Sacred Rituals, Sacred Spaces
Things to Do in Advance
Allow time to view the video and review this
section of the leader’s guide before meeting with your class. Determine what
you will cover in the available class time. Plan for any of the Optional Activities
you would like to use and how you will integrate the work with the class. Acquaint
yourself with any terms that are unfamiliar (see gloassary). Consult with members
of your clergy when appropriate. Finally, duplicate any materials you plan
to distribute to the group.
PURPOSE OF THIS SESSION (5 minutes)
Prepare your group to watch the video. (Read or paraphrase)
This video demonstrates how people of different religious faiths go about designating
space as sacred. A number of the locations you will see in this episode were
not originally intended as sacred space. Some sacred space is not contained
within a traditional house of worship. In fact, some outdoor spaces
are considered sacred.
Give members of the group
the opportunity to tell about various sacred spaces known to them. Use the following
questions to engage your group in considering the video’s main concept.
Can you name outdoor spaces that are considered sacred or holy?
Answers may include mountains, such as Mt. Sinai;
rivers such as the Ganges; or cities such as Mecca or Jerusalem. Some people
may mention public spaces such as the War Memorial or Monument Circle in Indianapolis
or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. Cemeteries
might also be mentioned.
Aside from traditional houses of worship, what local buildings or parts of
buildings are considered sacred or holy?
Answers may include storefront churches, a
chapel in an airport or a truck stop. Some people may mention places of temporary
religious use, such as a gymnasium that is rented on Sundays for church
services or hotel meeting rooms rented for religious services.
As you watch the video, look for symbols and rituals
that are used to designate space as sacred. Consider what criteria are used
to designate space as sacred.
SHOW EPISODE II (17 minutes)
Allow time for members
of the group to discuss what they have seen before proceeding with the rest
of the discussion.
RITUALS AND SYMBOLS IN YOUR FAITH TRADITION (15 minutes)
After viewing the video, distribute the pages
you have duplicated titled “Session II—Worksheet” found in the back of the Resource
Allow five minutes for participants to complete the worksheet.
Then lead a five to ten minute discussion by asking people to share thoughts
from their completed worksheets. You might wish to use the following questions
to prompt discussion:
What did you include as your faith tradition’s most important rituals and
Why do you think these rituals and symbols are the most important?
SACRED SPACE IN YOUR HOUSE OF WORSHIP (10 minutes)
Lead a discussion on the
sacred space in your facility. You may find the following questions useful:
What spaces are sacred in your faith tradition?
Answers might include the sanctuary or altar
or other places in the building.
What makes these spaces sacred?
Are rituals or symbols used to designate these spaces as sacred?
The video suggests that ritual, formal
or informal, makes space sacred. Sandy Sasso suggests that it is the
gathering of people for religious purpose that makes space sacred. While honoring
formal and established rituals, Martin Marty also defines ritual in
a more informal way.
Answers will vary from faith group to faith group but they
may include an activity that occurs in the space, or special ceremonies
or rituals used to dedicate or transform the space. You may wish to consult
with a clergyperson about the rituals of your tradition.
Does your faith tradition have prescribed rituals or ceremonies to consecrate,
or make space sacred?
Are any areas of your building not sacred? What are these areas used for?
Answers to this question might include fellowship halls, classrooms, gymnasiums,
storage areas, and others.
Why are these areas not considered sacred?
SACRED SPACE AT HOME (10 minutes)
Remind participants of the home blessing that took place
in the video.
Does your faith group encourage the creation of sacred space in the home?
If so, what kind of ritual is required for this?
If not, would it be good if your faith tradition did encourage this?
Would such a ritual change the way you value or act in the home?
Over the next several days be receptive to recognizing
non-traditional sacred spaces you encounter. Think about spaces you occupy
in your daily routine, especially at home or work. What changes could be made
in these spaces to transform them, at least in part, to a place of comfort and
special meaning to you?
Congregations sometimes create unique sacred spaces. Brainstorm about ways
your group might devise a plan to create sacred space specific to your congregation.
Consider particular events that have taken place in the church’s area or neighborhood.
Choose an event of special importance that may have occurred in a different
part of town. Examples might include the birth or death of a particular individual, the
site of your faith group’s first congregation in the area, or the
location of an event that has strongly influenced the history of your congregation
or faith group.
If there is sufficient interest, form
a committee to implement the group’s ideas to create appropriate rituals for
making the space sacred and commemorating the spot. A visit to the spot might
become a special annual event.
Consider your relationship to the various spaces around you? Many people create
space around themselves that they consider as their own. It is special to them, filled
with personal items such as mementos, photographs of family, friends, or
admired persons, trophies or other items that have personal meaning.
These may be places where family events take place, or a place where
one goes for introspection or for community. People often come to think of such
space as “sacred” to them.
Take a moment to think about a space that has personal “sacred”
significance to you. Visualize it clearly, and, on a separate
sheet of paper, proceed to draw that space or describe it in words.
When they are finished, give participants
about five minutes to share their own examples by asking the following questions:
Are any of these spaces defined by personal ritual, symbol, or story?
In what ways does your faith encourage you to create personal sacred space?
Much of religion is based on ritual and symbol. In the space below:
Describe some of your religion’s most important
Describe some of your religion’s most important
Session II—Additional Discussion
Why is the place of worship often called a sanctuary?
Is this a place of retreat and comfort or is it a place that creates in you
a sense of awe? Does it ever make you uncomfortable?
Are there activities that could desecrate sacred spaces? If so, are there
ceremonies or prescribed rituals in your faith tradition to reconsecrate desecrated
Are there ceremonies or prescribed rituals in your faith tradition to de-sacralize
COMPARISON OF FAITH TRADITIONS
Are any of your rituals and symbols similar to those of other religious groups
you saw in the video? In what way? How do they differ?
Does your faith tradition view sacred space the same as other traditions?
How is it the same? How is it different?
CONSIDER HOW SACRED SPACE HAS DEVELOPED OVER TIME
Why do people, past and present, frequently think of outdoor space as sacred?
Answers might include: In the past, people spent
much of their time out of doors and were dependent upon nature as hunters and
gatherers, farmers and herdspeople. Many natural features and acts
of nature are awe-inspiring. Outdoor space is often revered as divine creation.
What are some of the reasons
that the sky and many other natural features have been considered sacred?
Answers might include:
Unexplained and catastrophic events were associated with them: storms, eclipses,
and earthquakes. Some features represented permanence: rock formations, mountains,
What does the specific construction of a sacred space say about faith and
Ask the group to consider
the large cathedrals with high vaulted ceilings where the individual is small
in the presence of the Divine.
What changes, if any, have occurred in the
use of sacred space in your faith tradition?
VALUING THE SACRED SPACE OF OTHERS
Consider ways to honor the sacred spaces of other religions. For example, there
have been recent controversies involving the use of sites sacred to Native Americans
and located on public lands. Many Native Americans consider recreational use
of such land to be a violation of their sacred spaces. An example is Devil’s
Tower in Wyoming. There have also been numerous cases of the illegal sale and
importation/exportation of objects from sacred sites. The Cypress mosaics that
were offered for sale in Indianapolis in the 1980s are one example. Acts of
arson have been directed at houses of worship. Controversy exists concerning
the control or use of land at sacred sites such as Jerusalem.
What do you think is right in dealing with the sacred spaces and objects
of various religious groups?
What are some ways to honor the sacred spaces of other religions?
Why is it important to treat all sacred spaces with respect?
What happens when you do not respect the sacred spaces of other faith traditions?