The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 26, 2001 Issue
Local News

Where's your sacred space?

Where we are affects how we experience God

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Next Allouez

What: Claude Allouez Forum, sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and the St. Norbert College Theological Institute; it is open to the public.

When: 7:15 a.m. Nov. 16.

Where: Bemis International Center, St. Norbert College.

Who: Paul Wadell, associate professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College.

Topic: So Many Books, So Little Time: "Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in a Christian Community" by Philip Keneson.

Cost: $8, includes breakfast.

Reservations: (920)437-7531 or (toll-free) 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8173.

DE PERE -- Where we live affects how we pray and relate to God, Sr. Ann Rehrauer told the Claude Allouez Forum Oct. 19 at St. Norbert College.

In addition, our spirituality affects how we experience where we are, said Sr. Rehrauer, president of the Bay Settlement Franciscan Sisters, in her talk on the book, Landscapes of the Sacred, by Belden Lane.

The theme of this year's forum -- which is sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and the Theological Institute of St. Norbert College -- is "So many books, so little time." Speakers are asked to discuss a book that played a major role in shaping their minds and hearts.

"Theologians see a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane," Sr. Rehrauer said. "Poets see a wholeness -- but it's a shallow monism" or belief that all phenomena stem from one principle.

In her talk, Sr. Rehrauer attempted to see both dichotomies and a wholeness that resulted when these various elements were combined into the American spirituality.

In Landscapes of the Sacred, Lane wrote about five characteristic American spiritualities:

• New England Puritans, who brought a sense of fear and grace and the peerless majesty of God, and a sense of being a pilgrim and the belief that it was God's will that they be brought to America to make it their homeland, Sr. Rehrauer said.

• Baroque Catholicism of the Spanish in the Southwest and the French in Canada. From the Spanish came a sense of personal austerity, rugged individualism, stoic endurance and the glorification of suffering, particularly in a fascination with the Passion of Christ. From the French, there was a sense of exaltation of the majesty of God and a sense of self-abasement that led to Jansenism.

• Native American, a sense of the land and the need to internalize the sacred within us.

• Shakers, who brought a sense of proper attitude, of practicality and endurance.

• Catholic Worker Movement and its founders, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who believed in being voluntarily placeless, yet also that it was critical for the dignity of the person to have a place of their own.

She pointed out that such seeming contradictions can be seen in American attitudes. For example, Americans are pioneers, who eventually became homesteaders. "Wherever we go, we long to settle, to cultivate, to create home."

Yet, Americans are obsessed with mobility, have little sense of being rooted and are constantly looking for the new frontier, which now may be space.

American Catholics experience a tension between Neoplatonic or Gnostic influences that discount the material world in favor of the spiritual or next world, and the reality of the Incarnation, which affirms this world, Sr. Rehrauer said.

In talking about the importance of sacred places, Sr. Rehrauer said, "We do not choose a sacred place -- it chooses us." As examples of sacred places that have a sense of power and revelation, she cited Moses and the burning bush, Jacob and the ladder reaching to heaven and St. Peter's Basilica. These are places God made sacred through some revelation to people, she said.

But sometimes, she continued, we can set aside an ordinary place for ritual use and thereby turn it into an extraordinary space. The perfect example of that, she said, are church buildings, most of which were not erected on any special sites, but which became special because of the role they serve as worship spaces. That's one reason, she said, it's so hard on people when a church is closed.

When we remember all that has happened in a sacred place, such as a church, we recognize its holiness, Sr. Rehrauer said. "Events transcend time. In liturgy, we are not remembering a past event, but an event that is present to us now in its power and reality and grace to those of us who enter it sacramentally."

Sr. Rehrauer said Landscapes of the Sacred is a difficult book to understand, but she recommended reading the new edition, which is due out in December. She also recommended as a companion piece, Robert Hamma's book, Landscapes of the Soul.

She said among the lessons she learned from Lane's book were to respect and to seek understanding of other traditions and their gifts; that like everything in life, it is not a matter of either/or, but both/and; and the importance of grasping both the immanence and transcendence of God.

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