At a conference last year, I was rather disparagingly told that I was too parochial. He was right because there you can be over parochial in being unable to see no further than the nose on your face. Yet, he was very wrong because we all live in a certain place at a certain time and this fixed point which defines us means that there are no universal solutions which work in every place for every problem. This is what I meant when I quoted from Peterson last week about ‘sacred space’ because I treasure the place where I live with all its uniqueness and distinctiveness.
If you thought I was thinking about old churches where people had worshipped and prayed for hundreds of years; then you would be both right and wrong. If you thought I was thinking about the wonderful views we enjoy in the Peak District; then you would be both right and wrong. If you thought I was thinking about those moments when we’ve been caught up in wonder, love and praise; then you would be both right and wrong.
You would be both right and wrong because, as Peterson knew so well, all of creation is sacred space to God and also to us. For Peterson, this sacred space referred to the wondrous beauty of Montana where he grew up, as well to the basement in his house in suburban Maryland where the church he was pastoring met. Throughout his ministry he fought two battles. Firstly, he fought those who said that no place mattered, because you can worship God anywhere, and those who carefully divided the sacred from the secular so that they could live equally divided lives. Secondly, he fought for the uniqueness of where he lived and pastored resisting the temptation to succumb to the lurid attraction of off the peg schemes that guaranteed success to anyone anywhere.
Peterson summarises this sense of sacred ground with his pithy translation of John 1 verse 14 ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.’ Jesus has moved into our neighbourhood and he calls us to keep our eyes wide open to see where he is at, what he is up to; that we may join in discovering just how sacred all ground really is.
Here is his next quote from the time when he was being trained for pastoral ministry – what is it saying to you?
“I was learning for a pastor, the rest of the week was spent getting that story and those prayers heard and prayed in the personal and unique particulars of these people. I had just spent an hour of worship with them but now was mixing it up with them in a world of dragons and whores, blood flowing as high as a horse’s bridle, and the news headlines trumpeting catastrophic disasters”