Update Redeeming Sacred Space

I have been reading the news coverage this week as the trial of Anders Behring Breivik begins. 
Since first posting today,  a reader has kindly supplied a video link to the poem referred to below with English subtitles so this is now added below.

For the people of Norway and the families and friends of those murdered last year it must be a particularly harrowing time to deal with, so my prayers are with them.

suggests that for most people, including the survivors of the mass shooting on Utøya Island, all that matters is commemoration and respect for the slain.

                                                            Image of Memorial stone for Norway  Source

The Norwegian sculptor Nico Widerberg has been assigned the task of creating memorials which, from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Breivik.

On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. 

This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.  For English subtitles (click the CC button on lower right hand .)

Even this monument has sadly become cause for division

 I was struck by this excellent post  by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology on Violence and Holy Ground, in which he refers to a recent visit to the  Oklahoma City National Memorial that honours and remembers those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Richard says

 "In my book Unclean I discuss how purity psychology regulates the divinity dimension. If you've not read Unclean, the psychologist Richard Shweder has suggested that three main moral codes regulate human experience. 

One of them is the divinity code which is experienced as movement along a vertical dimension. 

As we move higher on this dimension we experience sacredness and holiness. As we move lower on this dimension we experience degradation, spiritual pollution and defilement.

We need the divinity dimension to have an experience of the sacred. However, my worry in Unclean is when this experience is used to exclude or harm others. My analysis in the book is that Jesus addresses this situation by conflating the sacred with acts of inclusion.

 When Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners in Matthew 9 he says to the Pharisees, who are standing on the outside in an act of self-quarantine, that God desires "mercy, not sacrifice." 

The act of mercy and embrace becomes the sacred space. And the act of exclusion becomes the source of pollution and defilement.

I was thinking about the conflation of harm, violence, care and the sacred last week. I was in Oklahoma City for a conference. One morning I walked over to the Oklahoma City National Memorial that honors and remembers those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Views in and around the Oklahoma City National...
Views in and around the Oklahoma City National Memorial. 9:01 gate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He says:  "Obviously, this is a sacred space. The grounds are high on the divinity dimension. People here are quiet and reflective. Being boisterous, littering or spitting on the ground would be highly insulting. This place is holy, set apart for special care and veneration.

Richard Beck says, "As I pondered this, and how various peoples set apart sacred spaces, it struck me how often these places are associated with violence. 

The memorial in Oklahoma City is holy because 168 people were tragically killed there. And beyond that violence the memorial and museum also honors the first responders and those who worked to recover the dead. These are acts of care.

To be sure, the sacred doesn't always overlap with locations of harm, violence and care. This is a point nicely made by Jonathan Haidt in his new book The Righteous Mind

However, reflecting in Oklahoma City last week I was struck by how often we converge upon Jesus's conflation. 

Places become holy when the ground becomes tragically blood-soaked. 

That violence moves us toward the demonic and we want, in response, to move in the opposite direction, to redeem the space and lift it toward the heavens.

We seek to embrace those who were satanically excluded to stand on holy ground."

Reading Richard's post has me thinking of 9/11, and the multitudes of monuments that mankind has erected over the dead throughout human history, in countless countries, wars and conflicts, where atrocities have been committed and humanity still fights and is willing to kill over and upon holy ground. 

I think too how we are capable of desecrating human sacred space in many ways, including minds.

Steve Biko said the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. That is the legacy and tactic of every tyrant.

How true.

 In some ironic sense Anders Breivik who believed he was acting in self defence against multiculturalism, can be considered both oppressor and oppressed: oppressed from his delusional beliefs and fear of the "other," so much so that he sought a violent way to get rid of the perceived threat and became the oppressor.

Andre Breiviks extreme and revulsive mindset is truly frightening but it is perhaps too easy to dismiss what he did as the singular act of a deranged madman. 

There are so many similar examples of extremism in this world that we like to distance ourselves from and too easy to exonerate ourselves from it all.

 It makes me wonder what cultural influences lead a person to such extreme actions and how we can take steps to prevent future similar actions.  There are no easy answers in any of this.

It is also a sober thought to realise that many more future wars and acts of terror are destined to be waged against multiculturalism through fear,  whether they are to be set in motion by individuals, tyrants, zealots or elected governments. In darker moments, it seems as Rousseau observed, that we as humans are born free and everywhere are in chains.

Virtually every place where Christ lived his life and died have become shrines and yet the message of the Resurrection is that Christ is not confined to a singular sacred space.

He is loose everywhere upon the earth, unconfinable and free along with The Holy Spirit.  

As always I can only believe and hope in small acts of love and kindness to counter and break through endless cycles and vendettas of evil and hatred. 

But also to recognise that love without justice is sterile.That is what Christ lived and died for. 

When Christ broke through the closed doors after His Resurrection he met with frightened and grieving disciples huddled in the shadow of His death.

His first words were "Peace Be With You" and in so doing he redeemed the divisive space that the shadow of the cross had cast over  them. 

When He showed the disciples His scars from the cross from his terrible unjust suffering and death he proved that the meaningless darkness of death had not held him.

The contradiction is resolved when you realize that, for Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love. (Frederick Buechner Beyond Words)

Christ began the process of healing of their pain and loss, their guilt, anxieties and disbelief and at Pentecost the restoring and energising gift of The Holy Spirit poured out on them. 

This was the culminating act that enabled them to realise the significance of everything that had gone on before.

It is easy to see how some dramatic life events suddenly change everything for an individual, but far less easy to understand how the Holy Spirit guides and forms our own lives. our institutional religions and the unfolding patterns of human history when so much seems arbitrary and full of unjust suffering.  

Yet this is ultimately what my faith does ask of me and does give me hope - the hope  that anywhere and everywhere sacred space has been defiled, that one day it will be redeemed through the Love and Peace of Christ and The Holy Spirit, and every tear will be wiped away.

                                                              Utoya Island Norway source

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