As I was thinking and praying about Psalm 137 I pondered that when our hearts are full of anger and jealousy and other 'negative' ideas, there isn't room for God. When we come into a 'Holy Space' like a church, it isn't the building alone that makes it a place to pray; it is our conditioned response to that building - the reasons we have been here before - to turn towards the Lord and quieten the voices inside us, which then leaves space for us to hear God's voice.
In Paris Sacre Couer sits at the top of a hill, a gleaming white building, with steps that have to be ascended before we can even reach the entrance. Inside the non-stop prayers of centuries have seeped into the walls, and the gleaming gold-leaf figure of Jesus proclaims this as a Holy Space. In 1981 my initial thoughts about the place were that it was a disgrace to spend money in such a place that sits is a poor area, that the splendour of the interior was an insult to the people of the neighbourhood.
But then, after a few minutes of soaking up the background sounds of prayer that seemed to undergird the greater volume of tourist shouts, I realised that the poor had given towards this; that they had offered the best that they had in order to have somewhere they could go to, where they could focus on God, be refreshed, be changed, and strengthened for their lives outside the walls.
Was this what Solomon's temple had meant to the Hebrew people? Is it what our church buildings mean today? Is this sense of sacred space the reason why people who don't come to worship in our churches still don't want them to be destroyed, and will sometimes pay to keep them?
Many of our modern shopping malls look as if they are modelled on cathedrals, and that's quite appropriate if the most important entertainment in your life is to spend money - mammon as god isn't a new idea. Some malls certainly have more visitors than many churches. But I wonder whether people who arrive and leave as consumers have that same sense of respect for their 'holy space'? I wonder whether people will defend Bluewater if it comes under threat of closure? I suspect not, because they haven't contributed to the creation and development of the building, and it represents transitory pleasures.
In a land where the name of the craftsmen were associated with the beauty of the temple, the loss was much greater. And our faith isn't a commodity that we can upgrade next week with a new model; it has survived history and empires and govenrments. The strength of an idea is not determined by its buildings, but the architecture can give many clues about our priorities.
Resources for 26th Ordinary Sunday
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