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  • Writer's pictureEthan Hardin

Sacred Places

This four-part devotional series are adapted sessions from theHeart Youth Summer 2022 Further Up Further In Retreat. These devotions invite you into a deeper and more rooted sense of prayer.

Now, everything we’ve been talking in the last three posts is based on the idea that we are taking time in our lives for prayer. Prayer requires you to set aside a time and a place. Yes, of course, we can pray to God in our hearts and can turn activities or even chores into prayerful moments. Yes, you can pray as you do dishes, as you go for a run, as you drive around on errands. But prayer is deepest when we can set aside a sacred time in a sacred place.

Imagine developing a relationship without a set aside time or place. Essentially, imagine dating with out... a date. Yes, you can get to know folks over text or in brief exchanges between class or after work. But it takes a date, a sacred time and sacred place, to really get to know someone. You need to gaze into their eyes, notice the way they laugh, hear about the deep things in their heart to make a connection. We call it intimacy. It is all about getting closer to someone. All meaningful relationships require time and space to blossom, to be nourished, and to grow into something beautiful. Do you have a time and space to meet with God routinely?

A time and place to meet with God

The late Abraham Heschel compared the Sabbath to time architecture. Think about that metaphor for a minute. Remember how God invited his people to build a space that would symbolize his holy dwelling place, the Tabernacle? It took painstaking craftsmanship and planning to put this holy place on the map. But God also wanted them to have sacred time, not just space. There was a whole calendar of days of rest, years of rest, seasons of Jubilee. If it took a lot of planning, resources, and activity to carve out a sacred space, it was just as much of a project to carve out sacred time. Sacred time and space doesn’t just happen, it is set aside. The Psalmist confesses and asks, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (42:2) Let me ask you the same.

Audit your time and space with God
  • When and where can you go and meeting with God?

  • What keeps you too busy to pray?

  • Will it take some work to draw some boundaries?

Time gardening

Let’s think of it this way. I like to imagine my life like a garden. Follow me here in this extended metaphor. Picture one of those Scottish gardens with stone walls running through and dividing things. It is organized and neat. There are spaces for the native species to grow wild. There are spaces that require constant maintenance like a vegetable garden. I think of my time this way. I need time to run. So I build walls around that time. I have to readjust it in different seasons when the weather or sunlight changes the availability of trail running. I need time with my kids. So that is a good walled-off section in my time garden. I need time with my wife, so we build a wall around time together. I need time for prayer, and if I don’t wall it off, I may not find space for that part of my life to grow and be tended as well as it should. And remember, it is a garden, not a prison. It isn’t inflexible. It can be rearranged, experimented with, and adapted through different seasons.

Seasons come and go. Summer comes and it seems like time is somehow plentiful and never enough at the same time. But summer doesn't stay. School season comes and much margin evaporates in a flurry of extracurriculars and tight schedules. Parts of your garden go untended. Then life-changes or unexpected things happen. Remember how Covid changed your relationship to time? In this metaphor, maybe these huge and unexpected changes could be likened to storms. You wake up to find your garden in disrepair. It takes a lot of work to carve out the spaces you want when storms keep rearranging your boundaries.

Here’s what it comes down to: The things you find important, those are the things you will give your time. If time is the currency of worship, what do you adore most? Think about that for a moment. Do you ever waste time? When you think, I should have not given that thing as much time as I did. It could be something good that you did too much of or something bad you didn’t need to give any time to. This is all part of time-gardening: pruning the things that are taking over other sacred spaces, weeding the things that threaten what matters most. So, good walls in a garden are needed. Do you have a walled-off area in your time-garden for meeting with God?

Designating a sacred space

In a previous blog, I mentioned a formative experience in my teen years at a missions training camp, where the director had us carve out 15 minutes of prayer, 15 minutes of bible reading, and 15 minutes of journaling each morning. It helped to be surrounded by people who took their faith seriously at this camp. We would get up and find somewhere to go and spend this 45 minutes, then we would reconvene. It made a deep impression on me.

When I got home from this camp, I found a spot and a time at my house to continue this practice. My house sat on the continental divide, atop a soft spot in the Blue Ridge, and all around my house was apple orchards. I had a little fire pit in the middle of the orchard that no one could see me from. So, I would go out in the morning to this sacred place and for my sacred time. And I would meet God there.

And then not long after this habit was instilled, I graduated, moved, and I was left scrambling to find another sacred time and place. In a way, I’ve been chasing that orchard spot ever since. I’ve had to readjust my sacred time and space to meet God. From orchard to park bench to back porch to a quiet stream, my sacred places have changed over the years as have my sacred times. But I’ve sought them. And it has required a lot of proactivity on my part. It isn’t easy to carve out and preserve sacred space and time. There will always be something else you can do. But remember, time is a currency of worship. Do you want a relationship with God? Let him know where and when you want to meet him, get to know him, cherish him, bring him the stuff of your heart, and let him speak to you in it.

Taking up God’s invitation to sacred time in sacred places

I have a friend who moved to the mountains of WNC to do more hiking. I asked him how often he got out there to hike. He said it had been years. We need boundaries in our lives so that we can make room for that which is most important. There are a host of things that will compete for our attention, and I’m sorry to say it, but, in my experience, it doesn’t get any easier as time moves on.

We are in the beautiful mountains, so to speak, of our faith with God. We are secure in the gracious and spacious wilderness of our faith in Christ. We are where we want to be. But are we enjoying it? Are we adventuring in it? Are we cherishing the God in whom we live and move and have our being? I am not talking about you earning your salvation with your devotional habits. I am not talking about a works-righteousness that will make you feel like you’re a better Christian than others. But I am talking about a relationship with the one who loves you, saves you, the one with whom you will one day be face to face. What intimacy are we losing avoiding him by crowding out our prayer time? Wouldn’t you rather know him, be assured by him, be transformed by him in the here and now?

Time architecture

Prayer will take sacred time in sacred space. Let me translate that. It will take set-apart time in set-apart places. Let me translate that again. It will take you setting apart time and setting apart space to go and meet with God as a rhythm. Are you up for it? Would you journal in response as an act of prayerful planning to be with God?

  • Draw your place.

  • Pencil in your time.

  • Be with God then and there.

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