Sacred Space: Responding to God’s Presence
All members of the community in a Deeper Learning Christian school are invited to see their identity as God’s beautiful handiwork, made in his likeness. As image-bearers of God, we are created to worship. We are made to worship God, to find joy, meaning, faith, peace, and love in relationship with the Trinity. Learning deepens when the process, the content, and the application of all we learn is guided by our call to worship in spirit and truth. (from Christian Deeper Learning)
Sacred Space is an opportunity to deepen our worship.
A Sacred and Quiet Space
We live in a noisy world that seems determined to capture the attention and hearts of children. Noise is ubiquitous! Canned music in stores and on elevators; TV at the airport, restaurants, the doctor’s office; leaf blowers, traffic, siblings, dogs, and on and on… Quiet is a rare experience in our culture, and it is an important element in hearing God’s voice. One of the greatest gifts we can give children is a quiet space to spend time in and respond to God’s presence. The Sacred Space, sacred because it is intentionally set apart for God, is an oasis of stillness and peace. In a school setting, the space could be a classroom, a breakout room, an office, or part of a church sanctuary – any space that can be dedicated to this purpose for a designated amount of time.
Setting up the Space
Pray over the space, dedicating it to God and asking the Holy Spirit to hover over it and minister to each one who comes. In our space at New Covenant School, we use black cloth to close off the balcony in the sanctuary of the building where we meet. The space should be as beautiful and welcoming as your imagination and resources allow. We use white Christmas lights, artificial candles, and other dim lighting. Comfortable chairs and a rug with pillows invite the students to rest. Objects from nature, such as shells, special rocks, plants, and flowers, also give warmth and beauty. A harsh space can be softened with lovely fabric draped or hung. Instrumental worship music softly playing creates a peaceful atmosphere.
We make sure there are art supplies available: watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, and paper. For the younger children, we often have modeling clay. Students are invited to respond artistically to God’s presence, and their artwork is hung in the space. There is a prayer journal to record prayers, insights, or scriptures for others to read. One of the most powerful aspects for the children, one we make sure is present every time, is a wooden cross with nails in it. They are invited to write a prayer, fear, or burden on a piece of paper, fold it, and press it into one of the nails on the cross. They then take a small stone from a basket to remind them that they have left their burden with Jesus. Other important items are Bibles, picture Bibles for younger children, and art books with illustrations of Bible scenes. Prayer requests can be written and posted in the sacred space so that all who spend time there have the opportunity to pray for them.
Preparing the Students
At a chapel before the Sacred Space begins, we’ll talk about a quiet space they have in their own lives and what those spaces mean to them. We’ll also talk about how important it is to have quiet places in order to hear the “still small voice” of God. The only rule we have for them in the Sacred Space is that they may not talk. Otherwise, they are completely free to engage in any of the activities listed above.
There is a sign-up poster for the Sacred Space in our lunchroom. Teachers can sign up for a time slot to bring their class, and older students may sign up to go alone or with a friend with the permission of their teacher. During Sacred Space days, teachers see this as a priority and gladly release their students for it. Parents are also welcome, and the time slots can extend before and after school. We ask the students to take off their shoes before they go into the Space to emphasize that it has been set apart for God.
Someone needs to “own” the Sacred Space because it does require maintenance. The artwork will make a mess, and in order to keep it beautiful, someone will have to do some straightening after each group. It is also helpful if an adult can be in the space so that teachers with large classes can send part of the class at a time. It is wonderful if the people in the space can pray over the ones just coming in.
Because the space takes time and effort to set up, we usually keep it going for two to five days; we are not able to keep it longer because the church needs that space on Sunday. We hold the Sacred Space three or four times a year and always during Holy Week.
After the students have experienced a Sacred Space, the older ones often will be eager to help set it up and contribute ideas for activities, decorations, etc.
Sacred Space during the Pandemic
Because of the pandemic and the need for social distancing, last year we set up “stations” in the sanctuary based on the seven “I Am’s” from the Gospel of John. Each station had visual images of the I Am, a written devotion, and a prayer. Worship music and artistic lighting created a peaceful, meditative atmosphere. In keeping with our school’s pandemic protocols, small groups of students slowly moved through the stations and then were given time to sit and reflect on what they had experienced.
The sanctuary set up for the seven stations.
The station for “I am the bread of life.”
When the Sacred Space is over, we take as much of the students’ artwork as we can and display it. We also ask the students to reflect on their experience and share at chapel if they are willing. Many student reflections are about the peacefulness of the space and how quiet it is. Here are some actual quotes from students:
It feels quiet and alone even though other people may be with you. It feels like you can just pour out your heart in there. 3rd grade girl
This time was important to me because you could read the Bible or draw or paint. It really helped me talk to God and understand how He works. Because it’s so quiet you can really think and talk to God and I could hear God talk to me. 5th grade boy
And this from a 6th-grade boy who was starting to go down a path we were all concerned about:
This is the first time I really knew God was talking to me. It was a full-out conversation—17 or 18 minutes—with Him. And then that feeling of an empty hole in my heart wasn’t there anymore.
When other schools have set up Sacred Spaces, they have similar responses in their students. If you are not able to do this as a school, teachers have used their own classrooms and seen the power of it as well.
In my 30 years as an educator in a Christian school, I find Sacred Space to be one of the most transformative experiences we can provide for our students. What greater lesson could we offer than to invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good?
The original version of this article was published in Christian Educators’ Journal in February 2020.