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Center for Action and Contemplation
Sacred Space
Sacred Space

The Transformation into Sacred Space

Sunday, September 24, 2023

In a 1994 retreat on the Hebrew prophets for CAC interns, Richard Rohr stressed that the prophets’ love for God and passion for justice came from a transforming experience of “sacred space”:

Comparative religion scholar Mircea Eliade (1907–1986) describes sacred space and profane space. He identifies sacred space with an inbreaking of divine reality, and thinks that modern people have uneasy and weak connections to sacred space. [1] Since the Enlightenment, we live almost entirely in profane space. If we picture a circle as sacred space, inside the circle, there is one reference point, and everything bounces off of that center point.

Most of us have been inside sacred space before. It’s whenever something jolts us into the absolute now. It could be when we’re frightened to death, or it could be like the moment we received the call that our mother or father had just died. That’s sacred space. Sometimes it lasts for days or weeks, and it’s where everything is experienced in terms of that one reference point. We can’t think of anything else. After I heard my mother died, I went down to the local store, and I really wanted to shout narcissistically to everybody, “Why are you just going ahead with your business, don’t you know my mother died?!” We’re that caught up in this differently shaped universe. I really couldn’t believe why anybody else would be buying and selling things, because don’t they know the world has been rearranged? Maybe we’ve only experienced it for a second, but this sacred space is anything that pulls us to experience the Total Now.

The secret of the Hebrew prophets is they had a transforming experience of sacred space. The calls of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel each are a clear description of a transformative moment of sacred space. Their world is reconfigured, life is reconfigured, and afterward, they have to go back to what looks ordinary but now has become entirely extraordinary for them. They see reality with a different set of eyes. I think the reason that we need a place like the CAC or a school for prophets is because we’ve got to find a way to honor and send people on this serious search for God. That is primary, and it’s from this that we develop critical consciousness.

I don’t think this will ever be a grand agenda for a large amount of people, but I do think the prophetic gift can be educated, and I do believe the prophetic gift can be called forth. Once we start speaking about the prophets and naming the prophetic gift, a lot more people might recognize, “I might just have that gift now and then.” We don’t need to name ourselves as prophets, or for anyone else to call us prophets, but we can operate prophetically now and then. We can be radically committed to the big picture, the great tradition, while being free to critique it.


[1] See the introduction and first chapter of Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, 1959, 1987).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Way of the Prophet (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 1994), audio recording. No longer available.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah (detail), ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse (detail), 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snow Reflections on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

Creation is sacred space; the multi-colored spot of paint on canvas echoes the light through a stained-glass window.

Story from Our Community:  

The other day, I had an experience of seeing and understanding the sacredness of all things. After mass on Sunday, my child wanted to go to the beach. It had been a difficult week and I was feeling disconnected and isolated. We walked out to a nearby island at low tide. I saw a rock formation, black with multiple striations in it. It called to me and I went and touched it. Just like that I was experiencing the holiness of all things—the rocks, grass, birds, little water creatures, people, sun, and the sky. I could see everything was sacred and I was in the middle of it. The feeling stayed with me while we were at the beach, and still lingers. The next day, the Daily Meditations suggested that what I experienced was a glimpse of the Cosmic Dance. What a glorious dance it is! —Linda M.

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