Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sacred Spaces in Kuwait

As I was on my way home from picking up milk and vegetables, I passed another local mosque undergoing renovation. Or at least, that is my best guess; it has been gutted and partially destroyed. I am guessing it is about to be reconstructed, but I don’t know for sure. I am only guessing because I have seen it happen to other mosques since we arrived.

And it got me thinking, and I am going to ask a question, but I will tell you before I ask it, that if you asked me the same question about Christian spaces, I would have to ask an expert; it is not a question I can answer about my own culture.

Do Moslems have sacred spaces? How are they made sacred? Is there a ceremony? If you are going to destroy parts of a building on a sacred space, does it have to be de-consecrated (made no-longer-sacred) while it is undergoing renovation? If a mosque is destroyed/no longer used is there a ceremony that makes it no longer a holy spot?

I know that in my religion, churches are consecrated, made officially holy, and that there is a ceremony. I know that in some places, churches that are no longer needed are deconsecrated, not made UNholy, but made not a sacred place of worship any more, and they become restaurants, housing, etc.

In my specific branch of Christianity, which is Episcopalian, there is a service for blessing a new house, which I love, and it is called a House Blessing. The priest comes, usually at dusk, you can have friends there, you carry candles and he blesses every room in the house. When we buy and move into a new house, we always have it blessed. The priest tells me that it is really a mis-nomer, it is not the house being blessed, but those who live within in. To me, that is a distinction that hardly matters, all I know is that I feel more secure in a house that has been blessed.

And no, there is no un-blessing ceremony when we leave a house. The blessing does not create a holy space, a place of worship, a sacred place, but only blesses a humble dwelling.

No, I don’t understand exactly how this all works.

I remember travelling in Syria with an archaeology group one time, and we went to see the site of St. Simeon the Stylite. In my cynical heart, I was not wild about the visit – a saint who sat atop a huge rock for several years to show his devotion to God? When I got there, however, my heart changed – it felt like a holy place. It felt like Saint Simeon had done a holy act, demonstrating his faith so . . . faithfully. If you know Syria, you know how bitterly cold it can be in winter, and how bone-breakingly hot it can be in summer. The pure grit and devotion it took to stay atop the pillar of stone was an amazingly faithful act. It felt like a sacred place, a holy place, to me.

So my question is not just for the Moslem readers, but also for Christian readers – what makes a space holy? Does it need a ceremony to be holy? Does it need a ceremony if it will no longer be used for sacred purposes?

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Building, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Spiritual | , | 12 Comments