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Washington D.C. Temple: How our sacred spaces shape us

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The Washington D.C. Temple will hold an open house for the public for the first time since 1974.

Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

People who are losing the capacity to feel awe, wonder and a sense of the sacred are in danger of losing a great deal more. As a society we have lost so much when it comes to the sacred, the reverent and the uplifting. Sadly, even sacred spaces have all too often become scenes of angry protests, insults and persecution. We need more sacred space, especially more shared space. At minimum, we need to better understand the sacred space of others — not only to show proper respect for it, but to be blessed by it.

It is a mistake to think that awe and reverence, inducing that from sacred spaces, belong only to a particular group or religion. I have experienced similar awe and reverence in a Shinto shrine, a mighty cathedral, a Buddhist temple and an old wooden chapel. I have experienced sacred space at ground zero after 9/11 or standing at the Washington Monument surrounded by flags humbly bowed to half-staff after a tragic shooting in Las Vegas. A battlefield at Gettysburg and a beach in Normandy show that sites of division and death can be transformed into sacred space shared by people around the world.

I have always loved Winston Churchill’s statement: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” I would tweak that to extend it slightly: We shape our sacred spaces, and afterwards our sacred spaces shape us.

There are a number of reasons why sacred spaces can shape us in significant ways. When we enter a sacred space, times seems to slow, the decibels drop and our thoughts are elevated.

The sacred spaces of global faith traditions can and should impact and influence all people, not just adherents to the particular religion. If we are losing our ability to feel that sense of awe and wonder and reverence, we really are endanger of losing a great deal more.

In 2016, Deseret News in-depth reporter Kelsey Dallas visited the sacred space of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and spoke with the Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan, who oversees worship services there. Dallas reported that Rev. Duncan has few qualms about the tens of thousands of non-Episcopalians flowing through the cathedral each year.

”There’s always the opportunity, in my mind, for someone to experience God here,” the Rev. Duncan said. “We only ask that during the time people are worshipping, (visitors) respect that and uphold the sacred nature of our time together.”

Dallas concluded, “Tourists may walk away from their visit with a few pictures and historical facts about the space, or they may be changed spiritually.” 

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that for the first time since 1974 it will open the doors of the newly renovated Washington D.C. Temple for a public open house. Tours will be provided from Sept. 24 through Oct. 31 and will include community members, national and international government officials, business executives and religious leaders from many world faith traditions.

“For decades, millions of people have driven by or passed the Washington D.C. Temple. It has become an iconic part of the D.C. beltway,” said Aaron Sherinian, a longtime resident and volunteer public affairs media specialist for the church. “This fall, it can become an iconic part of people’s lives in a new way. We invite people everywhere to join us inside the temple, to learn more about why it is so much more than a building and to feel the promise of peace it holds. We invite everyone to come and see.” 

Sherinian also noted local efforts using #SacredSpaces as a way to connect people of all faiths. Opening doors and sharing sacred spaces is truly transformational. He noted, “It has been extraordinary to see how members of our faith have gone through various doors and into the sacred spaces of others.” All are blessed by such meetings and moments.

The interconnected world we live in ironically continues to create a more isolated existence for individuals through media bubbles, social media filters and the lack of personal interaction. There is a lonely crowd in an increasingly lonely world. The answer and antidote to lonely and isolated individuals may well fall in the form of walking through open doors into the sacred spaces of those in our neighborhoods and local communities. 

In her 2016 article, Dallas also interviewed The Rev. Terrance Klein, pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ellinwood, Kansas. She wrote: “Boundaries that govern sacred spaces, whether they limit entrance or mandate silence, can seem arbitrary, but they’re profoundly tied to how people of faith understand their relationship with the divine, according to the Rev. Klein and others who have studied the concept of sacredness. They push us out of the chaos of daily life and into deeper connection with God and each other.

“According to the Rev. Klein, ‘There’s a human need to know when you’re encountering God. One way or another every religious group says it’s because you’ve stepped into a certain area.’” 

Sacred space builds faith, not just between the human and divine, but between fellow travelers here on planet Earth.

Utah’s Hellenic community, one of the largest Greek Orthodox parishes west of Chicago, serves as an anchor for the entire Mountain West region and recently announced a massive redevelopment project to update, improve and expand their sacred space in downtown Salt Lake City. The Holy Trinity reported, “This development will allow a new generation of Greek Utahns the opportunity to build a legacy with the same immense impact as their forefathers.” More sacred space is good for every community.

Sacred space can provide the stillness of awe, wonder and gratitude or the transformational moment of inspiration, insight or a connection to the divine.

The reopening of a historic temple of the Church of Jesus Christ in our nation’s capital, expanding the Greek Orthodox complex of buildings for the Hellenic community and visiting a shrine, synagogue or mosque all create space to encounter sacred space. Entering such spaces is an opportunity to build bridges of understanding, enlighten minds, expand hearts and strengthen community. Sacred space builds faith, not just between the human and divine, but between fellow travelers here on planet Earth. 

People who are losing the capacity to feel awe, wonder and a sense of the sacred are in danger of losing a great deal more. Those willing to step into the sacred space of others will gain more than they could possibly imagine.