. We see our lives diminished by Notre Dame in flames. And the Capitol is a place of safety, of embodied national community – taken over by a mob. None of these breaks in our expectations are actually existential threats, but the expectation of permanence is ended in their violation.

Now if all religious buildings were set on fire, if robbers were robbing all the banks in Stop & Shops, or if there was a revolution that had a 2021 Fort Sumter at the Capitol there would be cultural threat. But the reality of fear is there in each place’s abuse by those who we cannot abide. The electricians at Notre Dame that created the fire threatened a place’s meaning. Robbers at Stop & Shop ended the Suburban Idyll of a safe life. And 3,000 clueless criminals decided to act out and their acts ended faith in our government’s control – physical and moral.

I think “Sacred” is so intimately experienced that it is tricky to define it beyond intention, location and who you are. Clearly to Christians, those who build a safe life, and to Americans, these violations are to Sacred Places.

A view from a pond in Vermont. The place where I can see our home in sunset. The sound of voices, together. These are Sacred to me. The devotions of those who made Notre Dame and the Capitol are the very best in us. But, to me, Fort Sumter and the Capitol are not Sacred. And neither is Stop & Shop.

I know (because I help make them), that buildings are wonderfully profane constructions, fully human. Places, beyond buildings, are made by use by us, not by design. A great architect I know feels the Sacred in Grand Central Station.

Is he wrong?

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