“The place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5)
There is a saying that the body is a temple, usually referred to when considering what we consume or the activities in which we engage. But what about where our body temple resides?
Home is a holy place. Some traditions recognize this more than others. The Jewish mezuzah is a small decorative case approximately 3” tall containing consecrated prayers and blessings. It is secured to the frame in each doorway (at the very least, the home’s entrance) and is touched or “kissed” with the fingers when arriving, as a reminder that one is entering sacred space, a place where God resides.
Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. Carl Jung had these words inscribed at his front door.
Have you ever thought of why we ask children to use their “inside voice”? I like to think it is out of reverence for the tenderness of home, so as not to bruise it with shouting.
Mircea Eliade notes in his book, The Sacred and The Profane, that there are many rites specific to entering a home – “a bow, a prostration, a pious touch of the hand, and so on.” These actions acknowledge not only the entrance into sacred space but also the spirit guardians at doorways who forbid entrance to human enemies, demons, curses, and disease.[i]
Removing your shoes before entering a home, or immediately inside the entranceway, is one such custom. Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims all remove footwear before entering a temple or mosque, and also their homes. This is more than maintaining cleanliness. This simple action observes the holiness of the place being entered. The place where the Divine is present. It leaves that which is “unclean” or unholy outside. The doorway of the home is the threshold between the worlds. When we enter our home, we leave the common world behind.
A place where the Divine is present is known as temenos—a Greek word used by the ancients for the lands dedicated to gods: rivers, groves, hilltops, and temples. But certainly any place can be home to the holy, a dwelling of the Divine. As Yahweh told Moses at the burning bush, “The place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
Every home in Ancient Greece was the residence of the Goddess Hestia. She was the hearth fire, the soul of the home. Her fire transformed a dwelling, feeding both the body and the spirit. She was the burning bush. Home was temenos because She was there.
Homes have always been an axis mundi – an intersection between the heavens and the earth, a place where the everyday meets the sacred. Traditionally, the smoke rising from a fireplace, the home’s hearth, serves as the vertical connection to the heavens. The home fire feeds us, warms us, comforts us. Connecting the spiritual with the physical: the sacred and the profane. At this axis, we have direct contact with something greater than ourselves, that which provides us focus and, even, a center. As Mircea Eliade says,
“Our homes. . . present as completely different from the norm, set apart from everything else, so deeply special because something happens when we are in these places, we feel differently. . . connected to something greater.”[ii]
Our homes can be temenos. Our homes can be holy.
But we must start with that intention. And we must constantly tend to its fire to keep it warm and maintain the sacred within.
How is your home an axis mundi? How do you maintain temenos within the place where you live? Is there one room that feels more special than others? What reminds you that your home is sacred? What rituals or traditions do you observe? Is your home a haven of respite and renewal? If not, do you think it could be? What would it take for you to feel the embrace of the holy in the place which you call home?
When I bought my home in Picabo, Idaho, I did several things to imbue it with temenos. First, I hung mezuzahs at each entrance. Then, I held a formal house blessing with friends, in which every room was visited, a candle lit, and a prayer—specific to that room—was shared. I asked friends and family who were present, as well as those who were not, to create an individual prayer flag panel that I later strung together and hung from my front porch. These personalized blessings for the world were a powerful and constant reminder of God present. It’s a ritual I would love to do again.
Some of the prayer panels that friends and family made.
[i] The Sacred and The Profane by Mircea Eliade, Harcourt, 1987. Page 25
[ii] The Sacred and The Profane, Page 12